Self-Transformation Series:
Issue No. 19

Overcoming the Sorrow and Fear of Death

Table of Contents

  1. Importance
  2. The Causes of Fear and Sorrow in the Face of Death
  3. Ignorance and fear of the unknown
  4. Attachment
  5. Lack of preparation
  6. Unexpressed affections or guilt
  7. The Stages of Dying

I. Importance

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

  1. Ignorance and fear of the unknown
  2. Attachment, or fear of losing people or things
  3. Lack of preparation
  4. 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:

IV. Attachment

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.

  1. 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.

  2. 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 be dreaded.

  3. 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:

  1. Denial - Not, not me. It is non-acceptance that death is imminent.

  2. Anger - Why me? Death is acknowledged but there is resistance and anger.

  3. Bargaining - Yes me, but . . . The person promises that he or she will do something good if his or her life is lengthened.

  4. Depression - Yes me. Final acknowledgment of the inevitableness of one's death.

  5. 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 Rickenbacker

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Copyright 1995. Permission to reprint is granted provided acknowledgment is made to:
Peace Center
Theosophical Society in the Philippines, 1 Iba St., Quezon City, Philippines

"If five percent of the people work for peace, there will be peace."