Understanding the Fear of Death
Thanatophobia is the fear of death, or the fear of dying. To be human is to be mortal, and if there is one moment, one action which is shared by every human who ever breathed, it is the moment of death. To be afraid of death is normal; we are hard wired to survive, to cling to life, to live to our full potential. Life is a journey, and it is in our genetic makeup to make every effort to make that journey as long as possible.
It is inevitable that our journey will end, as all journeys must do. What purpose is there in any journey we make if we have no intention of ever arriving?
The fear of dying is, deep down, a reason for living. But it is not the only reason, and an unhealthy preoccupation with dying will simply darken the whole journey. Imagine a train journey which is spent perpetually in fear of crashing headlong into some unseen obstacle. The entire journey would be spent scrutinizing the pinpoint of distance ahead, focusing only on the rails ahead and of the unseen obstacle. Far better, surely, would be to enjoy the journey – look to each side, and admire the view, watch the changing scenery unfold before you like the pages of an epic story, share the journey with those fellow passengers around you, and live whilst you are alive.
We have each been granted a glorious and unimaginably precious gift – a life. Each of us alive today has beaten the odds in spectacular fashion. It has taken billions of years to create you, and even at the moment of your conception you beat the odds of several million to one. We are each the culmination of eons of survival and success; we are each a spectacular winner in the survival stakes.
If you were to be given a gift of money, would you hide it away, looking at it occasionally, but keeping it locked away from sight and use for fear of losing it? Or would you enjoy the opportunity to use it to bring happiness, enjoyment, comfort or some experience which will become happy memories? To use our precious gift of life mulling gloomily on the fact that it is ultimately limited in length is to waste the time we do have; a time when we could be looking out of the window, becoming a part of the unfolding story, and celebrating the fact that we have beaten the infinitesimally small odds and made it here, all of us, together.
No story is successful without an ending, no poem complete without the poet’s concluding words, no sentence without its defining full stop. Death is our full stop, our defining moment – our grand conclusion, the final chapter to our current existences and this fabulous and unique passage of time that we are sharing with others. Death is the moment when this life becomes a sentence in the epic tale of life, a moment when we are defined in history, when we become the beautiful words in the poet’s last verse. It is the moment when our whole journey becomes worthwhile, when we arrive.
It is the ultimate mystery to know whether death marks the end of life, or merely the transition from one form to another. For many people religious beliefs serve as comfort, with the hope and faith of an eternal life beyond the physical existence we see. There is so much mystery and magic surrounding this world; to watch billions of tonnes of exploding gas rise up in the East and pour teeming life upon a globe suspended in an ultimate darkness is to see a world where almost anything seems possible. Science admits it has no answers, only questions. The more our scientists probe and explore, the more mystery is revealed. More scientists are turning to religion today than ever before.
To admit that a three pound lump of grey jelly is capable of thought so advanced that it can contemplate its own place in the universe, imagine beyond the physical world, probe deep within the fabric of the cosmos and still be able to remember how to boil an egg is to accept that this world contains something more incredible than could reasonably be expected. To consider that the imaginings of our brain extend beyond the physical realm we see is hardly far reaching.
We already accept that there is much we cannot see, yet know exists. We cannot see radio waves, or light, we cannot see the wind or heat, yet we know that they exist. An awareness beyond death is merely the shadow in the darkness we can’t see yet, until the light is switched on and it is revealed.
Whether you believe that there is a god, an eternal life force, or a world which exists on a parallel plane doesn’t matter – whether god is your religion, or science, or a self belief quite independent of others makes little difference – the thought of a further experience beyond death is comforting.
Perhaps scientist would do well to fall back upon the words of one of their own. Albert Einstein told us, even proved, that “Energy can be neither created nor destroyed, but only altered in form.” We, as human beings, are a collection of various types of energy. This energy, according to Einstein, has always been around and will forever be around. It can’t be destroyed, it can only change or alter in form; take on a different shape and appearance than what it once was. This is the reason spirit mediums are capable of connecting with those who have crossed over. It is because the essence of an individual’s soul, that energy, has altered from being embodied in one form and has changed into another form.
Yet again, to dwell purely on this possible extension of life is to dwell on the end of this journey. Yes, we may be on a train hurtling down the tracks towards a destination which may, or may not, be a station at which we disembark only to change trains and continue our journey – but this is a second journey, through different lands, with different stories and landscapes and experiences. We shall never again have the opportunity to look out of the windows we see now, to be part of the story unfolding right now, at this very minute.
Life without death is meaningless, as is light without darkness, heat without cold, happiness without pain. To consider one without the other takes away all meaning and substance from both.
Remember this – you are alive, now. More than this, you are alive and you are aware of that fact. There was a time before you, and there will be a time after you, but there will never again be an exact same world which you are currently living in and where you are a living sentence, an indisputable part of the epic tale that has been told for all eternity.
Live, don’t just survive; run, but not away from death – run through life only that you explore as much of it as possible. One does not throw away the seeds because the plant will only die; we plant it, nurture, it, spend every day helping it to grow not just to survive, but to bloom, to blossom, to be beautiful and alive.
Be alive, be beautiful. Tomorrow will come, but today is already here. Let’s discover what part we play in today’s chapter, and let the storyteller worry about tomorrow’s plot.