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I am afraid of death:how to manage?

I am afraid of death:how to manage?

There is an anxiety that almost all of us share, and even, to tell the truth, two anxieties:that of aging, and its corollary, that of death. But what about our elders, for whom aging is now well underway, which confronts them with the imminence of their mortality? The taboo around death leads us to rarely broach the subject with them. Yet many of them naturally suffer from this anxiety. How can they manage this truly existential fear? And this in an increasingly secularized society, where religion no longer offers the same promise of salvation as it did for past generations?

What is thanatophobia?

There is fear of death — the one we probably all know, which disturbs us and questions us during our sleepless nights, or when the death of a loved one reminds us of our own mortality — and then… fear of Death with a capital M — anxiety pushed to the extreme, in its most pathological and paralyzing entrenchments, with its share of panic attacks, insomnia, depression… This is what is then called thanatophobia.

If this can occur in anyone old enough to become aware of the irremediable nature of death and therefore of their own finitude (in general, therefore, from the age of 7 or 8), is it more likely to occur in our elders? , those for whom death is now more likely to come knocking at their door? We know, for example, that thanatophobia occurs more often in people with chronic pathologies potentially exposing them to sudden death, such as cystic fibrosis...

The fear of death among seniors

It would indeed seem that the fear of death tends to decrease with age. However, it must be taken into consideration that this actually manifests itself in different forms:some will be afraid of the unknown and the potential nothingness that accompanies death, others of their bodies destroyed by incineration or decomposing. , others from agony, others from dying before their time, and so on. These different facets of anxiety do not imply the same potential solutions, and also suggest a possible evolution with age:the oldest are indeed more likely to fear the agony itself, the deadline of their death approaching, than other aspects of death for example. Nevertheless, it would indeed seem that the fear of death in general is paradoxically more widespread among the youngest , peaking in the twenties, while it regresses after a certain age, with a relatively low rate from the age of 60. It would indeed seem that if the elderly tend to think and talk more regularly about death - which is all in all quite logical, since they themselves are gradually losing their loved ones - they do so in a less anxiety-provoking way. than younger people, who would have a less realistic understanding of it.

We also know that people at the end of life are more prone to anxiety , whether it is persistent or manifests itself in the form of acute attacks – and this sometimes even without their knowledge, either out of denial or shame, or out of fear of being a burden for their loved ones by creating more worry for them. If the elderly are therefore on average more peaceful in relation to death, it would seem that the imminence of death can bring back these anxieties, whether they are linked to an existential concern or to the physical pain that accompanies these moments. And moreover, it is not a question of generalising, since certain elderly people who are not yet in a situation of end of life are of course also confronted with this anxiety, in particular when they are poorer and of a more anxious nature.

The signs of thanatophobia

The imminence of death necessarily leads to a certain assessment of his past life. If it is in the order of things to hope to have a few more decades to live until at least one's fifties or sixties, and therefore to be able to fill them with various and varied projects, this is no longer the case. past a certain age, all the more so when you see your body and your abilities shrinking, and when you begin to lose autonomy. It is therefore easy to concentrate on your "failures":to feel regrets with regard to what one could not or did not want to do when young, and conversely to denigrate one's accomplishments - a form of nihilism thus takes over in the face of the inevitability of death and in the face of how this smooths everything out. Dust becomes dust again.

The same goes for social relationships:we reach an age where social ties gradually disappear , where one constantly builds during the first part of his life. This therefore leads to an impoverishment of his outer life, as well as that of the inner life if gloom takes precedence in the face of this observation. It also seems that it is little by little the fear of great old age, and of simple survival rather than life that accompanies it, which tends to replace the anxiety of death in the elderly. The drivel, which tends to fix a moment in the past in order to make time stop flowing, or the refusal to accept the withering away of one's body, whether by continuing to drive when it is obviously dangerous, or by refusing to wear their glasses, etc. are all defense mechanisms that keep this anxiety at bay.

All this can therefore lead to depression when one really becomes aware of one's mortality, and of the not only inevitable but now imminent nature of it. This fear can even in some cases be accompanied in a paradoxical way by a certain "death drive" , to borrow the Freudian concept, when the anguish of death and wasting leads precisely to suicide or at least to pronounce in favor of euthanasia, in order to die "standing up", so to speak, while remaining master of his last bow.

Potential solutions

Nevertheless, if death is indeed one, the anguish which accompanies it is not obliged to remain a fatality for the people who suffer from it. There are several solutions which, if of course they do not necessarily guarantee to prove effective for all or to completely eradicate any form of fear, deserve at least to be considered, so as not to spoil his last years. What could be more stupid than not enjoying your life because you are obsessed with your death?

Religion has long helped humanity to comfort itself in the face of its own finitude. We no longer imagine death as the end of existence, but as a passage to somewhere else, to even something better, life on earth being in some cases seen as a priesthood. It is not for nothing that it is often the most needy people who are also the most devout. But in an increasingly secular society, this solution no longer comforts everyone, although it is not necessary to be part of a cult to testify to a certain spirituality , and that we can replace the concept of God with other spiritual and philosophical notions:the universe, energy, etc.

If one is less spiritual, one can always seek comfort from the philosophers who, from antiquity to the existentialists, have always been concerned with this subject. Finally, do not hesitate to lift this taboo by starting therapeutic work. It is never too late to confront your psyche, and there are different approaches, adapted both to each personality and to the different forms of anxiety:hypnosis can help locate the source of your fear, analysis to verbalize it, cognitive-behavioral therapies to identify and get rid of our sometimes counterproductive defense mechanisms...

Another way to catch the bull by the horns is to talk about it around you, with your loved ones, which allows you to face your anxiety rather than trying to ignore it. Writing your will, deciding on the course of your funeral — in short, embarking on the administration of your death, if you like — are all ways of regaining control over your anxieties . Existential therapy proposes, for example, to imagine in the smallest details his burial in order to take stock! One can also tell the story of one's life, in order to ensure that the assessment, almost inevitable when one finds oneself faced with this deadline, is not tinged with regrets, but on the contrary highlights the unique character of one's own existence, shows that it was "worth" to be lived, and that its transmission and this unique character interest the generations to come.