The help desk: 'I have developed a fixation with death - how can I relax and enjoy life?'

'Bereavement counselling could help you to put your fears in proportion'

Q. I'm 34, and I find myself thinking more and more about death. Two years ago, my father died after suffering from dementia. My mother died three years before from cancer. Their last years were miserable. I miss them both every day.

Sometimes it seems that everything I'm doing is pointless because my life is heading for a horrible end. I often lie awake worrying that I've got a brain tumour (a young colleague of mine died of one last year), but even the thought that illness and death are waiting for me in old age sometimes makes me want to give up.

I keep worrying that every symptom or illness I have will turn out to be something fatal. I've got a beautiful young baby and a partner I love and mostly, I'm quite happy, but I'm terrified that my daughter will have to grow up without me. I find that I'm thinking about this more, not less, as time goes by. I want to relax and enjoy life. What can I do?

A. No one could suffer the loss of two people they loved, in just a few years, without being changed. It's not just the two bereavements, but all those years of heart-breaking decline. And, delightful as it is to have your daughter, the profound experience of having a baby makes up for you a sort of existential hat-trick.

My parents died close together, too – a year apart, both from cancer. The first loss quite undoes your world. But the second introduces you to the terrifying truth that bad things are not rationed, and can leave you cowering under the next imagined blow. There's also the sense that, with your parents gone, you've moved up a generational tier in death's pecking order, and that next time it calls, you'll be right in line.

All these feelings are a part of grieving. What should happen is that we eventually manage to accommodate them and return, perhaps a little more philosophical, to some kind of optimism. But for you, the grieving process has become snagged on this fixation, perhaps because you've had to soldier on, caring for your father after losing your mother, and caring for a baby after losing him. This might not seem to be the obvious time to seek bereavement counselling, but it could allow you to go back and properly address your loss, and help to put your fears in proportion. There's no time limit on it, and some people seek help many years after losing someone.

I also wonder whether your feelings are complicated by a bit of postnatal depression/anxiety, since you say they are getting worse rather than better. Have you discussed your fears and your health anxieties with your GP?

You may never achieve obliviousness to the ticking clock, the skull beneath the skin, because no one does. But it shouldn't be stopping you from living your life, just giving it a gentle sort of piquancy. I remember, some time after my second parent died, a sudden, glorious feeling of lightness that spring was coming and this time, no one in my life was dying. It was an illusion, of course: every one of us is dying. But an illusion that's necessary to get us out of bed in the mornings.

Your problem shared

Have a dilemma? Email your predicament, no matter how big or small, to Louisa at thehelpdesk@independent.co.uk

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Sport
Fans hold up a scarf at West Ham vs Liverpool
footballAfter Arsenal's clear victory, focus turns to West Ham vs Liverpool
New Articles
i100... she's just started school
News
news
New Articles
i100
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
Sport
football
New Articles
i100... despite rising prices
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Qualified Primary Teaching Assistant

    £64 - £73 per day + Competitive rates based on experience : Randstad Education...

    Primary KS2 NQTs required in Lambeth

    £117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

    Primary NQTs required in Lambeth

    £117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

    Primary NQTs required in Lambeth

    £117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

    Day In a Page

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam