“I feel strongly—as a man who will himself die one day in the not-too-distant future and as a psychiatrist who has spent decades dealing with death anxiety— that confronting death allows us, not to open some noisome Pandora’s box, but to re-enter life in a richer, more compassionate manner.“
Last month I followed a conversation between Irvin Yalom and Martin Ebeling from ‘The School of Life’ on death and loss. I am a fan of Yalom’s work and approach towards death and sickness with his clients and in his writings. As an existential therapist, he places an emphasis on the struggles faced by individuals who are coming to terms with themes of death, personal freedom, isolation and finding meaning in life. His approach is to support his patients in their process of coming to terms with and making sense of their life in the face of terminal illness and imminent death.
Recently Mr Yalom has experienced a personal loss, that of his wife following their joint publication of ‘A Matter of Death and Life: Love, Loss and What Matters in the End’. The book focuses on Yalom’s and his wife’s process of her death and explores the topic of assisted death in the state of California. During the Online-Talk, Yalom’s pain and process came across vividly as he explains his struggle, that although he has been working with death and supporting clients individually and through groups, he was surprised and fascinated by the extent which his wife’s death overwhelmed him.
He also talks in depth about his own ageing process and how he feels that he too is approaching death. Irvin Yalom speaks about how individuals feel a concern, or fear, about death in cycles throughout their life. The older we grow, the more imminent we feel this decline in our life / health / careers. The challenge is to live without regret since regret is a major factor in death anxiety. When one reflects upon his / her life, if the focus is on what one has been missing out on, or the opportunities that one didn’t take, then this would mean that we are not yet ready to embrace our mortality. We are struggling with being at peace with ourselves and the life we have lived.
So, what can one do to alleviate this death anxiety?
By living in awareness of our mortality, we make more genuine choices in our life and try to fulfil ourselves in the best possible way by being true to ourselves. I find this to be such an important mantra; life is too short to be lived in regret and disappointments!
Abigail Church is a Humanistic Integrative Counsellor who works with adults and children through counselling with Willingness. She can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on 79291817.