Death anxiety or thanatophobia is the official term for the fear of death and dying. Many people have this phobia even though they may not know what it’s called. Yes, there’s a name for it, and a rather difficult one to say at that. If you suffer from the fear of your parents dying, for example, you may also have thanatophobia.
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One way to rid yourself of this irrational fear is by learning to accept death as something that happens to everyone at some point in their lives. There are other ways of overcoming this fear that you can read about below.
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Why Do Kids Have a Fear of Their Parents Dying?
Children who begin to understand the concept of life and death sometimes become overly preoccupied with the fear of their parents dying. There are many reasons why this happens, yet it’s entirely normal for a child to fear that their parents will one day die.
For very young children, parents are a life force as well as their protectors. When a parent dies, they panic and wonder what will happen to them if the other parent dies. Children worry that no one will be there to take care of them, and they soon begin to feel abandoned. They’ll also start to wonder if they’ll die next and when.
Professional grief counselors and therapists often attribute these fears to separation anxiety and being a regular part of childhood.
Steps to Deal With a Fear of Your Parent Dying
The way in which you can take control over your fear of your parent dying is to recognize and accept that death happens to everyone. No one escapes death. Not yet, at least. The way humanity currently understands the miracle of life is that everything born must one day die. To be any different is to defy the law and order of the universe.
The following tips may help anyone, young or old, cope with the fear of a parent dying.
1. Accept that fear of death is normal
One of the first steps in overcoming your fear of death is understanding that this anxiety type is typical. At some point, almost everyone alive contemplates their death or the death of a loved one.
Racing thoughts may overtake their rational thinking even if it’s for a brief moment. Try not to be so hard on yourself to experience this type of anxiety when you think about life and death. The human race is wired for survival, and it’s in your nature to think about survival and to have a healthy fear of dying.
2. Stop focusing on death
When you place added focus on anything, you’ll soon discover all the flaws and possibilities of things going wrong. Tearing things apart and focusing on doom and gloom is sure to highlight the negatives of even the most well-executed plans.
Focusing too much on death shuts out the possibility of life. Instead of thinking about when your parents will die, consider thinking about all the good and beautiful years of experience they’ve had.
3. Focus on living
Anytime your thoughts go to your parents dying, focus on your parents’ living instead. Focus on what’s in front of you now. If your parents are still alive, think about all the things you can experience with them present.
Spend extra time with them, take them out to dinner, or learn a new skill from them. These things create memories that will last you a lifetime if you should outlive them. Treat your parents with love, kindness, and respect for the remainder of their years and focus, focus, focus.
4. Don’t worry about things out of your control
Anxiety and sadness are expected when you stop to think about your parents dying. The more you worry about things that you can’t control, the more stress builds inside you.
Learn to master letting go of what’s out of your control, and learn to focus more on living in the present. Find joy in spending quality time with your parents, visit often, and try and make them happy in ways that only you can as their child. Take the best care of your parents while you still have them here with you.
5. Accept that everyone must die
Acceptance is the key to overcome the inevitable fact that you’re parents will one day die. As difficult as it may be to accept your parents dying one day, the truth is that they will die as will you and everyone else that you know.
Death is a natural part of life and completes what we know as the circle of life. What is born one day must die as it is written in so many religious texts and scriptures and scientific and medical journals. It’s inevitable and will happen to everyone one day.
6. Control your fear of death
Is it possible to control your fear of death and overcome your thanatophobia? The good news is that yes, it is. Start by taking better care of your physical and mental well-being to ensure that you’re setting yourself up for long-term success.
The more you abuse your mind and body, the more likely it is that you’ll accelerate your death. Try and focus on all the things you can control to have less fear of the unknown.
7. Take care of your parent’s health
While you’re overseeing your mental and physical well-being, take the time to manage your parents’ health as well as your own, if you can. Caring for your parents’ health can include making sure that they have proper food and nutrition and getting enough daily exercise to stimulate their mental and physical capacities.
Together you may also want to consider setting aside some time for your spiritual well-being. Use this time to talk openly about life and death. Talk about the good and bad things in life, how they overcame setbacks and hardships, and ask for any advice they may have for you.
If you fear losing them, have a candid conversation to let them in on how you’re feeling. They may also espouse the same fears of abandoning you once they die. These types of conversations can be mutually beneficial to you all.
8. Resolve any conflicts you may have
Having unresolved conflicts with one or both of your parents may lend themselves to having a fear that they will die without you having had the opportunity to make amends. Try reaching out to them to talk about those underlying issues that have gone unresolved for years.
In some families, things are swept under the rug instead of confronting past mistakes and hurts. People may fear addressing the elephant in the room because it’s too painful to talk about certain things.
Conflict resolution is sometimes as simple as forgiving one another and moving forward with a clean slate. Other times, hurt and resentments may run deeper, requiring a professional counselor or therapist’s help. Don’t be afraid to bring this up if you think that getting the help you need will resolve some of the most significant issues keeping you from enjoying a good relationship with your parents.
9. Become a hospice volunteer
One of the best ways to face your fear of death is to face death often. Consider becoming a hospice volunteer where you can sit with and comfort those who are dying. You’ll not only learn their individual stories, but you’ll also gain perspective on death from others. Sometimes it’s difficult to talk to your parents about death. You might find it uncomfortable or awkward doing so.
When you sit with others who are dying, you can ask them all the questions that they’ll allow about what it’s like to know that they’re dying and what they wish their children would do for them. You can then take this information and discuss it with your parents, or you can simply start acting in the ways you’ve heard other parents say they’ve wished for their children.
10. Understand how grief works
One of the many different types of grief is called anticipatory grief. This type of grief happens when you anticipate that you’ll feel profound pain and sorrow over a significant loss in your life well in advance of it happening.
Expecting the death of a loved one way before it happens can lead to experiencing grief in the following ways:
- Increasing concern for your parents
- Imagining or visualizing what your parents’ death will be like
- Preparing for what life will be like after your parents die
- Attending to unfinished business your parents
It may be years before you experience your parents’ death. It may even be that they outlive you, and you’re worried about this for years without merit. Learn to let go of this type of grief and enjoy life for what it is right now.
The Fear of Your Parents Dying
You can rest easy knowing that you have the inherent power to overcome the most challenging struggles in life, including the death of your parents. Regardless of how much or how long you fear and anticipate their death, nothing will prepare you for what it feels like to lose them until that time comes.
While it’s natural to fear your parents’ death, the reality is that you’ll find ways of coping with your loss. You were born to be resilient against these types of hardships.
If you're looking for more on death, read our guides on death positivity and how to start talking about death.