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Death Anxiety: The First and Final Fear

The fear of death is an experience that we all face at some point in our lives. This fear is universal because death is universal. Feelings of anxiety concerning our passing may increase as we enter the latter years of our life. This does not mean that exploring our death anxiety is a task reserved only for our retirement days. Young children often develop a realistic understanding of death before they reach middle school. The midlife crisis also hints at concerns about death in the middle years of our life. Death and its ability to induce anxiety are always with us. This fact makes the exploration of one’s fears, regrets, and beliefs concerning death an important task in every stage in life.

            Why is it important to have these conversations with ourselves about our eventual passing? Such explorations can help us understand what we truly value as we learn to accept our limited time in life. We often fill our lives with time-consuming distractions as a means of denying the reality that we travel the same road as everyone else. Acknowledging the limited time that we possess can help us remove the distractions that we have allowed to fill our time and prioritize the things that really matter to us.

            So how do we have these talks with ourselves about our death and our life? Irvan D. Yalom, M.D. observed that anxiety concerning death is strongly connected with the amount of life left unlived. The implication in this statement is that the depth of our death anxiety is an indication about the level of regret that we feel about how we have lived our life. Considering what regrets we might have if we were on our death beds right now can show us what tasks, hopes, and goals we have not yet completed. Discovery of these unfulfilled goals can give us direction in working towards a life that we can deem to be fulfilling. Such a life will not falter in the face of the first and final fear.