Issue No. 19
Overcoming the Sorrow and Fear of Death
Table of Contents
- The Causes of Fear and Sorrow in the Face of
- Ignorance and fear of the unknown
- Lack of preparation
- Unexpressed affections or guilt
- The Stages of Dying
Many people are unable to accept the death of a loved one as well as one's
own death. Death poses a terror and when it comes, people find themselves
unprepared. It is the greatest source of stress. Considering that death
exempts no one, it is important that we are able to face death wisely.
II. The Causes of Fear and Sorrow
in the Face of Death
- Ignorance and fear of the unknown
- Attachment, or fear of losing people or things
- Lack of preparation
- Unexpressed affections and guilt
III. Ignorance and fear of the unknown
People who are afraid of death are those who are misinformed about it. Their
ideas of death and the afterlife have been formed by tales of elders. But
there is sufficient scientific data to give us reliable facts about death and
the afterlife. Knowledge of this will diminish our fear and dread of death.
Aside from religious teachings on life after death, the following areas of
research having strongly validated the reality of life after death:
- Near-death experience - Researches of Dr. Raymond Moody, Elisabeth
Kubler-Ross, etc., on common experiences of people who have undergone
clinical death and lived again. They experience themselves separate from
the physical body, are able to see their own bodies and what is happening
to the surroundings. Their descriptions of what they saw are often validated,
inspite of the fact that they were supposed to be dead.
- Psychical research - More than 100 years of research that tend to
confirm life after death. Foremost in this field are the Society of
Psychical Research in England, and the American Society of Psychical
Research, once headed by the psychologist William James.
- Proof of survival through memory of past lives - An interesting
source of evidence comes from the researches of Dr. Ian Stevenson,
Dr. Banerjee, etc., on children who remember their past lives and whose
claims have been independently verified. The data indicate that there
is indeed an independent entity or consciousness that survives death
and which is reborn into another body. A summary of Dr. Stevenson's
research is published as Evidence of Survival From Claimed Memories
of Past Lives which won the William James Award.
- Testimony of mystics - People who have direct insight into the
nature of death and immortality, such as Dr. Richard Bucke, Tagore,
Tennyson, etc. All at once, as it were, out of the intensity of the
consciousness of individuality, the individuality itself seemed to
dissolve and fade away into boundless being; and this not a confused
state, but the clearest of the clearest, the surest of the surest,
the weirdest of the weirdest, utterly beyond words, where death was
an almost laughable impossibility, the loss of personality but the
only true life. - Alfred Tennyson
Fear of death is also caused by attachment to people and things. We do not
know how to let go. Such attachments can be due to dependence, such as
emotional or economic dependence. It is important to learn how to appreciate
a relationship without being attached. Appreciation leads to genuine care
and loving, while attachment is really a personal need which gratified
by the presence of another person. Loving someone is different from needing
someone. Love is unconditional. It gives rather than asks.
V. Lack of preparation
Death of oneself or loved ones can be very distressing if we are unprepared
for it. For example, a wife may be totally dependent on the husband's income
to support the family. If the husband suddenly goes, the distress is often
due to her helplessness.
- Economic preparation - adults, whether single or married, should
take time to prepare for the unexpected. In the event that something
happens to oneself or to the spouse, the ones left behind will not be
too distressed by the crisis if sufficient preparations have been made,
such as papers for properties, bank accounts, indebtedness, etc.
- Psychological preparation - it is helpful for young parents to
openly discuss about death with children, so that children can accept
the death of parents and be psychologically prepared. Death after all
is something natural and inevitable. It is a transition that must not
- Work preparations - prepare things such that people will not
find it a problem to continue the work that you leave behind.
"Death never takes the wise man by surprise, he is always ready to
go." - Jean de la Fontaine.
VI. Unexpressed affections or guilt
Sometimes, we grieve at the death of a loved one because we feel some guilt.
We feel that the loved one was not even aware how much we cared for him or
her, and it is too late to express or show to her our care. If only we
had gathered the courage to express our affections. It is for this reason
that we must not postpone our expression of caring for the people we
love children, spouse, parents, friends, etc. In some cultures where
verbally expressing your care is difficult, then do it by action such as
visits, gifts, cards, letters, or thoughtfulness about small things.
VII. The Stages of Dying
The foremost researcher on death and dying, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, has found
five distinct stages that people undergo when they know that they are about
to die, such as those diagnosed with terminal illness. It is helpful for
people to understand so that they can calmly cope with the crisis and tension
when someone is dying:
- Denial - Not, not me. It is non-acceptance that death is
- Anger - Why me? Death is acknowledged but there is resistance
- Bargaining - Yes me, but . . . The person promises that he or
she will do something good if his or her life is lengthened.
- Depression - Yes me. Final acknowledgment of the inevitableness
of one's death.
- Acceptance - My time is very close now and it's all right. Such
acceptance is calm and mature. No one should fear death. I know, because
I have come face to face with death several times. It is really a
pleasant experience. You seem to hear beautiful music and everything is
mellow and sweet and serene no struggle, no terror, just calmness and
beauty. "When death comes, you will find it to be one of the easiest and
most blissful experiences you have ever had." - Capt. Eddie
Copyright 1995. Permission to reprint is granted provided acknowledgment is made to:
Theosophical Society in the Philippines, 1 Iba St., Quezon City, Philippines
"If five percent of the people work for peace, there will be peace."