I don’t fear death (except when I do)

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8a0d91911fe17927058294eb62672545 I dont fear death (except when I do)Here’s a brief musing I tapped out on my phone last night while reading from the Book of Ecclesiastes:

I don’t know why everyone talks about the fear of death. I love life, but I don’t fear death. What I fear is the deaths of the people I love best — because I fear the pain of having to live without them. And I fear my own death only insofar as it would cause my loved ones this same terrible pain.

I’m guessing most people feel this way. Am I wrong? What about you?


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23 Comments

  1. Tim Larison on 08.08.2013 at 06:51 (Reply)

    Your words pretty much sum up how I feel about death, too, Susan. I would add that I am not looking forward to the physical pain I may endure in the process. Watching my Dad in the last year of his life last year (at age 90) he had to deal with lots of aches and pains (though his actual passing was peaceful). A book I read “What’s Your Expiry Date? Embrace your Mortality Live With Vitality” by Patrick Mathieu also helped with any fears I had about death. – Tim

    1. Susan Cain on 08.08.2013 at 21:20 (Reply)

      Interesting, Tim. You’re not the only one to make this observation (many more over on my FB page, too) and each time I read it, I think, oh yes, I don’t want EVER again to go through the kind of pain I felt during childbirth. Interesting to think of birth and death as reference points for extreme pain. I wonder what that’s all about. And might the payoff after death be as great as the payoff of labor pain? Who knows…

  2. Alison Cummings on 08.08.2013 at 07:51 (Reply)

    I also agree. And when one stops feeling the emptiness left by the loss of a loved one (and this can take a very long time), that realization feels, to me, like the final pain of one’s grief. i believe death, in itself, only adds to the richness of life.

    1. Susan Cain on 08.08.2013 at 21:25 (Reply)

      Agreed — read interesting discussion a few weeks ago (can’t remember where) of how boring immortality would get after millions of centuries. I keep thinking about this, whether it’s true. I’m never bored now, but that’s only 45 years compared to centuries piled upon centuries.

      1. Alison Cummings on 09.08.2013 at 07:34 (Reply)

        Only if the (an?) afterlife is similar life … who knows?!

      2. Peter C on 30.08.2013 at 03:34 (Reply)

        I think caterpillars would find the contemplation of an after-crysalis life rather boring too–especially one that never ended. A grub-like existence forever, how tedious.

  3. Chionesu on 08.08.2013 at 17:39 (Reply)

    I agree (and Ecc. is a sobering book which is why it’s one of my favorites.). I’m probably more saddened at the thought of me passing before my parents rather than the other way around because I know they’d be devastated.

    Interestingly, a lot can be revealed of a person by their view on death, it’s relation to how one lives life today, and the relation to the afterlife (or lack of the existence there of depending on the worldview). Really begins to get at answering the question, “Why am I here?”

    Great post!

    1. Susan Cain on 08.08.2013 at 21:23 (Reply)

      Thanks!

    2. Peter C on 30.08.2013 at 15:27 (Reply)

      To ask: “Why we’re here,” necessarily stems from self-awareness. Self-awareness also prompts another tightly-related question: “How should we live?” Since self-awareness is also usually accompanied by an awareness of other selves, our relation to others provides the natural–self-evident–context for answering these two fundamental questions.

      As ‘in-between’ isn’t an option, how we live in relation to others is simply the binary choice: “Do we put ourselves first or last?”

      This is the backstory that makes the ‘Golden Rule’, golden.

      Ultimately, why we’re here is found in the nature of the ‘here’ in which we find ourselves. Look around: do you see a need you can fill–some unique situation that you know how to materially improve? It could be as simple as offering a cup of cold water to a thirsty child, or as hard as a heartfelt apology to an enemy we’ve made.

      Any afterlife is, logically, necessarily, an extension of this one. Serving others or ourselves, since it is the fundamental issue of how we are to live in the here and now, would thus seem to have a great bearing on the direction any afterlife would take.

      Whatever calls for our response, is the reason we are here. We’ve thus the power to make the world at any moment a little more like heaven or hell. Based on the accumulated worth of our habituated choice, any afterlife will look after itself.

      Ecclesiastes shows the utter futility of self-service, and by the space it leaves bare, the blessing an opposite life could be.

      We ought not to think that someone as wise as Solomon, would simply want to recount a tale. Reflect on the genius of his judgement of the two mothers, in deciding who’s was the living child. Such a mind is going to play with us, leading us first to despair, and then to respond.

      This is perhaps part of why in his conclusion, Solomon as the ‘Preacher’, describes the words of the wise as ‘goads’.

  4. Meg on 08.08.2013 at 17:53 (Reply)

    No, I absolutely feel this way, and I’m rather closer to it than you, in terms of chronological age (really, none of us knows when our time is up). I dread leaving my husband and son behind – both are so introverted that I know they would be completely alone, and that saddens me. Aloneness is good, loneliness is dreadful. (Ecclesiastes *rocks*!) ;-)

    1. Susan Cain on 08.08.2013 at 21:23 (Reply)

      I completely agree — there is almost nothing emotionally worse than loneliness. So sorry you have to worry about this. Can you think of anything now that might help them be less on their own in the world?

  5. Amanda on 09.08.2013 at 01:37 (Reply)

    I definitely agree. I have this very weird fear of my dad dying. I think about it constantly. I really don’t know what I’m going to do when that day comes, and sometimes I wish I’d go first so I won’t have to experience life without him. The death of others has always haunted me… Not sure I’ll ever get over that.

    I started dating a very sweet guy recently. He left for a wedding today and before his plane took off, he said, “I really hope I don’t die in a plane crash. I’d be so bummed,” and then went on to say he was seriously worried he’d die and miss out on being with me. I had never heard anyone say something like that before, but it’s an interesting thought. (And really sweet, in a sort of morbid way? Haha.)

  6. Barun on 09.08.2013 at 04:19 (Reply)

    It is natural to grieve the loss of family members and others we knew, even our pets, as we adjust to living without their presence and missing them as part of our lives. The death of a loved one is terribly painful event, as time goes on and the people we know pass away along the journey of life, we are reminded of our own inevitable ends in waiting and everything is a blip of transience and impermanent.

    I am a Buddhist and I believe that death is not the end of life, it is merely the end of the body we inhabit in this life,but our spirit will still remain and seek out attachment to a new body and new life.

  7. Kent on 09.08.2013 at 12:26 (Reply)

    I am with you %100 on the fear of losing someone you love. Neither my wife (of 36 years) nor myself fear our own death as we both look forward to the day when we meet our Saviour Jesus Christ face to face. However the mere thought of losing each other can be extremely debilitating and literally rob us of the joy we now share in our life together if we’re not guarding against the thought.

  8. Kent W-F on 09.08.2013 at 14:24 (Reply)

    I dont fear death, i fear the the way im gonna die…

    Sometimes i fear dying from small talk…

  9. Rico Compagnie on 12.08.2013 at 06:35 (Reply)

    I don’t think about it. You have to accept it. Everybody’s destined to die, so you have to live your life the way you want it to be lived. What would you do if there was no fear?

  10. Laura on 13.08.2013 at 15:48 (Reply)

    Your comment reminds me of my time while in the hospital four years ago after having my daughter. She was born 7 weeks early but we soon realized she would be fine. My health was the greater worry, and for the first and only time in my life, I faced the possibility of my own death. As you say, I did not fear death for myself. At the time, I was in my early 40′s and felt that I had lived a very good life — that I had accomplished a lot and done most of the things I wanted to do up until then. I had also experienced moments of great joy and peace. But I greatly feared that my newborn baby girl would grow up without her mother, and that nearly broke me. Blessedly, everything eventually corrected itself. All is well now. We made it through and she is my greatest joy (and occasionally my greatest frustration!)

  11. David on 03.09.2013 at 14:13 (Reply)

    Yes, there is the fear of the pain and of a slow death, but the pain of losing someone you love can, over time, translate into growth and greater depth as a person. The pain never goes away, the pang can be strong, but I find that working through it and not denying it is essential.

    I recently watched the film Shadowlands again – about C.S. Lewis and how he discovered his love for Joy Davidman only after they both knew she was going to die of cancer. CS Lewis himself is an interesting mixture on introversion and inhibition. Watching Anthony Hopkins act that part made me think so much of him in the Remains of the day – again a love discovered too late. This is where a little extroversion is necessary – to act and not hold back.

  12. GP on 10.09.2013 at 12:41 (Reply)

    I agree! I fear mostly what my death will cause my loved ones to feel, Next I feel fear for how I will live without my loved ones in my life someday. But I’d rather feel the pain of losing them rather then them feel the pain of losing me.

  13. Trevor on 10.09.2013 at 13:49 (Reply)

    When I was a child I used to cry my self to sleep knowing one day I was going to die. I dont know why I obsessed about this so much. Any thoughts?

    1. JoyceD12 on 11.09.2013 at 09:28 (Reply)

      Obsessive thoughts about one’s own mortality can be experienced as dissociation and existential depression. Imagining not existing tends to disagree with our consciousness just as much as imagining infinity and eternity. Possibly it is more common in those who ‘over-think’, and they will usually be on the ‘quiet’ side.

      However, fear is the key – fear of death keeps us alive every day, but it can also help us live: constant mindfulness of one’s mortality (death is the most certain thing in life) can be positive. Without dark there is no light. Everyone dies, but not everyone lives. “There is a crack in everything That’s how the light gets in”. Tip the hat to Mr Cohen there..

  14. Denise on 16.09.2013 at 17:59 (Reply)

    Susan, I loved your book – it was my best summer read! :D I agree completely with your description above. I would go on to say that I lost my mom suddenly when I was 18, so I now have a deep fear of my children losing me too early, as the pain was (and still is for that matter, especially at different significant milestones of life – getting married, having children etc), quite intense. It extends from our natural fear of abandonment and can be very painful indeed.

    As much as death is a natural part of the ‘circle of life’, it can be quite devastating to those left behind. Working through grief and loss is important work for us to do, hopefully with the support of loved ones.

    Thank you for a very insightful and thought-provoking book!!

  15. Vero on 23.09.2013 at 22:01 (Reply)

    I agree with your description a lot. It’s accurate and concise, and sums up pretty much how I feel about the topic. I do not fear death, what ticlkes my stomach everytime I think about it is eternity, non-existance. The lack of our own presence in the Universe is scary, and it’s just the fact that we are so used to ourselves, I don’t think any of us can imagine not-being there. I do believe there might be something else beyond, though. It probably is a mechanism to feel contained, and it has been recurrent in human kind during it’s whole existance. But I do not fear death.

    The truth is, after all, we can’t avoid such fact. We’re all going to die. It can be sometimes used as a motivator, but, as I don’t consider it applyable in all situations, I just like to ignore it.Acceptation is better than fear, right? It’s a matter of what position you decide to take.

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