Free Yourself from Death Anxiety – a CBT Self-Help guide, Rachel E Menzies and David Veale, Jessica Kingsley Publishers
Full disclosure: I have made a habit of avoiding self help books. There are so many: where do you start and importantly where would you end? I fear I would get stuck in that particular rabbit hole Alice in Wonderland like.
Fear of death and dying comes up a lot as a theme at Death Cafes. Fear of physical pain, possible indignities, the pain our death might cause to others. Anxiety comes up too. For some a daily thinking of ‘what if...’ often related to becoming a parent: ‘what will happen to my child without my love?’ I am not sure that I am anxious about death. (Although I have come to learn that I am rubbish at endings so when the time comes, and if I have any control, I might not find it that easy.) Thinking about the death of people I love is painful and a place I don’t like to visit. Considering the death of my children is something I physically can’t imagine. Mid-pregnancy I was told that my child might not make it out of me alive. The stark horror of thinking my body would be the deathbed. Luckily short-lived as a different doctor made a different pronouncement. My child survives. In short, I am aware of the possibility of death, have experienced the death of relations and a close friend but I am not consumed by thoughts around death and dying.
With this avoidance of self-help books and a lack of anxiety in real terms of death and dying, I wasn’t sure what this book could offer me.
What struck me is that, as with Death Café conversations, it is a book about living well. The whole book leads you there but the last chapter in particular: Living Life to the Fullest is for everyone. And, that is where I started. I have had so many life conversations where there is a sense of life being like some kind of train that is trundling along but just that bit too fast to be able to get off. Family, job, planning holidays, making dinner, laundry, obligations. Life is a list and if you stop doing it what would happen, what would you do, who would you be? This chapter provides a space to consider what is meaningful to ourselves as individuals. It mirrors the observations frequently shared at Death Cafes: the valuable things are the small everyday experiences. We can know this and forget it in the next breath as we are busy getting on with our list or sending those last five emails before we finish the day. This book doesn’t tell us what to do or what’s important but shares ideas and information to consider. I love the idea of ‘rippling’, again something that has come up at Death Cafes, how our actions and influence can travel outwards beyond us in space and time. The book also provides simple exercises that create a space to work out what is important for ourselves, and write it down, figure it out on the page. Have you ever noticed how writing something down, drawing a picture of our thoughts calms down the heat of thoughts that are stuck in your head, whirling and conspiring?
This book provides the tools to take what we know and put the knowing into practice, to recognise how our behaviours contribute to our feelings, simple steps to identify and make the changes that will enable us to live richer, fuller lives. From that last chapter, I worked backwards dipping in and out along the way. There is so much in the book that I found interesting and relevant to me. The exercises, explained in a way that is easily accessible, can be applied to more than just death anxiety; the information around mental health generally, death anxiety, the causes are presented clearly and calmly. The book is like listening to a sensible friend: quiet, calm and clear-headed.
Whether you are concerned that you have a death anxiety, or you know you do, or simply you are concerned that you might not be living life to its fullest, this book is worth exploring.