Death is never an easy thing to face, and it’s even more difficult when it’s unexpected. None of us know when our expiry date is coming up, and that goes for our friends and loved ones as well.
In fact, the idea that the people we love could pass at any time can cause an immense amount of anxiety in people.
If you’re wracked with fear about your loved ones dying, that may be interfering with your daily life in numerous ways. You might be having trouble sleeping, or get anxious any time your loved ones aren’t in immediate sight.
Spiraling thoughts about horrible things happening to the people closest to you can throw you into full-on panic attacks. For example, if your partner is late coming home from work, you might start imagining that they’ve gotten into a fatal accident. If your child suddenly gets a fever, you’ll assume it’s meningitis or ebola. This kind of spiraling can lead to crippling depression and even psychosis if left to run amok.
There is a name for this type of phobia: thanatophobia. Whilst this is a broad term for a fear of death, it applies to fear of losing someone you love too.
So how do you stop these worries in their tracks? How do you cope with the possibility – nay, reality – of losing those closest to you?
Let’s take a look at where these fears spring from, and how to get a handle on them.
Speak to an accredited and experienced therapist to help you manage your fear of losing someone you love. You may want to try speaking to one via BetterHelp.com for quality care at its most convenient.
Are you mostly afraid of the pain you’ll experience from this type of loss?
Many people who suffer intense fears of losing their loved ones feel these anxieties because of loss they experienced early in life. This might be someone who lost a parent when they were very young, for example, or someone who had to deal with the death of a school friend.
As a result, they might develop a low-grade form of PTSD. They’ll have a constant fear of having to re-live the pain they experienced from that loss.
Alternatively, people who have never had to deal with the death of a loved one may be paralyzed with fear of the unknown. After all, we have a slew of coping mechanisms for dealing with pain we’ve already experienced. But how can one brace oneself to deal with a new, inevitably painful situation?
Interestingly, that’s where your visualizations about losing loved ones come in. They may actually be giving you some insight about how you’d react and cope when that kind of loss occurs.
Do you worry about lost hopes and expectations?
If and when someone faces the loss of a loved one, a primary source of grief is the fact that certain hopes and dreams won’t come to pass.
People naturally create dreams and narratives about how their lives will unfold, and that includes the roles that others will play.
For example, a parent might daydream about seeing their kid graduate from college. They’ll hope their son or daughter will find an amazing partner, maybe give them a few grandchildren. Others might dream about the travel adventures they’ll have with their spouse.
When and if a loved one dies unexpectedly, it isn’t just a person who’s lost: it’s an ocean’s worth of hopes and dreams as well. Rather like looking forward to reading a great book, only to have several chapters suddenly torn out of it.
This type of grief can also be projected onto others. For example, when someone dies, many of us mourn the fact that they weren’t able to experience wonderful things over the course of their lives. This is especially true if it’s a child or young adult who passes.
People think about the great things they’ve experienced and feel grief over the fact that their loved ones won’t experience them too.
They might feel devastated that a young mother would never have the chance to see her children grow up, or a child would never get to play at Disneyland.
The thing is, those projections are based on one’s own likes and experiences. There’s no guarantee that the people being mourned would enjoy the same things we have. The loss being mourned here is that of imagined outcomes, rather than reality.
We never know how someone else’s story would have played out. As a result, grieving what “could have been” only harms oneself.
10 Tips To Help You Stop Worrying
The fear of losing a loved one can be harrowing, as mentioned, but there are some ways to lessen this fear.
1. Determine what would affect you most if your loved one(s) were to die unexpectedly.
When people worry about how they’d feel if they lost a loved one, the main thing that hits them is how they’ll feel once that person is gone. After all, those who pass from this world into the next aren’t in pain or suffering anymore. The damage from their death lies in those left behind.
When it comes to worrying about losing loved ones, are you mostly afraid of the pain you’ll feel if they were suddenly gone? Are you hoping to avoid feeling sad or bad about loss, so you hope you’ll pass on before they do?
The key here is to make peace with the reality that yes, it will hurt when those we love die. But that pain can be managed, and won’t last forever.
“Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional” sounds very trite, but it’s actually quite true. We can acknowledge and accept pain as transient, and by doing so, lessen our own suffering.
2. Strengthen your community bonds.
Another reason why some people worry obsessively about losing loved ones is their fear for their own well-being and stability. None of us exists in a vacuum, and those around us all play very important roles in terms of our own survival.
People who are terrified of their parents or partners dying often have a deep fear of being alone, or not having an emotional or financial support structure to lean on. If this is your primary fear, you can work on ensuring that you have a net to catch you when the inevitable happens.
Strengthen your friendships, maybe get more involved with your faith-based community. When you know you have that safety net to help get you through difficulty, the fear of loneliness and lack of support lessens significantly.
3. Make contingency plans and develop coping strategies.
Do you find yourself continually visualizing and obsessing about what will happen if and when you lose someone close to you? Instead of trying to stop that line of thought in its tracks, try allowing it to run its course.
What do you see happening next?
How do you picture yourself grieving?
Who is offering you support during this process?
What are the steps you’ll take afterwards to get your life back on track in a new (albeit unexpected) direction?
Doing visualizations like this can actually be helpful, in that they allow you to take stock of the coping mechanisms you’ll need when loss happens.
Once you understand where the bulk of your fear comes from, you can pre-empt the suffering associated with it by making plans that will help you through it.
4. See the cup as already broken.
This may be difficult for most people, as just about every aspect of Western day-to-day life revolves around life preservation, rather than letting go. In fact, the concept of being comfortable with non-attachment is anathema to most people’s mental wiring.
The crux of this exists in the very title of this article: “fear of losing a loved one.”
“Loss” implies a sense of ownership, and we don’t own any of the people in our lives – not even our children. Every person on the planet has their own journey; we just walk alongside one another on adjacent paths for a while.
Many people develop intense attachments to others, and as a result they suffer terribly when those they’re attached to die.
Thai meditation master Ajahn Chah offered a wonderful analogy for letting go of attachments, and that was to see his favorite cup as already broken. As he gave a talk to a group of villagers, he held up his beautiful cup and said:
“You see this cup? It was given to me as a gift. It is pretty to look at. It holds my water. I enjoy it. If I can see this cup as already broken, I won’t cry when that happens. In this way, I can fully appreciate it while it’s here. Letting go like this is how I can truly be happy in a world where everything changes.”
5. Take all the actions now that you’d regret not doing if they were gone tomorrow.
Polls have been taken regarding grief at losing loved ones, and the number one thing that grieving people express is that they feel like they have been robbed of time with that person.
Most of them talk about how they regret not spending more time with that person, doing things they truly loved together. Or that they wish they’d taken the opportunity to express how they felt or what they thought when they had the chance.
Now, most of us live in places where we are not exposed to the reality of death on a daily basis. As a result, we tend to not think about the reality of imminent mortality until we’re smacked in the face by it.
In fact, some people have even been known to say phrases like “IF I die…” rather than “when.”
Death is inevitable, and all of us will take that journey sooner or later. It’s a thought that unnerves most people, especially since nobody has come back to tell us what it’s like on the other side, so to speak. As a result, many have a strong fear of death, and they try to avoid even thinking about the subject.
That said, coming to terms with one’s own mortality is absolutely vital. Unfortunately, as difficult as it is to make peace with our inevitable end, coming to terms with other people’s mortality can be significantly harder for many. This is especially true when it comes to one’s children and/or spouse, or if someone has an incredibly strong bond with their parents.
This is a truth that’s difficult for many to accept, but is incredibly important when it comes to our loved ones:
There is no guarantee that any of us will be alive 30 minutes from now, let alone 30 days, or 30 years.
Death is our ever-present companion, and any of us can die at any moment, for any reason.
This isn’t meant to scare you, but to encourage you to take advantage of the time you have with your loved ones while you have it.
6. Cultivate your spirituality.
Every spiritual tradition has explanations for what happens after death occurs. This might include a pleasant afterlife like heaven or nirvana, or it might include reincarnation, or merging with the universe.
