Case Study

Lifelong Suffering with Death Anxiety


Jean came to me and shared that she had been suffering her entire life with extreme anxiety about death without ever knowing why. She had been struggling to sleep, terrified that if she closed her eyes, she would die.


Jean told me she had been grappling with this for as long as she could remember. Despite efforts from her parents and doctors to help her, they never understood the cause of her anxiety, and nothing seemed to help.


As an adult, she had almost resigned herself to believing that this was simply who she was, losing hope that she could ever overcome it. After all, nobody had ever figured out why she had this anxiety, so how could she possibly get rid of it?


The conversation went on to the topic of grief. Well aware that I had lost one of my daughters. She told me that she had never really experienced what she called "proper grief".


The only loss she had faced was that of her dog, which was a strong source of grief for her, but in her eyes not as significant as my loss. I explained to her that grief is not comparable. Nobody can trully know what you feel and we all have the right to acknowledge our feelings. Other peoples experiences are irrelevant in this respect.


As we delved deeper though, it became increasingly clear that Jean was affected by generational trauma.


This connection had never been made before, but it suddenly became evident that the trigger for her anxiety dated back to her grandfather’s passing.


Jean’s grandfather had passed away when her mother was very young, and Jean’s grandmother never spoke to her mother about it.


Their relationship became strained as Jean’s grandmother more or less acted as if it never happened. For Jean’s mother, this meant that her father was there one day and then suddenly gone, with no one to help her through her grief or to come to terms with it.


As Jean recounted this story, I could see her light up as if a lightbulb had gone off. She could clearly see how her mother’s unresolved grief explained their relationship and her own confusion about grief and death throughout her life. Finally, Jean understood why she had been suffering from anxiety all her life.


I asked, “How do you think things might have been different if your mother had taken the time to talk to you about death and grief when you were a child?” Jean replied immediately, “Everything would’ve been different. I would’ve been a different person.”


Then I asked Jean, “Knowing what you know now, how do you see this impacting your life moving forward?” Jean smiled and said, “Now that I know the reason, I feel powerful, and I see a possible future without the anxiety.”