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Afraid of Dying? No, but Mr. Death's Still Gonna Have To Wait

Updated on November 13, 2014

Whisking Away the Fear of Death, Just Like Buddha

Do you have a fear of death? Take a tip from Siddhartha Gautama.

When the first Buddha was asked what he gained from meditation, he deftly answered with what he lost, among other things - his fear of death.

I can't say I ever really feared death. As a kid overexposed to horror movies and television, I did fear the pain and terror they used to keep fools like me glued to their seats. That was something else.

What I did have, as I got into midlife, was a dread of not being alive. What about you?

As you grew to appreciate the richness of life, did the idea that, one day, you wouldn't be around to be part of it make you sad? Love of life made me want to live forever.

When Burt Lancaster, in The Swimmer, looked exuberantly up on a clear day and declared, "Look at that sky!" that was how I felt. I was thrilled to be alive and hated the truth that I would not always be.

Knowing I'd lose that passion, knowing it was inevitable, brought an unshakeable sadness with it.

It would all be gone, but the world and everything in it would continue without me.

Then, bit by bit, that awareness changed, turning itself inside out. As with the Buddha, meditation played a role, but learning from books and observation mixed in too.

Slowly, I learned the happy truth about dying and what it teaches us about living.

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Taking A Look At Death From a Safe Distance

What are you afraid of?

In my family, we were sheltered from the reality of death as children. In some ways, like dogs hit by cars, it might bring sorrow, but it was evanescent, life went on, death in a haze of forgetfulness behind us.

The first time death planted itself on my lap and wouldn't leave was when my grandmother died. Twelve years old and not having had a special relationship with her, I was taken mostly with curiosity at her funeral.

Men don't cry was a fact I knew, but one of my uncles went completely to pieces, the tough old farmer facade scraped off for the day and a lesson for me. Men do cry, but most are ashamed of it.

What landed indelibly at Grandma’s funeral was a Tennyson poem printed on the program. I didn't like Crossing the Bar any more than I liked the ickiness of most poetry, at that age, but the idea that, in death, we cross a bar and are not dropped off in heaven or hell resonated.

I can’t tell you why, but

When that which drew from out the boundless sleep

Turns home again

fit with me like later verses: Wallace Stevens on the consolation of writing "a few words tuned / And tuned and tuned," or Emerson on true love,

Heartily know, when half-gods go

The gods arrive.

Some things are just true, whether you get it or not, and don't need to be explained. We just know.

A few years later, when my cousin Johnny, age eight, was killed after being hit by a speeding car while riding his bike, I was a pallbearer, one of the last to say, "Goodbye," before the lid was closed.

It was obvious to me that this body was less than the active kid I knew. The makeup wasn’t close to approximating the vitality that once was. It was not that the figure in the coffin had stopped functioning. It was that something bigger had been removed.

Valley of the Shadow of Death

All the great religious traditions say we should not be afraid of the dark.
All the great religious traditions say we should not be afraid of the dark. | Source

All The Great Spiritual Teachings Tell Us Not To Fear Death

You may not agree with their reasons or the other beliefs and teachings that go with them, but this is consistent.

Tao Te Ching: An Illustrated Journey
Tao Te Ching: An Illustrated Journey

Lao Tzu teaches the flow as an endless stream of time.

The Gospel Of Buddha Compiled From Ancient Records (1915)
The Gospel Of Buddha Compiled From Ancient Records (1915)

Buddha said that meditation taught him not to fear death, among other things.


"...though I walk through the valley of of the shadow of death, I fear no evil..."


What's Gone...?

I can sum up my thoughts about death like Kristin Chenoweth did in her autobiographical A Little Bit Wicked. Observing her beloved grandfather’s body shortly after his death, her intuition was clear.

As I recall, it was something like “Come on, that’s not him.”

I feel - or have felt - the same way. The body is there, but a core has been extracted.

Between The Meaning of Life and Death, A Gap

Fear and Wonder

Two things can' be pulled apart from each other - the meaning of life and death.

That fact got more difficult when, as a man determined to be honest and open with myself, I had to consider atheism's point of view, that it's all ultimately meaningless, that our spiritual beliefs are artificial dressings dreamed up to ease the inevitable tragedy of life, as possibly as valid as anything the religions taught us.

