Have you ever met someone with zero fear of death? Neither have I. A person with no fear of the Grim Reaper might be the definition of a fool.
But I’ve met too many people who are paralyzed at the thought of death. What about you? Does the thought of death keep you from living a full life?
If you are so afraid of the Grim Reaper you cower in fear, then you are dead already because you will never fully live. Freedom from fear of the Grim Reaper sets you free to live. You will still die, but you will die only once; not a thousand times. To make this chapter of life the best of life you must work to lessen your fear of death.
50 years ago, my teacher forced me to memorize this line of poetry by Alan Seeger:
“I have a rendezvous with Death
At some disputed barricade,
When Spring comes back with rustling shade
And apple-blossoms fill the air…but I have miles to go before I sleep.”*
But now, there aren’t as many miles to travel. The end of the journey is much closer than when I learned those lines.
The older you get, the more you think about the end of life. When the Grim Reaper gets closer most people start to panic. But wouldn’t you like to spit in the Grim Reaper’s face? Imagine the scene. The big scary black hooded monster gets so close you can see his leering gaze. He expects you to shiver or panic. But as he draws near you hit him right between the eyes with a big wad of spit; followed up with a big grin.
Is it possible? I’m not sure. I’ve never been that close to death. But I’m working on how to minimize my fear of the Grim Reaper.
There are 5 pieces to my plan for minimizing my fear of the Grim Reaper.
There is the reality piece.
When I die I’m doing what billions of others have already done. Death is not a unique path trod by only a few. It is the path everyone takes. Death gives me something in common with Winston Churchill, C. S. Lewis, Jesus Christ, Genghis Kahn, and Bozo the Clown. It is a door through which everyone must travel. Why should I be exempt from this path?
There is the medical piece.
Medical science has progressed to the place where death can be better managed. Medications can be given to diminish or even extinguish pain. Many years ago people with certain diseases knew they were in for an agonizing death. This reality is not as great. Improvements in this area continue. This helps lessen the fear of an agonizing death.
There is the religious piece.
There are many different religions in the world which have something to say about the afterlife. Whatever religion you are aligned with there is often comfort in contemplating death. Even the atheist can say death brings the end of suffering. As a Christian I believe the afterlife is not a scary proposition but the start of something new. Your chosen religious path can help with the fear of death.
There is the legacy piece.
I’m working to leave behind a positive legacy. For those who take legacy-building seriously there is comfort in knowing part of them will live on. A life well lived, in some ways, is never over. The acts of love, the lives impacted, the small or big ways in which you made the world a better place do not die.
There is the value piece.
Light only has meaning in the context of darkness. A flashlight in the noon day sun means nothing. Life is similar. In this world life is made more precious by death. Death is what makes life precious. Talk to someone who is told he has only one month to live. Ask him if those 30 days are more precious than ever. Death, in a strange sort of way, gives life meaning.
There is the adventure piece.
I want someone to put this on my tombstone: “Good thing I like to travel.” Death is the last great adventure. It is traveling to parts unknown. No one knows what death is like. I reject the baloney stories told by people who “died” and came back to life and made big bucks telling their story. Death remains a mystery which can only be revealed when we take part in the great adventure.
I’m not planning on dying any time soon. But I’m getting ready for when the Grim Reaper comes knocking on the door. If he thinks I’m going to whimper and cower when he shows up he’s in for a surprise. Until then, I’m going to practice my spewing accuracy. Bullseye. Right between the eyes.
Did I leave anything out of my plan? What do you do to minimize your fear of the Grim Reaper?
(An earlier version of this article appeared in The Good Men Project.)
(*To see the complete poem click HERE.)
At sudden death of my father I suffered nervous breakdown with fear of death dominating on other physical issues. I recovered by homeopathic medicines plus reading Quran with understanding. The only fear left was aeroplane phobia with which I still travel. After second open heart surgery, then twice mild brain stroke, I love to die but I have to live because I am assigned some responsibilities to fulfil. Your points are too helpful for people who suffer fear of death. Great service for such humans indeed.
Syed! Thanks for sharing your story. You have been through a lot. Looks like you are a survivor. I too believe there is work for each of us to do as long as we breath.
Ominous timing for the article in view of what we just learned about our friend. I have faced death before. Unlike those who know it’s coming because of a slow demise related to cancer or some other disease, my situation was sudden and without warning. No time to think about it or get ready. It’s a little too late for me to worry about my “legacy”, but I am ready spiritually.
Hi Tim. I’m of the opinion, and perhaps we disagree at this point, that as long as you are alive it’s not too late to work on your legacy. Thanks for your comment.
This is a great article, Randy! It is helpful to me, as I form a spitball at the ready :-) and I am going to share it with a few of my clients who talk about fear of death. Thank you!!
I’m grateful for your words. I find myself wondering if I should have made a distinction between death and dying. There’s a difference and the difference is profound.
Interesting article. Since turning 60 I think about death a lot. At one point I was obsessed with reading everything I could. As a nurse of 43 years I have been with many people when they drew their last breath and under many different circumstances. Some went quickly, suddenly, prolonged, sedated, aware, not aware. I have seen all states. The only thing I know for sure is it’s a road you walk alone. That is what bothers me I think. The fact that I will be alone. I too am a Christian but sometimes struggle to stay a believer. My mother was a devout Catholic who prayed everyday and went to Mass three times a week. When she was 80 she said”Maybe when we die that’s it. There is nothing more” She passed at 84. I wonder if she was right.
Wow. Thanks so much for your thoughtful and honest comment. Being around death does something to you. I know as a pastor I’ve been with people as they passed from this life to the next. I’m guessing your own personal struggle is common to most people. Even as a pastor I too have had times where I’ve wondered if this is all there is. But I always come back around to the inner certainty that there is more! Hang in there. I hope the article was some some small comfort to you.
Thanks for this Randy. I worry too much about it. But if you don’t risk death, you already are! Yes!
And I so appreciate reading your replies, like icing on the cake!
Thanks Garry. I sure appreciate your faithfulness is reading and commenting. Yes, death is a REALLY scary topic!
I actually think we have to work through our fears and make death our friend. Because as you say, without it being alive has no meaning. In fact, I tend to feel that UNTIL we let go of our fears about death, we can’t really live fully in what could be the most wonderful piece of our life: our years after childhood and adulthood.
Fortunately, research shows that the really old do not fear death nearly as much as do people aged 45-65; those appear to be the peak years for freaking out about dying. We actually get happier as we get older, and the most elderly among us are often the happiest. And the most at peace with dying.
My belief that we probably live many, many lives, and after we die will soon be back in a new one to learn more and further improve ourselves, underlies my friendliness with death. I just try to keep “even with the board” in relationships and everything else so that when my time comes I will not have left a lot of ragged edges for others’ to bind. My compliments to you, Randy, for being able to hold strong views yourself while simultaneously being open-minded about other people’s conceptions of life. That is a rare gift and you have it.
Thanks for your insights and kind words. And just for the record, it’s gonna take a lot of hard work for me to become friends with Death! (BTW, I’m VERY glad we can be friends even though we share a difference of opinion about such an important subject!)