In the West, if we ask people how they prefer to die, they almost always say “suddenly” or “at night while I sleep”. They wish to die without awareness of the onset of death. If we then ask what they fear most of all, they reply: “a long illness or a condition where I have been gradually and more and more deprived of the freedom and the power to do what I want”. More than death itself, it is the threat of prolonged and uncontrollable “living dyingly” that terrifies people, because it caused loss of dignity and respect of ourselves. When some illnesses, including cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, genetic or viral diseases such (i.e. AIDS), and senescence, people fall into the deepest terror. The diagnosis of these conditions of death focus on the inevitability of death, as individuals anticipate a long process with a profound deterioration in the quality of life. This vision creates the removal of the terror experienced by everyday life and leaves individuals, families and entire communities completely vulnerable and unable to cope with death when it arrives. The main consequence is that people are not prepared to make meaning and to recognize the developmental task of this inevitable dying process.
This condition has also cultural and social dimensions, including the effect social oppression, which causes the perception of the same terror. For example this terror can emerge in violent relationships and trauma from which substantial and irremediable losses depend, and the conviction to be unable to leave is overwhelming; or other similar situations, as economic meltdown, imprisonment, torture, stalking, bullying, violence and domestic abuse. They can produce a profound hopelessness where committing suicide may appear as a reasonable solution.
Underlying all this terror there is the threat of the loss and degradation of the Self-identity before the death, the loss of being one’s own Self.
The Conference analyzes this terror in its most dramatic expressions, in order to retrace the most appropriate solutions for this suffering and its radical causes, offering a developmental significance, whenever possible.