Further Ways To Overcome Our Fear of Death: The Approach of Yalom. (Part 2) Written by Dr Linda Berman.




“Too many of my friends are dead, and others wrecked
By various diseases of the intellect
Or failing body. How am I still upright?
And even I sleep half the day, cough half the night.

How did it come to this? How else but through
The course of years, and what its workings do
To wood, stone, glass and almost all the metals,
Smouldering already in the fresh rose petals.

Our energy deceived us. Blessed with the knack
To get things done, we thought to get it back
Each time we lost it, just by taking breath —
And some of us are racing yet as we face death.

Well, good to see you. Sorry I have to fly.
I’m struggling with a deadline, God knows why,
And ghosts keep interrupting. Think of me
The way I do of you. Quite often. Constantly.”

Clive James


“It (death) comes to everyone and your circumstances, the challenges of your life, your efforts to stay healthy often just don’t matter. Death is not meritocratic.”

Laura Kennedy 3.7.19 The Irish Times


In helping his patients- and himself- face the fear of death, Yalom was influenced by the views of Epicurus, (341-270 BC.)
He was a philosopher who strongly believed that our fear of death was ‘the root cause of human misery’ and that it was- and is – ‘omnipresent in all of us.’
In an effort to avoid this painful knowledge, many people lead a life full of ‘frenetic and aimless activity.’
Epicurus also regarded the desire for great wealth, extreme religiosity, the pursuit of power and over-achievement as symptoms of this fear of mortality.

He believed that death meant the end of both body and soul, which brought comfort to some of those who were afraid of punishment in the afterlife.

He felt that dying actually presents nothing to fear; it means the end of existence, not the possibility of hell and damnation.

This view challenges many religious warnings of eternal punishment in the fires of hell.

“Death does not concern us, because as long as we exist, death is not here. And when it does come, we no longer exist.”


In addition, Epicurus believes that the state of non-existence that occurs after death is the same as before birth; this may be a comforting thought. Yalom himself feels that the two states are the same.
He explains Epicurus’ principal views to patients who come into therapy with a terror of death.



Epicurus. Hans Zwitzer. Flickr.

I feel strongly, because a man who will himself die one day in the not too distant future and, also, as a psychiatrist who 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.


Yalom felt that ‘the idea of death saves us.’

What he meant by this was that an awareness of the reality of death means that we often work at making our lives better and more meaningful:

“Learning to live well is learning to die well.”

He calls this process ‘mindfulness of being,’ an awakening. The more we live our life to the full, the less we will dread the inevitability of death.

He quotes Zorba the Greek:

“Leave death nothing but a burnt out castle.”

Writing, music, art, walking, immersion in nature, studying, work, learning a language, immersing oneself in helping others, being with animals, children, the sick, the needy, are all ways of appreciating all that is around us.



Yalom emphasises St Augustine’s words:

“It is only in the face of death that a man’s self is born.”


“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” 

Henry David Thoreau



We don’t actually fear death, we fear that no one will notice our absence, that we will disappear without a trace.

TS Eliot

In psychotherapy, Yalom’s notion of ‘rippling’ is very helpful, especially when people are afraid of being totally forgotten, their memory wiped out by death.

This term refers to the way in which our influence on others and on the world spreads out in ripples.

It means that we inevitably leave something of ourselves behind and pass it on, something that will continue to ripple outwards after our death.


“Attempts to preserve personal identity are always futile. Transiency is forever. Rippling, as I use it, refers instead to leaving behind something from your life experience; some trait; some piece of wisdom, guidance, virtue, comfort that passes on to others, known or unknown.” Yalom.

Relationships With Others.

Sharing one’s fears with good and trusted friends is most often a helpful way of managing our feelings about death and impermanence.

Yalom says that ‘Loneliness greatly increases the anguish of dying.’


‘Existential isolation,’ an awareness that we are ultimately alone and face death alone, increases with age. Empathising with another, sharing feelings, can bring some relief:

“Sheer presence is the greatest gift you can offer anyone facing death (or a physically healthy person in a death panic.)”  Yalom.

Knowing that others have such fears can be reassuring; we are not so alone. Reflecting upon our lives, our trials and tribulations, as well as our joys, can be a rewarding experience if we can self-disclose to trusted others.

Then, perhaps, our fears of impermanence becomes shared, and less lonely.

“For while directly we say that it [the length of human life] is ages long, we are reminded that it is briefer than the fall of a rose leaf to the ground.”

Virginia Woolf


If you have found this post helpful, do follow this blog for regular email updates. Thankyou. Linda.



    • Yes I think that’s right. Certainly if you’ve not lived in a satisfying way, then death has more for us to fear. Thanks, Landzek, for your comment and your support. Linda.


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