Despite the media that has brought us "stories from the other side" and tales of near death experiences, we still do not know with any certainty, what death will be like for us. I believe that we have all feared death sometime during our lives. Many of us believe that we have so much for which to live and we don't want to imagine that being denied us by death. Many of us live our lives as if we will live forever: smoking, drinking too much, driving recklessly, engaging in dangerous occupations and/or recreation and other means of risk taking. We don't want to think about death; we're not ready for death yet.
Religious teachings have not made it easy for us to consider death. From our early days of Sunday school, many of us learned of a God who punished those who did not follow God's ways. This punishment was having our souls confined in the fires of hell for eternity. I can still remember the Sisters who taught me catechism and who described eternity as somewhat like one grain of sand on a never ending beach. Of course I couldn't begin to imagine that, but it certainly seemed like a long time to be suffering in hell!
I wonder if we don't fear serious illness more than we fear death. As a hospice nurse, I visit with people every day who have been told that their medical condition will most likely limit their life to about six months. Now, they are faced head on with death. Of course, some of these folks become even more fearful of death; no longer is it "something out there" but it is within their reach and experience. As their disease progresses, most of the people with whom I've worked, talk about their impending deaths. They realize that this is their only way out of the pain of their disease. They don't talk much about hell, but rather, they focus on the love of God surrounding them and many, quote from the Book of Revelation which pictures heaven as a place where there will be no more pain.
There appears to me to be a correlation between age and fear of death. Many elderly people relate to family members and others that they con't understand why God "has not taken" them yet. They have lost much of their independence. They take more medications that they ingest food. Their eye sight and hearing become diminished. Many of them are not able to drive any longer and they feel confined to their homes or nursing homes and they struggle to identify a purpose for their lives.
I believe that there are many factors that influence whether or not we fear death. As we support one another in living, we need to support others as they die. I have seen far too many elderly nursing home patients dying alone. Their breathing is rapid and shallow, their move constantly in bed and they appear to have great anxiety. As I have quietly entered these rooms and placed my hand in the hand of the dying person, there is a calmness that comes over them. The longer I remain, the more relaxed most people become. I quietly pray for them and those they love and I assure them of the love of God. I believe that the fear leave most of these dying individuals. (I believe also that chemical changes in the brain calm them and help reduce fear and anxiety).
None of us will escape death. I suggest that we each "adopt" someone who has no family and is dying in a nursing facility. We can take their hand, assure them that they are not alone. We might play their favorite music on their CD player and share our beliefs of a caring God who will not abandon us in death. As we do that, I believe that we will eliminated the "if" and "why" some fear death and the death of that individual will be peaceful.
Since many of us don't share our feelings (especially those that seem to make us vulnerable, such as fear), we don't know all of the reasons we might fear death. We know that there are many who have this fear and that we can be a part of mitigating the fear replacing it by love and care.