A friend of mine confided to me in utter shame that what keeps her up in the night is thinking about death. She was so mortified that I thought she was going to tell me she killed someone but no, she just whimpered about her deepest fear. I thought: welcome to the club, I think about death at least four times a day and hundreds of times around my birthday. At New Year's Eve I'm already writing my epitaph. While everyone around me is popping balloons, I'm thinking I'm one year closer to my end and at that point usually start looking for a handy Xanax. If someone says they don't think about it, they're lying - otherwise we'd have no fear and all fear stems from the sense that our survival is threatened.
The only people with no sense of dread are those under 21; then you're unbreakable and death defying (in their minds); you can gun it in a car, breaking the sound barrier and drink till you become one with the sidewalk; never thinking once about liver damage. As you get older you get more and more clues that we're not all that long lasting, as in we stop existing one sunny day. (Big clue).
It's a taboo subject, this death thing, as if the mere mention of it will bring it on. I've heard they've started to set up death cafes around the UK now, where people meet to discuss this taboo of all taboo subjects. They're not dying themselves but they just want to get it out because it's not something you can sling out there at a dinner party - though I wish we could, it would be such a break from the social mundanities. (I always want to say, "Does it look like I give a shit where your kid goes to school?")
See how easy it is to slide off the topic when you're talking about death? I might hunt one of those death café meetings down myself, and report back. It must be such a relief to find out you're not the only one who has the horrors about this inevitability. I know, as with all things you can't express, those unmentionable thoughts just fester inside.
I'm sure facing it makes every second of being alive much more vibrant; that's what I've heard anyway, I haven't tried it myself. Bring back the existentialists, where are they now? All dead I'm sure but happy that they were right in their predictions that life ends.
There are people who feel they're going to keel over any minute (see hypochondriacs) and others with days to live who have a sense of peace. I've seen both. Either state doesn't inevitably lead to despair. You can't just tell yourself to stop thinking about the situation. It's like saying, "Don't think the word elephant"; all you'll think about for the next few days is elephant.
I have no answer for the solution but I suppose using mindfulness always comes in handy. The idea being we can't stop the thoughts but we can learn to forgive ourselves for thinking them. The feeling of fear about dying is a reality but the imaginings and stories we pile on top of them double the agony and that's what causes even more fear. The only way I can think of dealing with all this is to forgive myself for thinking what people have been thinking about since we first started thinking, that we all do that thing at the end of our lives..... Cease.
Ruby's new book - A Mindfulness Guide For The Frazzled - will be published in January 2016. Be the first to find out more here. Don't miss out on the last chance to see her Sane New World show - at the Arts Theatre in London, Jan 19 - Feb 13 2016.