Afraid of Dying
I received an email with the words, "I am afraid of dying," in the subject line. It was from a woman who was given a few months left to live, and she was looking for an end-of-life doula. Her email was filled with questions and curiosities about death and dying, and an honest admission about being terrified to die. We had our first Zoom call a few days later.
Most of her fear was coming from a place of the unknown; where will she go after she dies, what will happen to her, is there an afterlife, and will there be pain. These were all very valid questions, some of which I honestly did not feel qualified to answer, but I welcomed the idea of going deep into the conversation with her. We talked for several hours, and I was pleased to know she felt less fear after our discussion, but it wasn't because I was able to answer her difficult questions, it was because I listened to her, and I allowed her the safe space to talk about the things she was so uncertain about. And sharing some of my experiences with her, also made her feel comforted because she realized that she would be cared for well and those closest to her would honor her wishes, which is what I would help set in place as her doula.
This reminded me of a conversation I had many years ago with a woman who was days away from death. She was not religious, and was worried that because of this, she would not go to heaven. The truth is that someone had told her that, someone told her that she was not worthy of heaven because she did not practice a faith that would honor her with a more blessed death. She wanted to know if this was true. I asked her what she believed, what she hoped to be true, and allowed her to explore the idea of a death, and after death, that would bring her comfort. She imagined a beautiful death, a peaceful death, without pain, without fear, and going to a place where all the people she loved had gone before her. This brought her peace and comfort, and this was the vision I helped her see before she died.
I do believe that most people who have a strong faith practice have less fear. I envy their commitment and have witnessed many times, the comfort they receive from it. Their fear of dying is less, because they know where they are going, and they know they will be in good hands. I am not religious, and I am not afraid of dying. But I also have the luxury of being educated about death and dying, and present at enough deaths to know what happens when you die. I also feel confident that however I might die, when my last breath is taken, there will be no pain.
The one thing I feel confident about is that pain leaves before that last breath is taken. What happens after that, looks differently for all of us. And whether you have a strong faith practice or not, I don't think that gives anyone permission to tell someone else they will not be allowed a beautiful death. I think heaven looks differently for all of us as well, and that's okay. The best thing we can do for anyone who is feeling fear or uncertainty, is to listen to them and find a way to comfort them and relieve them of fear.