Dealing with the Fear of Death
Posted on 10 June 2019, 8:53
As I recently dealt with the possibility of a terminal condition, a friend asked if my conviction that we live on in a greater reality helped me overcome the fear of death. I’d be lying if I were to say that I don’t fear death, although it’s really more the dying process, not death, per se, that I fear. I’m referring to the infirmities, the feebleness, the limitations, the confinement, the pain, the sickness, the boredom, as well as the stresses placed on loved ones who live with the dying person. The thought of being bedridden and helpless, possibly even requiring assistance in using the bathroom, scares me.
With two preliminary laboratory tests pointing to the possibility of colon cancer, I did experience such fears not long ago, although it is difficult to separate the fear of dying from the fear of death and just as difficult to measure and compare the degree of the fear of death of the believer with that of the nihilist. From what I have observed and heard, the nihilist does not have nearly the same peace of mind in the death experience that the true believer has, but it is a very subjective and gray area involving differing mindsets. Moreover, ego enters the picture in any attempt to get truthful responses to one’s fears.
Recently reissued by White Crow Books, From Life to Life, by Charles Drayton Thomas, (below) deals with such fears. It involves an aristocratic English family living through the later Victorian period and into the Edwardian years. The happiness surrounding the family was dealt a serious blow when young Edgar was killed in fighting around Vimy Ridge in 1917. “The very brightness of their previous outlook made the future appear more desolate by its sharp contrast,” Thomas wrote. “For William (Edgar’s father), there were ruined hopes buried in that grave on foreign soil; for the aunts (Agnes and Helen) came a [void] which nothing they could picture would ever fill. To all three of them, the future years must bring limitations of body and possibly of mind; but the arm on which they had expected to lean and the keen young brain which would have thought and planned for them, and which might have enlivened those later years…Edgar…was dead….The home took on a changed atmosphere. Depression and resignation reigned unchallenged in each. Edgar was gone.”
Some joy was restored, however, when Agnes and Helen began communicating with Edgar through the trance mediumship of Gladys Osborne Leonard. As William held the Christian belief in heaven, he was shocked when his sisters reported that they had talked with Edgar through Mrs. Leonard. However, some evidential communication eventually brought conviction to him before he, too, transitioned and began communicating with his sisters through Mrs. Leonard. In one communication he told Agnes how much hearing from Edgar through Leonard had helped him get through his final years. “One cannot overestimate the value of knowing before one passes,” he communicated. “Why even the most ignorant and stupid person, who intended taking a journey to some strange land, would go out of his way to glean information about the geography, climate and conditions of that land. But the majority of those whom I and Edgar now help have been very badly equipped for this life.”
Edgar explained to Agnes that many do not accept the world beyond death because they will have to face the results of willfulness and selfishness during their earth life and that
a person’s body (aura?) shows the degree of spiritual development. “The more one lives in harmony with the Divine Mind, the more fully and perfectly does one live here.”
Agnes told William that even though she had heard many good things about life on Other Side from both him and Edgar, she still dreaded the idea of death. “Yes, I know there seems a strangeness about it,” Edgar replied. “I felt that, too. I was tired of earth, tired of my body and tired of difficulties. I longed to go to Edgar, and yet something in me shrank from it. But when it came [to the time to leave the body] all fear departed. The door opened and I passed through.”
My recent “scare” began with an annual “wellness exam,” part of my health insurance program. It included an assortment of laboratory tests, one of which suggested possible colon cancer. That resulted in my doctor recommending a test called Colordark, now regularly advertised on television. I pointed out to the doctor that even if this more extensive test indicated colon cancer that I was not prepared to undergo treatment, such as radiation or chemotherapy. At age 82, I am more inclined to let nature take its course. I asked what would be gained by taking the test other than some peace of mind that would come with a negative test. However, both the doctor and my wife convinced me that it is the right thing to do. I submitted, and the test came back positive for colon cancer with a small asterisk indicating that there is only a 15 percent chance that it is colon cancer. I was prepared to live with the 85 percent chance that I don’t have it, but I was further persuaded to take the next step, a colongraphy, which involves much more extensive testing. Fortunately, that test came back negative for cancer.
All three tests took a total of six weeks and I had more or less come to the conclusion during that time that death was on the horizon. While watching a baseball game on television, I felt great elation when the pitcher on my favorite team, the Oakland Athletics, threw a no-hitter. As the last out was made, I jumped for joy, before quickly returning to reality and asking myself, “So what? You might be dead by the end of the season. It’s just a game, not reality. Who cares?” I found myself doing that quite often during those six weeks, constantly reminding myself that what little I do in this world really doesn’t matter much at this point. Contemplating death results in a melancholic outlook on life, at least for me and for the many friends and relatives I have observed deal with it.
Many doctors subscribe to a policy of no such tests after around age 75, concluding that the risks involved in treating the condition outweigh the risks of doing nothing, or to put it another way, the time remaining while doing nothing is greater than the time gained by doing something. However, many doctors don’t seem to buy into that policy and in these days when so many of them are reluctant to treat patients on Medicare I worry that they will drop me as a patient and not be there if I need them for some non-terminal condition if I don’t take their advice.
The “dying” part aside, my recent experience allowed me to further test my conviction that consciousness survives death. There were many times during those six weeks of anxiety that I examined my views on the subject while mulling over the best evidence in support of survival. My conviction remained strong at the 98.8 percent certainty level. I frequently went to bed at night thinking it would be best if I transitioned during my sleep and avoided the weeks or months of decay and deterioration. I reasoned that if I were a bachelor that would be the preferred exit, but I worried about my wife finding my lifeless body upon awakening in the morning.
There were many times over those six weeks that I wondered how I would be dealing with the anxiety if I were a typical nihilist, expecting complete “lights out” when the heart stops pumping. I concluded that contemplating total extinction would be immeasurably more difficult and probably result in difficulty falling asleep each night. I know that some nihilists claim they are not bothered by the idea of extinction, but, as I have said many times in prior blogs, I tend to sense that such “courage” is mere bravado, or as pioneering psychologist William James suggested, just so much “bosh” and “humbug.”
To again quote Professor James: “The [moral nihilist] must hold his breath and keep his muscles tense; and so long as this athletic attitude is possible all goes well – morality suffices. But the athletic attitude tends ever to break down and it inevitably does break down even in the most stalwart when the organism begins to decay, or when morbid fears invade the mind.”
Back to Agnes and William, in spite of all the good news from William and Edgar, Agnes still expressed her dread of death, to which William said she was passing through a test of endurance. “All are tested in one way or another,” William explained, “for earth is the testing place for the soul. It is not meant to be a pleasure-ground, as so many seem to suppose. God’s purpose is that character should be tested up to the hilt while we are on earth. Those who escape it on earth get it here, and it is far better to be tested on earth than over here; for when one comes here the soul should have finished its schooling and be ready for wider opportunities and adventures of real life.”
Next blog post: June 24
Michael Tymn is the author of The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens After We Die, Resurrecting Leonora Piper: How Science Discovered the Afterlife, and Dead Men Talking: Afterlife Communication from World War I.
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