How to release your fear of death

Death anxiety is more common than you might think. Most people have unconscious fears and questions around death. Yet most of us don't talk about it. But that wondering (even when unconscious) about what happens when we die has a profound impact on our thoughts, feelings, and behavior. The fear is often so great and so painful that we protect ourselves by repressing the full realization of death and dying.

In order to overcome that fear and to manage anxiety, we need to both face death and also reimagine it. There are many ways to begin to think about death in a positive way. I have found that personally facing death and my fears about it have eased my anxiety in significant ways. When I first began to work in the field of death and dying my anxiety increased as I was forced to stare head-on into the reality of it all, but then after a short time of really having to face it, I realized that I was growing more comfortable and that my fears were dissipating. I've since been able to find many beautiful ways to look at death, one of them being the comparison to birth.

Regardless of your religious or spiritual inclinations, what is like to think about if birth and death are really the same thing? What if birth is simply the death of something that came before? Just as babies are born from the world of the womb into the arms of a mother, maybe the same happens upon death. And maybe if we listen closely enough during this lifetime we’ll hear the heartbeat of something bigger than we think we know now. Fear of death is really just fear of what comes next. But what if that death is really just another birth?

Last fall I gave birth for the third time in my life, an experience so singular and primal that I can only ever liken it to deaths I've witnessed. As I labored that evening I thought about my father and my mother, I thought about friends I've lost, and I thought about patients I've seen through their final moments of life. It is not easy to leave this world, nor is it easy to come into it. I do believe there's an in-between place, because I've felt it in these brief moments of becoming a mother, and I've seen it in the people I've lost.

We are not these bodies. We are so much more. But we come in as these people and are here for a short time to live and to love.

Are there ways in which you can better face the idea of death? Are there ways in which you can even bring yourself to see the beauty in it? Face your fears in order to overcome them. You can start today by simply having conversations about death with trusted friends or therapists. There are also many other ways to think about tackling your fears that I outline in Anxiety: The Missing Stage of Grief. I promise that it doesn’t have to be as scary as you think it will be.


How Being Prepared for Death can Alleviate Anxiety

preparing for death

Today I want to introduce you to Amy Pickard and her company Good To Go. But before I tell you about her, let me tell you about what led me to her.

Experiencing so much loss in my life caused me a lot of anxiety about death (my forthcoming book is titled Anxiety: The Missing Stage of Grief), something that ramped up in particular after my first child was born. In the early days of my daughter's life I suddenly found myself fretting endlessly about what would happen if I died early, just as my mother had, leaving Vera without a mom. I thought about it obsessively to the point where I felt miserable. I didn’t want to think about death all the time; I had just had a baby, one of the most joyous experiences of my life! Eventually, I began to search for ways to alleviate this awful state I’d found myself in.

I knew that in order to do this I needed to face my anxiety head-on, which really meant facing death head-on. I asked myself the question: What if I do die early just like my mom? What could I put in place that would make me feel better? From writing letters to my daughters, to making some of my wishes known to friends, and taking out a life insurance policy, I literally started getting my affairs in order.

But what about all the other stuff? 

When I heard about Amy Pickard and Good to Go I knew I had my answer. Following the loss of her own mother, and having to sift through the logistical mess her mother left behind, Amy started her company. Her wish was that everyone leaves this world prepared, not just for themselves, but for the loved ones they’re leaving behind as well. In a Good to Go party Amy will actually come to your house and sit down with you and your family or friends and help walk you through everything you need to do to be prepared to leave your loved ones behind. And she does it with humor, booze, and a rock 'n' roll soundtrack to boot. Last summer I hosted a Good to Go party with Amy at my house. I invited about a dozen friends and was pleasantly surprised with how all of them took me up on the invite. The evening was informative, heartwarming, and ultimately healing.

Amy provides a Good to Go folder and packet that she walks you through and that you continue working on at your own pace. From computer passwords to medical wishes, favorite memories, and on who’s wrist you want your favorite watch to land, the packet covers everything you want your loved ones to know in your absence.

Even though I plan on living to be a grandmother, I feel so much less anxious knowing that even if I don't, my loved ones will be taken care of. Check out Amy and all she does at Good to Go.

Here are some questions for you to begin thinking about on your own. Take your time with them. Create your own Departure File, or reach out to a company like Amy’s who can assist you in this task.

In the Event of Your Own Death

  1. Do you have a will or advance directives?
  2. Do your loved ones know your funeral/memorial wishes?
  3. Do they know your burial/cremation wishes?
  4. Do you have a list of all of your accounts and passwords?
  5. Do your loved ones know where to find your legal documents (will, advance directives, birth certificate, marriage certificate, car, home or life insurance)?
  6. Have you assigned someone to manage your assets or be a co-signer on your bank accounts?
  7. Have you taken measures to protect your dependents financially?
  8. Is there anyone particular you would like notified about your death?
  9. Have you thought about what you would like to happen to your pets?
  10.  Are there personal belongings you wish to go to specific people?
  11.  Are there memories or advice you wish to pass to your loved ones?
  12.  Are there things you would like destroyed (i.e. journals and diaries)?
  13.  Is there anything comforting you can provide to your loved ones? For example, a letter telling them what you hope for them after you are gone.

Love,
Claire