A sure sign that we find a topic
uncomfortable is that we joke about it rather than discuss it
directly . Hence the large number of Woody Allen jokes about death -
like the one above. Here are another two of Woody Allen's.
There are worse
things in life than death. Have you ever spent an evening with an
not that I'm afraid to die, I just don't want to be there when it
There are basically two lines
to take on death anxiety. One (basically the cognitive approach) is to
dispute the basis of death anxiety - an approach taken as long ago as
the fourth century BC by Epicurus when he said
Death is nothing to us, since when
we are, death has not come, and when death has come, we are not.
The cognitive approach to death
anxiety would also advocate distracting oneself from thought's of dying
and, to use more psychanalytic terminology, sublimating death
anxiety into humour - and who better than Woody Allen to represent the
The second line to take is
the existential one, characterised by the works of Viktor Frankl and
Irvin Yalom. Here the idea is that we should NOT avoid thinking about
death - or, more accurately, we should from time to time remind
ourselves of the finitude of life. Even the cognitive therapist's
couldnt say we are merely "jumping to conclusions" when we say we are
going to die! Existentialists counsel us to switch
off autopilot or following the herd, sheep-like.
Instead we should realise that we have a limited amount of
time on this planet and make active choices about how to live.
Tolstoy's classic Death of Ivan Ilyich is
a salutary tale of how not to do it. The Robin William's film
Dead Poets Society is another one, in a
So which should we choose - the cognitive
approach or the existential? Myself, I see the value of both, used the
right way. There is no point worrying about death. But there is a lot
of point in making the most of life. If a little bit of death anxiety
can help us live better, then I'd take the deal.
Paul Wong - From
Death Anxiety to Death Acceptance: A meaning management model
- good introduction, include's Wong's own meaning-oriented ideas
Death of Ivan Ilyich - Tolstoy's classic short story
available free on-line - suggests a little bit of death anxiety now, if
used constructively, may prevent a lot of regrets when it's too late to
consider how one should have lived.
on The Death of Ivan Ilyich - a good
(free) guide to understanding it more deeply
interview with existential psychotherapist Irvin Yalom -
includes his thoughts on how "a
denial of death at any level is a denial of one's basic nature."
Perspective of Existential Psychotherapy - brief article, refering to Yalom's Love's
death anxiety - short article about palliative care treatment
of death anxiety
do people deal with a fear of death - A variety of
ideas -some good, some not so good - from Yahoo answers