Death Anxiety: The Challenge and the Promise of Whole Person Care

  • Sheldon SolomonEmail author
  • Krista Lawlor


In The Denial of Death [1], cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker proposed that while humans share with all forms of life a basic biological predisposition toward self-preservation in the service of survival and reproduction, we are exceptional in our capacity for symbolic thought, which enables us to ponder the past, plan for the future, and transform the products of our imagination into concrete reality. We are also aware of our existence, which according to the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard gives rise to two uniquely human emotions, awe and dread. It is awesome to be alive and to know it, to recognize that we are each descended from the first form of life, and are thus related (albeit distantly) to everything that has ever been alive, is currently alive, or will be alive in the future, and be sublimely appreciative of the chance to carry the baton for a lap in the relay race of life! Yet, it is dreadful to be alive and to know it, to recognize that we are, like all living things, of finite duration, that our death can occur at any time for reasons that cannot be anticipated or controlled, and that we are, from a purely biological perspective, no more noteworthy or enduring than worms or walnuts.


Death anxiety Terror management Mortality salience Defenses (proximal and distal) Medical culture 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Psychology,Skidmore CollegeSaratoga SpringsUSA

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