I am not comfortable with either extreme, but the persuasiveness of the atheists' scientific, rationalist view settled more easily in my internal debate.

The airy-fairy nature of an afterlife in heaven (Nobody we knew was going to hell, really.) coupled with the self-righteousness of those who embraced it was not intellectually or emotionally appealing. I didn’t fit in with them or that.

Yet, don’t we know, don’t we all just know there is something more?

After A Death, The Search Is On

When my sister-in-law died, far too young, from breast cancer, I'd have to have conned myself to believe that this vivid, dynamic character just flipped off into oblivion when her body gave out. Her inner flame, the her we knew and loved, never shrank. The body she was in just lost its ability to hold and sustain her and had to be given up.

As organs and bones and muscles fail, the person we know may struggle with diminished capacities, but that inner being doesn't deteriorate. Theres a continuous intactness of spirit, however much it loses its expression.

With Alzheimer's Disease and other mental diseases of aging, what's lost is a self that retreats into the fog. The physical structure of the mind can't do more when crippled than can a heart. It just loses its hold on that essential self.

Wishful Thinking or Letting Ourselves Know As Much As We Can?

Wishful thinking? Maybe.

But not more so than many of the conclusions reached by everyone, experts, scientists to priests, who claims to "know."

I, at least, have personal experience as well as objective evidence to support my view. And I would never settle on hope without evidence. That falls apart. As close to the truth as I can get, that's what I want.

With this caveat. I don't believe we can get at the whole truth of life, death or God because, in spite of our ingrown pride, we do not have the capacity to understand all of the conditions.

If our best minds can't come up with a satisfactory Theory of Everything, in other words, how are we to sit on a barstool next to the one who created all of it and share equally. We may be pieces of God, as some philosophies claim, but even that doesn't give us all of it.

We're part of something larger, for sure, without fully knowing what the rest of it is or how it works together. Expanding human awareness nudges a door open. Look around at how we live within nature. You can see we’re not strong enough to go any faster.

Making Peace with Death and Dying, Objectively

You Can Believe In Life After Death and Still Be a Thinking Man or Woman

Evidence? For now and probably permanently, I'll stay away from personal experiences, mine or those of others close to me.

After a harrowing death, a familiar, easily identifiable hand appears to rest on a grieving relative’s arm, comforting. A voice in the dark offers advice. Even a lost pet appears on request, in a strangely clear moment in the night, to be petted one more time.

These, and more, happened, but no one will be satisfied with unverifiable personal experiences, not even me, as much as I would like to be.

I need more. And I've got it. Abundantly.

When I read, I debate. The way my mind works, I challenge what the author puts on the page, looking for holes in the argument and unjustified assumptions.

It's a habit I learned from growing up with smart older brothers. Questioning was a family trait, one we picked up from our cerebral, no nonsense Dad.

So, when I began reading the literature on NDEs, life after death and life between lives, I was reluctantly skeptical. Anything that big had greater hurdles to get over than an argument about the next election or the best way to educate our children.

A truth that alters how we see the context of our lives so radically had to make a more convincing case than others.

On Death and Dying Elizabeth Kubler-Ross Breaks New Ground

I admit that I have a predisposition to believe there is more to life than life and that I’ve always had it. An intuition has always been with me that we are a part of a whole, most of which is invisible. Understanding how that pans out as a guide for living has fascinated me.

Since religion never stuck with me, I think my belief preceded anything grownups tried teaching me. I knew, even as a kid, that the biblical stories were missing the point.

Digging around in my memory doesn’t help with any incident that enlightened me. Understanding just happened to be there, ready to be ignited when my first wife, a nurse, told me about Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and her groundbreaking book, On Death and Dying.

Sleep, More Bizarre Than A Near Death Experience

In going off into sleep, we lose our senses, leaving our minds to concoct a recognizable world from bizarre elements that exist only inside us.

We do a passable job of it, but nobody who remembers dreams thinks they’re a sensible continuation of the life we lead all day.

What you have instead are the dynamics and, freed from senses and reasoning, our imaginations fly free. We create alternative realities that fit a greater awareness, time-limited content merges with and mediates infinity.

Detractors who argue against what we learn from NDEs can't explain why our routine nightly adventures are so much more wild than the ordered stories told by those who've returned from clinical death.

Any NDE story I've read is more believable than most of the dreams I've had.

