“The fear of death is the most unjustified of all fears, for there’s no risk of accident for someone who’s dead.” –Albert Einstein
The fear of death is a cultural haunting-there’s no phantom, but it’s definitely something that haunts you. A cultural haunting is something that’s widespread, like loss, destruction, death, difference, etc. These things, though, each have no spirit involved with them; it’s the idea that haunts you, the idea that scares you. The fear of death is a cultural haunting because it’s a fear that is widespread and affects many people day in and day out, making them frightened of other things like sickness, boats, planes, or heights. To help prove this point, I will be using two fiction books with examples of this, Empire Falls and The Woman in Black. Empire Falls is about a man, Miles Roby, who lives a seemingly normal life in the small town of Empire Falls, but there is loss around every corner. His mother died years and years ago, his daughter’s friend’s grandmother died, and there is the ever-present question of what will happen with all the properties of Francine Robideaux once she dies. In The Woman in Black, Arthur Kipps goes to a small village to settle the affairs of the late Mrs. Drablow. There, he sees ghosts. The woman in black is actually Mrs. Drablow herself and she kills kids whenever she is seen. So, that invites the fear of death to come in a lot, as Arthur is scared for his death and his own children’s death after the fact. The fear of death affects the world in many ways, and those ways will have light shed on them.
One of the popular questions about this fear of death is what causes it exactly. Many people believe it’s the unknown qualities about death itself. Questions popping up about the unknown aspects include: ‘Is it painful? What happens after we’re gone? Will I remember this? Will I be the same?’ We’re just so afraid of facing what things we don’t know about-it’s sort of a human instinct, in a way. We always ask questions of what we don’t know, and expect answers, but we never get any concerning death-no one has survived it to answer said questions, obviously. This fear also puts delays in our lives. We delay writing our wills, buying life insurance, and many others that point to the fact that we will, one day, die. Another reason we’re so scared is that we fear that we will not be finished with what we need done before we die. There are supposed ways to get rid of this fear, though. Think about it when you’re completely healthy, meditate on it, and just accept that death will always happen-it’s a part of life.
It’s also thought that we ‘chose’ to scare ourselves from death. I say this because when we tell stories, we often add in macabre deaths in to make it more interesting. The media also adds to this-making mild deaths in literature into gory ones that we could go our whole lives without seeing in the movies. Also, the threats from people add in to our fear. We have nuclear threats, threats of war, actual war, and threats in our neighborhood we don’t even realize. We hear stuff on the news everyday about how there was a shooting, a car accident, a murder, or a suicide. All these things, all these stories, contribute to our fear of death. When someone close to us dies, which we also fear from these reasons, there’s usually a mourning process we go through. Step one is that you have to accept the reality of the loss, step two: work through the pain, step three: adjust to life without the loved one, step four: moving on, and step five: rebuilding things challenged by the loss (faith, religion, other relationships, etc.). The fear of death is a thing we see every day, even in common every day fears.
The Woman in Black and Empire Falls both show the fear of death in them. In The Woman in Black, the townspeople are scared for their children’s lives. They’ve heard the legends that every time the woman in black is seen, a child dies. So, whenever someone goes to the Eel Marsh House, they get scared, not for their own lives, but the lives of the children as they might commit suicide in some odd way. Arthur also is scared for his life, the dog’s life, his son’s life, Keckwick’s life, and his wife’s life throughout the book. His life was threatened by the hauntings. The dog almost drowned. His son was killed by the woman in black. He thought that the phantom of a carriage and horse drowning, taking the lives of the driver and a child, was Keckwick. Arthur’s wife was seriously injured and ended up dying. So, he was fearful of death many times-and not just his own death, either. In Empire Falls, the fear of death also comes up, albeit not as often. Miles Roby, as a boy, was scared of his mom dying when it appeared that way, and she did die. The principal was afraid that John Voss’s grandmother (also his guardian), was dead and John was living by himself. Although they were not scared for their own lives, they were scared of death all the same.
Obviously, the fear of death is very common. There is no real ghost, so this makes it a cultural haunting. The idea of it frightens us-haunts us-so much that we can’t bear to face it. Now, you may be wondering what to do with this fear of death haunting you. There really is nothing to do but simply face it, you know you’re going to die, everyone does, so why be scared of it? You know you won’t be the only one, everyone dies. No worries, everyone will experience the same thing-don’t let it haunt you.
“I’m not afraid of death. It’s the stake one puts up in order to play the game of life.” ~Jean Giraudoux,Amphitryon, 1929
Hanson, Robin. “Fear of Death and Muddled Thinking – It Is So Much.” Fear of Death and Muddled Thinking – It Is So Much. N.p., Aug. 2005. Web. 25 July 2012.
Templeton, Traci. “Whydo We Fear Death?” Fears of Death and Dying. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 July 2012. <http://www.mesacc.edu/dept/d46/psy/dev/Spring02/death/fear.html>.
Stearns, Peter N. American Fear: The Causes and Consequences of High Anxiety. New York: Routledge, 2006. Print.
Strack, Stephen, and Herman Feifel. Death and the Quest for Meaning: Essays in Honor of Herman Feifel. Northvale, NJ: J. Aronson, 1997. Print.
“Quotes and Sayings about Death.” Quotes and Sayings about Death. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 July 2012. <http://www.quotegarden.com/death.html>.