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When I think about death, I become terribly scared

The Yomiuri Shimbun Dear Troubleshooter:

I’m a woman in my 20s, and I’m incredibly scared when I think about death.

I thought of death when I was a child, but it then seemed obscure and as if it was somebody else’s problem.

However, it hit home for me soon after I graduated from high school, when my father was diagnosed as being in the last stages of cancer. Since then, I’ve been haunted by the idea of death.

Every time I saw my father gradually grow weaker, I couldn’t help but wonder why we are born into this world. I can’t imagine that my soul and my world will disappear forever. I’m enormously frightened by the idea that all creation -- everything -- ends, without exception.

And then, when I think about how the people I love will all die someday, I can’t stop crying. It’s very painful, and I feel my chest tighten.

I understand I can never escape death. I also expect I might be able to overcome this problem as I get older. However, what can I do now?

W, Osaka Prefecture

Dear Ms. W:

You are obsessed with the idea that you will definitely die someday.

I understand how much pain you must feel.

We all die. But we can bequeath our life to the next generations by giving birth to new lives. The fact that you are here now proves this.

However, nothing I say will eliminate your fear of death, I suppose. As you said, “All creation -- everything -- ends, without exception.”

But why not think this way? -- We can only imagine our own death. None of us experience our own death in reality.

What is our experience of death like realistically? I’d say that it’s losing people you love, parting from them forever. In the first place, for most people, death means “experiencing and mourning somebody else’s death.” That is to say, when you die someday, someone will experience losing you.

When you think about your death, change your perspective and think of people who will feel the loss of your death. This viewpoint is also important, I think.

Kiyokazu Washida, philosopher

(from Feb. 11, 2015, issue)

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