Fear of Death

“The idea of death, the fear of it, haunts the human animal like nothing else; it is a mainspring of human activity – designed largely to avoid the fatality of death, to overcome it by denying in some way that it is the final destiny of man.”-Ernest Becker

Death represents the great unknown. Obviously, we human beings are not afforded the luxury of knowing with any degree of certainty what happens after we die. Questions regarding death have infiltrated our existence since the beginning of time, and we have constantly struggled with the notion that there are no definitive answers to these questions. We intensely hope that we will find the answers when our time comes, but even that, in itself, is questionable. What we do have is a great deal of speculation regarding death based on individual beliefs and perspectives.

Some people spend the whole of their lives without any fear of death whatsoever. They do not deny its inevitability, nor do they spend a great deal of time worrying about it. They simply live their lives to the fullest, and they are grateful for each and every moment that they are granted on this earth. Typically, these individuals possess extremely high levels of faith and religious conviction. They believe in the idea of an afterlife, heaven, paradise, or nirvana, and they are convinced that they will be granted entrance to one of these places upon their death. Furthermore, they do not view living or the end of life with finality, but rather, as a preparation for the eternal life that is to come. Therefore, death is not perceived as a negative occurrence to be dreaded.

On the other hand, those who fear death often do so for a number of reasons. First of all, they might be of the opinion that, when we die, we simply fall into an unconscious, dreamless sleep for all eternity. They usually do not subscribe to the idea of an afterlife, and they view death only as an abrupt and final end. Also, it is important to note that people who fear death can be, and often are, religious or spiritually-minded as well. However, a belief in any religious teaching that threatens a final damnation could cause them to fear that they will spend eternity in punishment. For example, if a particular man is religious, yet has lived a life in which, at times, he has gone astray, then he might have developed a great fear of death. The truth of the matter is that death then has a negative connotation, and therefore, it is an event to be feared, rather than one to be anticipated as a final reward for a life well and virtuously lived.

All in all, it seems that our perception of death, whether positive or negative, depends largely on how we view ourselves, on our spirituality or religious beliefs, and on our acceptance level. Death will come to all creatures, and if this fact is not accepted, then the thought of death is met with either fear or denial. Acceptance is the key to diminishing the fear of death and allowing ourselves the opportunity to live life as it was intended to be lived. As Mark Twain once said, “The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time”.