If you already follow a certain religion, consider talking about your fears with your priest/priestess, rabbi, imam, guru, or other elder. They should be able to provide you with some guidance and reassurance based on your faith’s teachings.
Alternatively, if you feel like you’re missing a solid spiritual base in your life, now might be a good time to explore different faiths to see if one fits your personal values and leanings.
That said, you don’t have to be religious in order to cultivate a healthy spiritual approach to death and dying. For example, in my article on how to face your fear of death and make peace with dying, I mentioned the fact that energy can’t be destroyed: it merely changes from one form to another. This isn’t religious, but is rather based on quantum physics.
This goes along well with the Sikh notion of “Akaal.” It’s a concept governing the everlasting nature of the soul, meaning “timeless, non-temporal, not subject to birth, decay, and death.” It implies the eternal nature of Being.
On a purely physical level, the person you are isn’t dependent on how your cells are arranged. Heck, we apparently fully renew all of our body’s cells every seven years or so. As a result, you’re literally a different person now than you were 10 years ago.
Whether you call it your soul, spirit, ka, or any other term, the energy that makes you who you are is eternal. That also goes for every other living being on the planet. Our friends, family members, and non-human companions are experiencing a lifetime in a mortal vehicle, but that’s not who they are. And when their shell breaks and their time here is over, then that is part of the natural order of things.
It will hurt us to see them go, but allows them joy and freedom from a corporeal existence here.
7. Keep a journal.
It doesn’t hurt to write down the things that are making you worry the most. In fact, keeping notes about the worries that plague you can help you see certain behavioral patterns.
Do these worries follow a certain cycle? Or do they pop up after certain situations occur?
For example, if you’re female, do you feel waves of anxiety and fear about losing loved ones when you’re premenstrual? Sudden hormonal spikes can affect emotions quite intensely, and they do happen quite regularly.
Alternatively, are you hit by fear of loss after having an argument with your parents, spouse, or children? Then you might have unresolved trauma from your past that’s manifesting in anxiety. Someone you cared about might have died or otherwise disappeared from your life and you weren’t able to get closure with them. If they were suddenly gone after you had an argument or said things you regretted, then you’re likely carrying that regret now. As a result, you might worry every time an argument happens: if the one you love dies unexpectedly, then you’ll never have the chance to smooth things over or express how much you really care.
Once again, this is about fear of personal pain. You don’t want to feel bad forever, and worry that you might have the chance for reconciliation taken away from you. Living with regret hurts, and we generally try to avoid pain as much as possible.
When and if arguments happen, or you do something that you know you’ll feel bad about, try to make amends as soon as possible. If you have trouble controlling your anger, consider some counseling or behavioral therapy to learn how to manage it better.
Fewer regrets = less pain when loss happens.
8. Become more comfortable with uncertainty, and let go of the illusion of control.
We might be able to control many different aspects of our lives, but our mortality isn’t one of them. Sure, we encourage one another to “stay safe,” but one cannot remain in a state that’s impossible to attain to begin with. This is an illusion of control that we cling to out of fear.
Let me explain.
Let’s say that a person has a piece of jewelry that they love very much. They treasure it so dearly that they keep it locked in a bank vault to keep it “safe.” Instead of wearing it and enjoying it, they hide it away so that nothing can damage it.
And then an earthquake comes along and reduces the bank to rubble. The vault crumbles, the piece of jewelry is broken, and it ends up buried beneath 15 feet of rocky mudslide.
That piece of jewelry was never “safe,” because nothing ever can be. Everything and everyone is impermanent, and although we can take certain actions to be a bit safer in our day-to-day lives, nothing can keep anyone safe from illness, injury, or death.
A seatbelt won’t keep someone from dying in a car accident if they’re T-boned by an 18-wheeler in the middle of an intersection. Similarly, a healthy diet and exercise won’t keep someone from dying of disease or a previously undiagnosed heart or brain condition.
Every living thing risks dying every moment of every day simply by virtue of being alive.
