Are thoughts of death a selfish notion?

Whilst I would prefer to live, I am fully alive (pardon the pun) to the fact I will die! Many clients I meet with demonstrate fear, almost phobic in intensity, at the thought of their demise. Yet, they can feel relieved about what those thoughts might mean – when explored further. 

“Why are you afraid of dying?” I ask.

The most common answers are often around concern for those who remain:

  • What will happen to them?
  • How badly I will have ‘hurt’ them – let them down.
  • I’m dis-empowered from offering comfort to those I will have caused pain.

“So, is it that you are perhaps less afraid of your own death and more concerned about the impact on others?”

  • Yes, I think it is

 “A loss of control even?”

  •  …I guess!


Naturally, I examine my own thoughts about this subject – and the feelings that arise. I have the gift provided out of my personal and professional experiences to call upon, many others are less fortunate. I also recognise I am touching on a subject – that for many – what I suggest may be incomprehensible.

When I was 15…

I came very close to my own death following a serious road crash when just 15 years of age. I recall lying on the hard road surface, my head ‘buzzing’ – and not in a good way. I couldn’t open my eyes, they were caked in blood I later learned.

The driver had lost control of the car, overturning it, rolling and rolling… I remember… then I ‘woke’ briefly, on the road. I had been ejected and the car had rolled on me …just to try to make sure me thinks… before coming to rest away from me. Following my brief moment of lucid awareness, I arrested – but just prior to that, I was almost completely at peace, unconcerned, aside from those bloody ‘bees’ in my head! I suffered no lasting major illness or injury of concern, and so I am grateful, naturally.

I was ultimately to be drawn to a career as a paramedic, and of those privileged relationships with patients I formed, were some of the most profound I have ever had; some lasting a matter of Bob Brotchie Paramedicminutes, even seconds in duration, and in the extreme – we may not have even exchanged words.

Those final moments of a life, my privilege of attending to those beings, holding a hand, looking into eyes that would see for the last time, the ‘acceptance’, as I recall that was universal in those final seconds… and how nothing else mattered.

The bills, the rent or mortgage, the job, the painful conditions associated with the mind (and body) and the journey and chapters of living; finally the struggles which can be so unnecessary in life could be released, and it seemed to me that the person dying felt that this was appropriate.

Just a matter of seconds passed, with some cases, before I got busy (where appropriate) and tried to interrupt the path between life… and death. Sometimes however, resuscitation wasn’t available or appropriate; a person (or people) trapped and I was unable to lay hands on – or in terminal illness cases and ‘Do Not Attempt Resuscitate’ (DNAR) situations.

The therapy (and alliance available) might simply be to comfort; offer a love unconditionally, demonstrating a compassion that can perhaps only be appropriately provided when you know what is available. What, as that ‘guest’ in that moment, is necessary so that I could be concerned with and give myself (and my attention) entirely to the person – rather than fret about what wasn’t mine. A privilege, rather than ‘God-like’, available out of experience and training – nothing more.

Do understand that these reflections allow me to write so relatively dispassionately because time has passed and I have allowed significant introspection. At each and every death I attended (this numbered hundreds) I felt pain. Even though it was not mine to have, I felt recriminations; I never got to find it any easier when confirming, then informing loved one’s of the finality – dashing any hopes.

So, what of those thoughts about our own demise? Well, none of us may know the day of reckoning but we can most certainly ‘control’ and consider our thoughts about that – while we are alive and wanting to be at peace. Why wait for the final breath? Nice as it is to go in peace, we have plenty to enjoy in this moment!

What did I mean by “Are thoughts of death a selfish notion?”

When I spend time in the future, rather than only place of reality, the here and now, I can ruminate about how terrible it will be to ‘lose’ someone I love, I get to choose. But how does that make anything better? Will we be better prepared when the time comes? No, of course not. How many times have we all heard, “we knew he/she was dying, all those years of pain (perhaps) but it is/was such a shock, still so painful ‘losing’ them”?

Is that really pain at the perceived ‘loss’? Or could it be the pain we feel at our expectations not being met, that our loved ones are no longer in our daily lives and the changes leading to anxiety this brings? If so, is that a little selfish?

Nothing has been ‘lost’! – Ajahn Brahm

The performance, that was that persons life, has ended; just as any great performance must. Life cannot continue indefinitely. So, why do so many of us fail to believe in this – choosing instead to mourn and grieve what was a privilege to be part of, however brief, however tragic or seemingly ‘unfair’?

I accept this kind of sentiment, that I try to harness, is anything but easy. I will, despite my best efforts, still feel pain at loss but like many other aspects of my thinking (and that which I encourage in clients) it is with clarity; it lasts for a finite time, no longer imprisoning and binding me to it… forever.

We are, as a society, accepting – seemingly unable to change our culture – to carry the burden of a death with us – imprisoning us. Is THAT what the person, when alive, wanted for a legacy? Maybe that is why we worry about what we leave behind, because we ourselves create this?

Just a possibility…

There are so many more aspects to this topic. What do you think? Have you learned an alternative way to manage the emotions associated with death? Do you disagree with the notion it is possible?

About the author
Managing Director / Counsellor at Anglia Counselling Ltd | 07747042899 | [email protected] | Business Website

Bob Brotchie is a counsellor, mindset consultant and creator of "Conscious Living by Design"™. He writes for Anglia Counselling, is featured on various other websites and introduces us to many guest writers all covering topics related to mental health and wellbeing.

Bob provides bespoke counselling services to individuals and couples in the privacy and comfort of a truly welcoming environment at his Anglia Counselling company office, located near Newmarket in Suffolk, England. Bob also provides professional online counselling, for local, national, and international clients. The therapeutic models offered are bespoke to the client’s needs, especially those in receipt of 'childhood emotional neglect' (CEN), whilst integrating a mindful approach to psychotherapy and cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) principles. For clients experiencing trauma and/or phobia, Bob offers EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing).