Death is something that we all have in common. We all know people who have died, and we will all die ourselves. It doesn’t matter what your race, the amount of money or power you have, or what country you come from. We may be able to postpone death, but it will come for us all eventually.
Because of this, death appears quite often in art, literature, movies, and other social platforms. One of the most common reactions to the possibility of death is that of fear. People are scared at the idea of no longer being alive. Not fear regarding a violent or unhappy death, which would obviously be unpleasant and should be avoided, but at the simple fact of no longer being alive.
Should people be afraid? In media, it is also common to point out that life is difficult, and a struggle, and often unfair. It often requires hard work to succeed, and even that doesn’t guarantee anything. Why should anyone fear that coming to an end?
No one seems to think about the time before they were born as being lonely, or with any regret, or sadness. Why should the time after they die be one that should be feared?
What happens when we die is a mystery, although there are no shortage of ideas. Some believe in a spiritual afterlife filled with reward for the just, and punishment for the wicked. Others think we are reincarnated and come back to do it all over again. Some think we simply cease to be, and death is the end of an individual. Or do we come back as ghosts and haunt the living?
That sense of unknown may be what gives rise to fear. We often fear what we don’t know or don’t understand. Maybe some of us like our lives and regret losing out on what we already have. Or maybe the fear comes from imagining the grief experienced by those we leave behind.
What’s your theory? Why are people afraid of death?
Related questions: What happens when we die? What is time? What do we have in common? What beliefs do you have that might be wrong?
7 thoughts on “Why Are People Afraid Of Death?”
I’m not afraid of death. When it’s my time I pray it’s peaceful and I don’t linger, but I’m not afraid.
Full disclosure here: I am an atheist, and I do not fear death. Now, I understand the question is broader than me. “Why do people fear death?” My short and sweet answer is basically part of what Lee posted in the question. Death, for many, is the big unknown, and people often fear the unknown, what they don’t understand.
Not everyone fears death. Not only are that at peace with their eventual death, but actually desire it in a more immediate and specific way. It may be as an escape from emotional, psychological, spiritual, or physical pain as Shakespeare put it:
To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, ’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish’d.
For most people at most points in their lives though, it is something that fills us with a sense of dread given the mysterious finality of it. Again, as the Bard wrote:
To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: there’s the respect
That makes calamity of so long life;
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,
The pangs of despised love, the law’s delay,
The insolence of office and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscover’d country from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
I think the dread of death manifests itself somewhat differently when the circumstances of one’s life change. In the full flower of youth, you fear losing out on all the opportunities of what seems like a long life stretching out in front of you. As a parent, you both fear losing out on the opportunity to see what happens to your children as well as fearing the pain it might cause your children to lose one of their parents, especially when they’re young.
Anyway, those are my thoughts.
Because of my beliefs, I do not fear death. I view death as sleep, a temporary condition that I will eventually be woken from. I do not believe I will go to Heaven after I die (the Bible confirms that), nor do I worry about Hell (the Bible shows there is no such place). I believe that if/when I die, I will be resurrected to a cleansed, paradise earth where there will be no more sickness or death and peace will abound (also in the Bible).
Some who fear death have been taught to fear the possibility of eternal torment. Even many of those who believe that they will go to Heaven still don’t want to die and will often fight to remain alive. The reason is because we were never meant to die, but due to the disobedience of our original parents we all inherited sin and death.
Like Michael, I also think those who do fear death, often fear the unknown. The process of dying is also scary, as none of us wants to be in pain.
If our responses so far to your question are representative of people in general, the majority do not fear death. That said, it depends on the timing, as someone stated earlier. I tell people I hope too live to be 90 something and die in my sleep. Even that’s a little scary considering I’m in my 70’s now.
I’ve had a number of friends die in the past few months, and they died because their bodies were sick and/or worn out. I think it was their time to go and from what I could tell, they died peacefully.
I believe in eternal life, so death is like turning the page on a brand new chapter of one’s life.
Christians believe that God will raise us from the dead on the last day. I’m an aspiring Christian, so I believe it also. My former pastor, someone I respect, once told us that “God always saves the best for last.” I wish I’d asked him how he knows, but if he was right, we have nothing to fear.
I imagine the fear of death for most is a combination of things. No one wants to confront the possibility that this is, indeed, all there is. Compound that with the loss of control of everything physical and mental and that makes for a really scary place to be. Will I wake up? Will I be who I am now? Is it going to hurt? Will I be able to communicate?
There are some that believe that one isn’t really dead until all those who remember them have died as well. Is there life after death? Who knows, especially since once you have crossed that line, you can’t come back to talk about it. To haunt, yes, but not to narrate. After all, ghosts don’t know they are dead
I am not personally afraid of death, but rather the method. A few years ago, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. This is easily treated if it is caught early and is not extremely aggressive. However, the only men I knew who had been diagnosed with prostate cancer died very extended and painful deaths. For a 6 week period I did not know how I was going to end up. My prognosis is good, but I had the real possibility of spending the next 10 years fighting an inevitable and painful end. It is no joke that your life comes into focus. You fully understand what is important or not and each decision is well thought out with every consequence considered. I hope to keep this in mind going forward.
Wrapped up in this question is another question for me (as usual)… why is it not always polite to discuss death? People get turned off by this subject, they say it’s depressing, or they avoid talking about their own deaths or other peoples deaths. Perhaps, if asked, they would even say they do not fear death! Yet often they have not discussed it with people they are closest to or prepared for death in any way. Avoiding it feels like an act of fear.
As a society we’ve done a really poor job at integrating this very definite part of our lives.
In the United States I grew up around dark funerals, quiet wakes, and desolate graveyard burials all cloaked in immense sadness. Culturally I think this has created a foundation of fear around death.
In some cultures death is celebrated like a wedding might be. It is (as some people have said here) a passage onto a next chapter! I wish culturally we could find a more positive spin on death. Then maybe some of that fear wouldn’t exist.