Today, we will either get into car accidents, or we won’t. If we get into accidents, we will either survive them, or we won’t. Same goes for using the stairs, taking showers, cooking meals, or simply breathing.
We actually have very little control over what happens to these bodies, and that’s okay. We do the best we can, but ultimately, we have to give ourselves over to the random chaos of the universe, and just make the most out of every moment we have.
There’s something remarkably freeing about letting go of the illusion of safety and control. Instead of freaking out about oncoming traffic, you can just hand the wheel over to a competent driver, and relax while enjoying the ride and looking out the window.
9. Be as present as possible.
As mentioned earlier, one of the greatest sources of worry and grief stems from the hopes and expectations we have surrounding other people’s roles in our lives. Many of us spend so much time focused on how our lives will unfold in the future that we’re not focused on the here and now. As a result, when death happens, all those dreams fall flat. That’s where the grief comes in.
The thing is, tomorrow doesn’t exist yet, and all those daydreams you have about how your life is supposed to pan out aren’t real. They’re all smoke and imagination.
Making peace with the fact that we’re all going to die isn’t morbid or defeatist at all. In fact, accepting death as inevitable can bring about great, positive change.
You may find that you seize every opportunity to have joy and fun instead of putting aside wonderful experiences until next week/month/year. Similarly, you might make a point of spending more quality time with people you love instead of telling them that you’ll pay attention to them later.
Use the good china and crystal for weekday dinners, not just special occasions. Wear your favorite clothes as often as possible.
Put down your phone and spend more time reading with your kids and cuddling your animal companions.
Write letters to friends and family instead of scrolling Instagram for hours every evening.
Live in the moment as much as you can, and take full advantage of all the time you have, right here and now. It’s all we have, so let’s make the best of it.
10. Don’t be afraid or ashamed to seek professional help.
If you’re really struggling or paralyzed with anxiety about losing a loved one, you may wish to schedule some time with an experienced psychologist or therapist. Fear of losing a loved one is normal, but if obsessive/intrusive thoughts are causing you panic attacks or keeping you up at night, then they’re going to affect all aspects of your life.
A therapist can help you get to the root cause of why you’re feeling so much fear. By doing that, and developing solid coping mechanisms and actionable strategies, it’s likely that your fears will lessen dramatically.
If you’d like, you can speak to a therapist today from the comfort of your own home via the online therapy platform BetterHelp.com – here you’ll be able to connect with and chat to an experienced therapist to get the help you need.
Remember that the threat of something “bad” happening is usually much worse than the situation itself. The pain and suffering we imagine will happen generally ends up being far less than what actually occurs.
That doesn’t mean that loss and grief don’t hurt like hell. They do, and they will.
And you will heal.
Think of the worst physical pain you’ve experienced so far. Did you break a femur? Give birth to twins without an epidural? That pain absolutely sucked in the moment. It took a while to fade, and you might have some interesting scars to talk about, but chances are good that you’re not still in the excruciating agony you experienced at that moment.
The wound healed and your pain lessened over time. And so will grief over losing your loved ones, when it happens.
Instead of letting yourself be ruled by fear of pain and sorrow, make a commitment to do the best you have with the time you have, starting today.
When you’ve finished reading this article, go tell the people you love how much you love them.
Take a day off work and spend it with your kids or grandparents.
Never mind scheduling a “date night” with your partner next week: order in something awesome and have a bed picnic tonight.
If you’ve been holding back on expressing your feelings to someone you care about, sort that out and get on it.
Make the most of every moment you have with your loved ones and you’ll have few regrets when and if they die before you do.
There will be pain, and grieving, but also an immense amount of comfort knowing that you loved them as fiercely and beautifully as you could. You did what you could to fill their lives with beauty and joy whenever possible.
Ultimately, that’s the best any of us can ever do.
You may also like:
- Talking About Death: How To Discuss Death In Different Situations
- 10 Of The Most Comforting And Beautiful Poems About Death
- Understanding The Stages Of Grief And How To Grieve Your Loss
- How To Get Through Days When You Miss Someone Who Has Passed
- 9 Rules To Follow When Someone You Love Is Grieving