We have been discussing the theme of death and dying here on Anxiety Connection. Our Eileen Bailey has talked about "When Grief Causes Anxiety " and I have written about "Thantophobia " which is the fear of one’s own death. On My Depression Connection I have written several posts about grief including, "Ways to Cope with Grief ." Today I am going to take this topic in a very different direction. I am going to write about the anxiety and fear that some people experience with funerals.
At some point in your life you will be asked to attend or even participate in planning a funeral. For those of us who suffer from anxiety, this can be a very traumatic event. Some of us may have necrophobia, which is the fear of corpses or dead things. Others may fear the rituals involved after someone dies such as the display of the body, cremation, or burial. You may feel anxious to see all the sadness and mourning and you may fear that these feelings will overwhelm you. There may be anxiety related to seeing relatives or people you haven’t seen for years. Then of course there can be great anxiety over planning a funeral and/or giving a eulogy for the deceased. Let’s face it; there can be many anxiety and fear provoking elements to funerals. And if you become truly phobic or overly anxious about any of these things, you may end up refusing to go to funerals all together.
I must admit that I have not gone to some funerals because of my overall anxiety. I had a much harder time when I was younger as I did not have much experience with the whole process. One of the first dead people that I ever saw was my grandfather. Of course a dead person does not look anything like when they were alive, least not to me. I had a friend from high school go with me because I felt like I needed support from someone my own age. I remember feeling frightened by the whole thing, seeing the open casket, they waxy face of my grandfather, and my grandmother wailing, "But he loved the spring and now he will never see it." I had been estranged from my grandparents for years and I didn’t know what to say or do. I felt like a stranger in a place where I did not belong. All I wanted to do was escape.
As I grew older I gained more experience with funerals. I worked with developmentally disabled adults and as it happens, some people would fall ill and die. One of my favorite clients died of pneumonia. She had been out for awhile with what we thought was just a cold or virus. But she took a turn for the worse and died one day at her group home. I was stunned. She was just a bit older than I was at the time, in her early thirties. It scared me that someone so young could die like that. This person had been so full of life, feisty, with a love for handbags. She would come to the day program with a different handbag each week. When she got mad she would whip her arm around like a windmill and release her handbag as a weapon. Not surprisingly, she had one of her beloved handbags with her in the casket. Going to the viewing and the funeral was anxiety provoking for me. I wanted to be there to tell the family that I cared and to show my respects but at the same time my sweaty palms and racing heart was pulling me to run. Despite my fear I did stay for everything. It was hard but was something I felt I wanted and need to do. Death is a part of life. There is simply no running from it.
In recent years my eldest sister has been asking about "What will we do when mom passes away?" It is a conversation which strikes fear into my heart. I try to avoid talking about this topic but as responsible as older sisters can be, I am pushed into discussing the unfathomable. Our mother is getting older and nobody lives forever. Part of the anxiety for me in such a discussion is that my siblings do not agree on what type of arrangements should be made. I feel it should be up to my mother and what she wants. But one sister is religious and one sister is not. One wants my mother to be cremated and one wants an open casket and a church ceremony. I can’t say what I want because I don’t want any of these things. I just want this to not happen at all. I am not ready to think of my mother in these ways. But each time we do talk about it, it becomes slightly less shocking.
As you have probably noticed, this isn’t some bullet point how to manual for overcoming anxiety about death and funerals. I have not totally overcome anxiety about this particular topic. But I do think it helps to hear from someone who may be experiencing the same feelings as you have. I think it helps too, to talk about your feelings with someone who understands. It is all a process. Nobody suddenly gets over their fears and anxieties over night. But slowly and surely we can explore our deepest darkest fears, bring them into the light, and learn how to cope. I do hope you will share your stories and experiences here. Together we can help each other towards growth and overcoming our fears.