Death is part of life. On some level, we understand that dying is inevitable, even natural, but, that doesn’t make it any easier to accept.
Most women over 60 have confronted their mortality on some level. Many of us have encountered health issues. Others have lost a spouse or close friend. Almost all of us have watched our parents grow old.
Despite the fact that we have all experienced loss, the great majority of us experience a fear of death in one way or another. To make matters worse, since society encourages us to avoid talking about death, we have no way of bringing our feelings into the open or finding out if what we are feeling is “normal.”
Since a fear of dying is one of the most common concerns that people have as they age, I would like to bring this topic into the open and start a conversation. In doing so, I hope that I can help the women in our community to address their anxieties, and, most importantly get on with living.
Let’s look at some of the most common reasons that people have a fear of dying:
Do you have regrets? Is there something that you feel you’ve left “undone?” Is there a relationship you wish you could repair, someone you’d like to apologize to, a wrong that you would like to make right? Instead of worrying, why not take action and do something to address your “unfinished business?” Even if it’s a small step, it can help you feel better.
Here’s a simple way to move forward. Make a list of your top 10 regrets. Now write down one thing that you could do to address each one.
In some cases, you will be able to address your concerns directly. Lost friends can be found and apologies made. In other cases, your regrets are too deeply buried in the past to be surfaced. In these cases, making an indirect contribution to the world can help. For example, if you lost a friend without saying goodbye, you could contribute to their favorite charity, or write a letter to their children telling them what a wonderful person they are.
If there is too much pain associated with the regret, try to give yourself permission to forgive yourself. Let it go and move ahead with your life.
Whatever you do, don’t let your past “mistakes” prevent you from living the rest of your life with passion.
Do you worry about what will happen to your family and friends after you’re gone? Do you think about what your legacy will be? Or are you simply so full of love for those closest to you that you can’t imagine being without them?
Whatever the case may be, these feelings are valid and important and beautiful. In many ways, we are at our best when we show our love for others. We can’t avoid the inevitable truth that we will be separated from our loved ones at some point. But, we can plan for our passing, no matter how far it may be in the future, in a positive and useful way.
For many of us, our most treasured possessions are the photos, letters and diaries that we have from our parents. Our generation has more opportunities than ever before to leave a lasting legacy for our children and grandchildren. For example, you could record videos for the future members of your family. It doesn’t matter if they aren’t viewed for decades (in fact, I hope they aren’t!) Or, you could start a diary, filled with your hard-earned wisdom, to be opened at a future date.
Most of all, take the time while you are still healthy to enjoy your friends and family. Never let your fears, insecurities, or laziness prevent you from building memories. These memories will be your most important legacy.
Many women over 60 are struggling with existential fears. They worry that death really is “the end” and can’t imagine losing consciousness. This is one of the hardest concerns to address through logic, because, by definition, it lies beyond the realm of experience.
Many people alleviate this fear by drawing comfort from their religion or spiritual practice. But, even if you are not particularly spiritual, there is nothing wrong with exploring the topic of the afterlife with an open mind and a welcoming heart. The topic of death has inspired countless artists, writers and musicians, who may inspire you and bring you comfort. For example, here is a poem by Mary Elizabeth Frye called “Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep” that I found comforting and thought provoking.
Here is another story about why you should have a physicist speak at your funeral to comfort your family with science-based explanations for what happens when we die – and why there is great beauty in our simple existence within the natural world.
For many, the fear of dying is not as scary as the fear of how they may die. These women about the pain, both emotional and physical, that they may experience in their final years. There is no easy answer to this fear.
I personally take some comfort in the progress that scientists are making in addressing all kinds of illnesses. If they do not succeed in holding off death indefinitely, certainly they can at least help to make our passing as pain free as possible.
I personally will count myself lucky if I am able to see my death coming. While I don’t enjoy the thought of losing my mobility or experiencing pain, I do find some comfort in the fact that I will have time to say all of the things that I want to say to my friends and family. I guess we should take our small blessings where we find them.
No-one likes to talk about death. This is completely understandable. At the same time, by avoiding conversations that relate to our own mortality, we miss out on an important opportunity to make plans that will help us to live better today and our families to manage after we are gone.
Ironically, the best time to talk about what should happen after your death is when you are full of life. Do you have a living will? Does your family know how you would like to be buried? Have you made your wishes clear about what you want to happen if you are ever in a serious accident or a coma? Do you have religious or spiritual questions that you want to explore?
More than anything, confronting your mortality will give you an even greater appreciation for the infinite value of your life.
Don’t waste a single day. Live your passions. Breathe fresh air. Spend time with the people you love. Life each day as if it could be your last. But, remember that it probably won’t be.
If you do these things, you will come to realize that your fear of death was actually a gift. In contemplating death, you remembered to live.
What are your thoughts on this? How have you coped with fears of mortality? What lessons have you learned from loved ones who have died? Please join the conversation.