Irvin D. Yalom

Staring at the Sun: Overcoming the Dread of Death

“Our existence is forever shadowed by the knowledge that we will grow, blossom, and inevitably, diminish and die.”

The most powerful thing we have in common as humans is we live and we die. But what connects us into humanity can also shatter us individually. Death anxiety is the price to pay for self-awareness.

Psychotherapist Irvin Yalom (b. 1931) addresses this cost in his empathetic and considerate book Staring at the Sun. Unlike many who intellectualize death as a way to deal with its unbearable emotions, Yalom carries us through gently, patiently, allowing for pause and feeling. He discusses what he calls “awakenings”, moments of self-awareness. He includes a wonderful, lengthy section about human connection as the only real antidote to our fear of non-existence (rather than our precious things we keep nearby).

I read the book with a fist in my gut, and had to set it down often. I continued and finished, not as much to learn more, but to honor the mind and heart Yalom clearly put into its creation.

Connecting to others as a way to mitigate our fear of death, of non-existence is exemplified in Maira Kalman’s generous observations of strangers and certainly longed for in Allen Ginsberg’s raw, achy poetry about loneliness, isolation and pain. It’s also a theme I return to time and time again on this site.