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Michelle Ehle, Psy.D., is a 2020 graduate of the Ph.D. Program in Counselor Education and Supervision at Antioch University, Seattle.

Dissertation Committee

Dana Waters, Psy.D., ABPP, Committee Chair

Mary Wieneke, Ph.D., Committee Member

Steen Halling, Ph.D., Committee Member

Document Type

Dissertation

Publication Date

2019

Abstract

There are two certainties in life: we are born, and we will die. Everything in between birth and death is our life. This truth leads many individuals to existential questions: What is the meaning of life? How do we become satisfied with life, knowing that death is impending? Does awareness of death motivate how we live? Death anxiety is a well-studied subject; well over 500 studies provide information on who is the most fearful of death among a variety of groups (women versus men, religious verses secular, youth verses elderly, et cetera). These studies also use presuppositions to explain fear of death, such as, elder individuals have less fear of death due to life experience, a practical reason that makes sense and is likely true. My study looks beyond practical reasoning. I used descriptive phenomenological research to explore the subjective experiences of six individuals, to look beyond presuppositions and examine personal reasoning, and explore whether there were commonalities among their experiences. This study found ten (10) commonalities within the subjective experience of each participant that influenced each person’s fear of death. In the whole these commonalities describe the structure of a phenomenon, experiences that alter the fear of death and influences actions taken in life. The commonalities are loss, selfishness, worry about the process of dying, helplessness over what cannot be controlled, common daily fears, meaning-making that is embedded in general reasoning, reports of self-protection, pleasure-seeking drives, struggles with internal and external values, and a feeling of relief that is found in those who have lost a loved one to chronic illness. This study provides an enhanced understanding of how individuals process death anxiety. This dissertation is available in open access at AURA, http://aura.antioch.edu/ and Ohio Link ETD Center, https://etd.ohiolink.edu/etd.

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Michelle Ehle, Psy.D., 2020

ORCID Scholar ID #0000-0003-0447-1873

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