An NDE is like a regular short story next to the zaniness of a Thomas Pynchon novel. They are not extreme.

Dr. Michael Newton and the Discovery of Life Between Lives

Dr. Michael Newton, a hypnotherapist, had seen past life regression therapy ease intractable emotional stress. Returning a subject to pain or suffering in a previous existence, whether real or imagined, helped relieve troubles in this one.

Memories of the Afterlife: Life Between Lives Stories of Personal Transformation
Memories of the Afterlife: Life Between Lives Stories of Personal Transformation

In the decades that followed, Dr. Newton and his colleagues documented thousands of additional stories, learning more about this mysterious world as they compared accounts from around the world.

It’s possible to think away a single incident or even a few. We think away centuries of exposure to ghosts, for example.

Why not accounts of anything as bizarre as an eternal life of which life on Earth is an incidental, temporal part, a physical expression in time?

It’s easy to dismiss because it’s so strange. But why would we want to?Long ago, Wayne Dyer convinced me to be “open to everything.”

We are never going to really understand nature as long as we refuse to look inside the deserts, forests and fields that show up on our way. Better to know, even when it’s unpleasant, than not know.

So, I began reading Dr. Newton’s accounts and considering the strange new world they described in detail.

Although his trust in what he was learning was strong, I found some of the earliest stories unconvincing. The other side was just too pat, not nearly unusual enough to contrast with the one I was already in.

But in time, as the stories continued to pour in and the complexities grew, I realized that what made the early stories so unremarkable was the language and symbolism with which they were told.

As with many NDEs, those sharing their experiences do not have words for what they see.

It’s too different, too removed from anything in our ordinary lives, leaving them no choice but to reduce their accounts into the language and symbols available.

I assume Dr. Newton reached that insight too because the reports from life between life studies grew more intricately detailed, more able to convey the strange universe from which they were told and more easily integrated.


The Poetry of How We Die

I'm trying to be a little more prosaic here because the poetry of what we're discovering may be too much for some take in. We've all been told that miracles don’t happen, a million times, so many times that most of us never really look for them.

It's honest to say that, as it turns out, what we were taught was right. Miracles do not happen. What we call miracles are really quite ordinary.

There are no exceptions or special events. What happens in an NDE and in the universe it suggests is as common as breathing and singing a song.

Some said that we all need to get right with death because it's where we are all going. More truth was never spoken. And now, we can.

Our minds, bodies and souls are parts of a whole. They get put together early and, usually, spend eighty or so years working in unison. Two of the pieces wear out, and then, the third exits. That's a human life in a nutshell.

Our lives, however, are greater in scope and possibly eternal.

Let's take a walk through the end of life and try to understand what happens.

We Do Not Walk Alone

We learn from the stories in Memories of the Afterlife that our ancestors did not always have souls.

Deep in the past, what we know as souls were first merged with embryos in utero, emerging into brains and filling out the complex creatures we can see walking on Madison Avenue, singing country tunes, watching crime shows and a million other things that are pieces of the human experience.

That soul will outlive the body it enters. It will leave when the construction within which it’s embedded (in other words, you and me) is no longer viable. Bodies and brains wear out. Souls, not being physical and subject to laws, may not.

We learn that souls are lifted out of bodies about to be destroyed in catastrophes, like car wrecks and murders, leaving before sharing the worst suffering. More often, of course, it’s more gradual.

Escorts come from the other side and guide us through the passage out of the physical world. Sometimes, they come early, giving the dying advance notice that helps them deal with the sorrow of leaving, and you might even get a chance to bargain a little for time, for an event, like the birth of a child or the arrival of a loved one.

While much has been made of near death experiences, they don't differ greatly from sleeping. There are two important differences. In sleep, we are not under trauma, and of course, when we doze off, we expect to come back.

But the drift away from physical reality is the same. No matter what we see, nothing is quite real. Our brains scramble to invent a recognizable place among a wash of nonphysical influences. In sleep, we are our own directors. In dying, we get to have escorts.

The escorts, usually deceased relatives and friends, ease our return to a universe without time or physical objects. Life between lives studies tell us that, soon, we recognize this bizarre place as "home."

Mr. Death Will Just Have To Wait

My dread about dying was eased more by that than by any meditative awakening. In short, Mr. Death became my friend. But he is still going to have to wait.

It's not the NDE or the passage back that matters. I’m here writing this, as a person with a name, because - just like you - I came here with a purpose.

What's that purpose? As an individual, you probably already know what drives you. I'm not talking simply about inspiration. I'm talking about conflicts too. We’re here to be thrilled with inspiration but also to work some things out.

On the wide open plain, my intuition tells me that, in the grand scheme of things, we are here to expand and build upon a universal harmony that will be the full realization of God.

It took me six decades to realize that keeping an active, open and well-fed mind that helps me turn ideas into words is my primary job. It took so long because it's damn hard to risk being so different, to not just live in the world but be able to step back far enough to observe and report on it.

There's more. It can be seen in sixty years of involvement with others and nature. In relationships to everyone and everything, we discover the questions we need to answer, the weaknesses we need to strengthen, and the strengths we need to polish.

You can do it now, I think, or put it off. You will do it, though, sometime.

Listen to the Doctor - Doctor Wayne Dyer, That Is

Once the fear of death and even the dread of it is gone, what’s left is a life with no excuses. No reason to rush or resist, only to just do.

We all know what our music is, even those of us who turn away from it. Our souls sing to us, but our minds make some decisions that conflict. My inclination is to go along with the song.

It wasn’t always that way. I was taught, as most of us were, to make rational, not poetic choices. Fortunately, I wasn’t a great student.

Reasoning and rational decision-making are valuable, but I’m convinced now that inspiration, the song in my soul, is what’s brought me the most satisfying results.

I have things left to do. Mr. Death is just going to have to wait.

David Stone

Find all my books on my Amazon Author Page

What's your opinion on life after death?

How you feel about the context of our lives, once and out or more to come, may determine how you approach everything.

Do we have an eternal life that goes on after physical death?

© 2014 David Stone

What's your feeling about dying? Fear? Confusion? Relief? - Join the discussion.

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    • David Stone1 profile imageAUTHOR

      David Stone 

      4 years ago from New York City

      My big dread used to be of not being here as life went on without me. I'd miss it so much. So, I guess will all approach the mystery from different perspectives, but we all approach it. I remember liking right away advice I once got that we have to get our heads right about death because, whatever it's all about, it's where every one of us is heading.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 

      4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      We owned a funeral parlour when I was growing up so death has always been close. My father died when I was in university. That hurt but eventually, we accept this as part of life. Still, i admit, it terrifies me.

    • David Stone1 profile imageAUTHOR

      David Stone 

      4 years ago from New York City

      Awareness is half the battle, of course, and I'm aware of things in my life that I can never change. But if we can get the message across that life is a sacred event without do-overs. Mulligans are for golfing, not for life.

      So, Steve, we learn and, hopefully, teach. I can also say, aware as I am of your large presence on line, that you aren't giving yourself enough credit. And you write so very well. Why not start making what amends you can by teaching through writing your story? It can be cathartic.

    • profile image

      Steve Arvin 

      4 years ago

      Sometimes, late at night and wrapped up in my blanket and my thoughts, I cry at the thought of death. I cry not at the inevitable but at the impossible; finding forgiveness for all the hurt and pain I caused, especially toward those who did in no way deserve the rewards of my anger. I cry because this supposedly intelligent man went beyond what common intelligence tells us is right and wrong and, in a frenzied state, wrought havoc on all who came near. The beatings I took as a professional were in no way as cathartic as some would opine for, after all, how can you do anything but smile after you have ogled pain in its beady eyes. I just can't find the degree of forgiveness that will match the degree of torment that followed me like a cute little puppy. Makes no difference whether I knew it or not, it followed my every step. So, I guess the thing I fear most in death is a life that elicits a WTF from those who survive to snicker at my ashes.

    • David Stone1 profile imageAUTHOR

      David Stone 

      4 years ago from New York City

      Thank you. You've drawn a lot of lessons from your experiences.

    • fpherj48 profile image


      4 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      Dying and death of loved ones has surrounded life... since what seems like "forever." Often I see that there's been little break from it.

      Thus....I can say quite sincerely that any moment I am allowed to avoid the mere thought of death/dying....I make full use of those moments.

      While I'm not daffy enough to welcome death with smiles and open arms, I have little "fear" of it. What would be the point? No confusion either.....not about the simple acceptance of dead or alive.

      Some confusion about afterlife.....absolutely. The only thing I'm 100% sure of is that NO human being, past, present & highly doubtful in the future, can KNOW a damned thing about what awaits us, IF anything. We can think, dream, hope, create, imagine, guess, preach & fabricate.....BUT....we Do NOT and Cannot KNOW. Period, The End.

      This is such an interesting-intriguing piece of work, even brought tears to my eyes.....this has moved me...Up+++ pinned

    • Margaret Schindel profile image

      Margaret Schindel 

      4 years ago from Massachusetts

      The loss of so many beloved friends and family during the past 10 years has forced me to start confronting my mortality. It's difficult not to regret the many years wasted because of fear and lack of appreciation, but since doing so just wastes more precious time and energy I've embraced a new "attitude of gratitude" and pushed myself to do more things I had been resisting out of fear and inertia. I don't know whether there is an afterlife and, if so, what it involves. But I do believe in my heart and soul that a life well lived, full of love, laughter, generosity and gratitude for everyday miracles like achingly beautiful sunsets and waking up with my soul mate beside me, is what we are meant for.

    • David Stone1 profile imageAUTHOR

      David Stone 

      4 years ago from New York City

      @SteveKaye: I had a friend who used to say that "Every day above ground is a good day." I agree with him.Stay here with all your powerful contributions. The world would have a big, fat missing hole without you.

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Each day I look in a mirror to check if I'm still here. If I see myself, then I know it's going to be a good day. And now it's my job to use every precious moment in celebration of being alive.

    • David Stone1 profile imageAUTHOR

      David Stone 

      4 years ago from New York City

      @Brite-Ideas: Up to seeing death as a relief, I agree with you on that philosophy. I look at death as an approaching deadline, before which I have a chance to do as many of things I should as I can. Leaving this beautiful life won't be a relief for me, at least not as I live my life. Things may change with age, but for me, it will be a sad departure.

    • David Stone1 profile imageAUTHOR

      David Stone 

      4 years ago from New York City

      @Brite-Ideas: Growing up and understanding makes things easier for us, Barbara, when the simple pleasures are so rich, a choice to stay is easy to make, don't you think?Thanks.

    • Brite-Ideas profile image

      Barbara Tremblay Cipak 

      4 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      I have this need to guide my loved ones to taking care of unfinished business and making peace with those they need to - I've been known to tell them, and remind myself, that unfinished business will have to be finished at some point (as you so eloquently said toward the bottom of this page) - I read somewhere (sorry can't remember where) that we pick up where we left off in our next life where we were with the person we had unfinished business with (I do believe we live many times) - so I'm reminding people I love, to tie up lose ends so when it's time, they don't have to relive/redo a problem, issue they didn't complete in this life. At this point I look at death as relief - but I need to finish my purpose here first!

    • Brite-Ideas profile image

      Barbara Tremblay Cipak 

      4 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      When I was a little girl I was so afraid my mother would die (I tell her this story) - I use to want to sleep with her when Dad was on the road working, because I was so afraid she would die at night - was a terrible fear - Now at this stage of life, I have to say, that the reason I want to live is for my kids and my other family members and friends - to be with them - ; otherwise I could go 'to the next phase' at any time. I don't fear death.

    • Brite-Ideas profile image

      Barbara Tremblay Cipak 

      4 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      @David Stone1: lol !

    • David Stone1 profile imageAUTHOR

      David Stone 

      4 years ago from New York City

      @Pam Irie: Well no crying over spilled milk or a misspent youth gets it back. Some of us are slow learners in life. I know I have been.Keep that torch lit, Pam.

    • Pam Irie profile image

      Pam Irie 

      4 years ago from Land of Aloha

      Truthfully, the older I get, the more angry I've been getting at myself when I think of all those wasted years of my youth when I should have been doing something more about the living part.

    • David Stone1 profile imageAUTHOR

      David Stone 

      4 years ago from New York City

      @Nancy Hardin: Loudon Wainwright has a funny song about aging in which he concludes that his greatest reluctance involves dying and "laying there, looking like sh*t."

    • Nancy Hardin profile image

      Nancy Carol Brown Hardin 

      4 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

      I feel as if it will be just stepping into another room, continuing my journey in a different way. I'm more afraid of the pain to come and the loss of dignity during dying. But all that will eventually pass away.


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