Saturday, January 05, 2008

Currently Reading: Staring at the Sun Overcoming the Terror of Death

I am currently reading a non-fiction book which is to be released in February 2008 titled Staring at the Sun: Overcoming the Terror of Death by Irvin D. Yalom, a psychiatrist.

I found this book as an offering in Amazon’s Vine program, a product review program which I am a member of. For books they usually offer pre-publication advanced reading copies to us and we read the book and review it.

I am not afraid of death itself to be honest or at least that is what I thought before starting to read this book. I was intrigued by the title and the content due to the fact that a close relative of mine and a friend in her low 40s recently died, both of Cancer. My mother is recovering from Breast Cancer. I have two elderly grandmothers whose are either frail or who have failing health. I am trying to adapt and adjust to being around death so much lately. Oh and I turned 40 in 2007. I wondered if this book would have something useful to me in it.

I am in Chapter Three right now. So far this is a very readable book, easy to read. It was designed for the layperson but does have one chapter for therapists, so the author is hoping both laypeople and mental health professionals will read this book.

What is most interesting to me so far is that Yalom states that due to Sigmund Freud’s theories and due to some others’ in the field, for over 100 years now, psychologists and psychiatrists, he says, are discounting the reality of the fact that a fear of death affects people in their lives! Even when patients complain of a fear of death, he says that Freud’s theory was to reject that and to credit the problem as being sexually based instead. (Where is the common sense? is all I can say about that.)

Yalom feels that our society is in deep denial of our fear of death. He feels that even if we are not actively and consciously thinking about death or thinking we’re afraid of death, that it manifests itself in various other ways. Some people overly focus on material good accumulation. Some try to prevent aging by getting plastic surgery. Some focus on religion to try to comfort themselves that something pleasant is going to happen after death. Some may become what some call ‘hyper parents’ in order to produce successful children who will go on to live out a great life even after the parent is deceased (a way of living vicariously through ones’ children).

Right now I’m reading a section about how we begin thinking about death and transforming our lives in a positive way when we have awakening experiences. Awakening experiences are large things such as a milestone birthday, a divorce, losing ones’ job, death of a loved one, retirement, the change to an empty nest, life-threatening illness and so on.

So far this is a fascinating book, a book that seems more about a general discussion and a philosophy of how we think about death. It is so much more, so far, than being a self-help book with tips and techniques of how to overcome a known fear of death. I look forward to finishing this book.

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