Dying Without Fear

What would happen if we openly faced the fact that life, in all its goodness, includes the reality of death?

Dying scares us. For most of us few things are as frightening as the thought of our own death. We speak of it in hushed voices, tiptoeing away as if we could hide.

But what if we stopped hiding? What if we looked openly at the fact that life, in all its complex goodness, includes the reality of death? We might then discover the surprising possibility that dying is nothing to fear; it is only part of the process of life.

I have come to believe that dying is far from the worst thing that ever happens to us. The death of someone else, someone we love and miss and now will have to do without, may well be the worst thing, but I doubt that our own dying is. My belief comes from what I have seen: the example of others who came to terms with their own dying, and who showed me how gracefully death can be put into the perspective of living.

I have come to believe that dying is far from the worst thing that ever happens to us.


This concept broke through the barriers of my own fearfulness only over a period of years. As a young woman I volunteered at a county-run nursing home, where I saw old and infirm friends die in a manner suggesting they almost welcomed the event. But they were, after all, old or infirm, and thus set apart from me at the time. When I was 54, I found my father--just hours after we'd had lunch--dead in a kneeling position at the head of his bed. From the spot where he had said his prayers for 90 good years, it was if he were silently saying, "OK, I've showed you everything I can about how to live; here is how to die."

In between those events I began working as a hospice volunteer. Not, I have to admit, out of any great motivation to be of service so much as in a sort of dare to myself. Being around dying people, holding their hands and listening to waning breaths? It seemed something so impossible as to be worth trying. I do not know how much I gave my hospice patients, or friends I knew later while volunteering with AIDS groups; what I know they gave me was the absolute certainty that dying can be met without fear.

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Fran Moreland Johns
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