So why is it that Americans fear death so – especially in our modern world?
First of all, perhaps death is not what most of us have been told it is – something scary to hide and avoid?
In my experience from doing hospice for years, my conclusion is that there’s actually nothing to fear about death itself. (See my first article titled “Death Nothing to Fear”).
In fact, understanding and learning about death can open up and enhance our lives tremendously.
If you’re interested in more specifics, I wrote about all the ways that my spiritual life was enhanced and expanded through doing hospice counseling work in my second book, The Most Important Day of Your Life, Are You Ready?
So if we’ve been sold a bill of goods around death, perhaps it’s time that we uncover the Truth and make friends with it.
After all, it’s been perched on our shoulders since our birth; and most of us do not have any idea when “our time” will come to us. Of course that’s perhaps another obvious reason we tend to fear it: It’s the Unknown, and the time death comes to “take us Home” tends to be out of our control.
Perhaps another reason we’re so awkward around death is that as Rabbi Schachter-Shalomi, one of the founding fathers of the Jewish Renewal Movement said, during the last 100 years, modern medicine has taken death to the hospital. And God bless the Rabbi’s soul – a well known teacher in the area of conscious aging in Boulder, CO – he made his final transition himself, just over a year ago.
For that matter, we’ve taken birth to the hospital for the most part, too.
Another reason we fear death here in the United States may have to do with the “fire and brimstone” approach to religion and the influence that conservative Christianity has had in our culture over the years.
The puritanical tendency that our “founding fathers and mothers” had and the neo-conservative Christian perspective continues to uphold the Old Time Religion perspective that is full of threats about “going to hell” or “burning in hell” if you didn’t live the perfect religious life.
When I spoke with people on hospice who were church goers much of their life, and asked them “Aren’t you looking forward to going to heaven and seeing Jesus, your family, and friends?”
I was surprised by how many would respond, “Well, I hope you’re right.” They often didn’t seem convinced about an afterlife, and certainly not about going to heaven and meeting up with Jesus.
One day, while driving around visiting my hospice people, I came across the bumper sticker, “Don’t Die Wondering”!
I thought to myself, that’s it, that may well be it: Perhaps when we die, we get what we think and expect we’re going to get?
If we believe in a benevolent afterlife, and think we’re going to heaven, that’s where we’ll go; and if we believe that we deserve to go to some place like “hell,” perhaps that’s what we’ll get – at least for a period of time?
I still say that in the end, the most important thing for us to do in our “death denying culture” is to start communicating with others about death. And especially if you have someone in your family who’s moving through the experience of a serious illness or some kind of threat to their life, it may be a very kind gesture to open up the conversation, at least to see if they might like to speak about it.
Who’s to say you might have the most enlightening and important conversation of your life?
By the way, there’s an organization that began in 2010 in the United Kingdom that’s taking hold around the world these days. It’s called the Death Cafe. This is an organization that helps to create space where people can go to have open discussions on all aspects around death and dying.
The idea is to gather people together who are interested in speaking about death and let them share tea and cake (goodies) along with conversation. Anyone interested can start a Death Cafe; and they are sprouting up around the world, literally. You can see more here.
Lastly, I leave you with the question, why do you fear death?
Why do you feel that so many people are afraid of death?
What is going on such that we find it challenging to see that “death is like taking off a tight shoe that no longer fits,” most liberating!
This conversation is to be continued, and we welcome your stories, questions and comments around these topics.