Reflections On Mortality: A Patient Faces Death

by Judy L. Kantrowitz, PhD


In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:


Go out of this world as you entered it. The same passage that you made from death to life, without feeling or fright, make it again from life to death. Your death is part of the order of the universe; it is part of the life of the world. ~ Lucretius

Stephen Greenblatt finds these words of Lucretius a therapeutic mediation on the fear of death (2011, p. 248). To spend one’s life anxious about death is to deprive oneself of the fullness of life and its enjoyment. But if someone is afraid of dying, as was my patient, newly confronted with a life-threatening illness, how do you overcome such fear?

My patient had been diagnosed with a cancer, a prognosis that statistically limited her life to two more years at best. “It’s just a statistic,” she would say in her characteristic manner, trying to counter her depressive proclivities with an artificial brightness. Then she would weep. “I don’t want to die. I’m too young. It’s not fair.” She was sixty years old—a very youthful, energetic, productive sixty-year-old. At the height of her profession, she had just embarked on another creative endeavor.

I had known my patient for more than thirty years. She had sought analysis in her twenties while a graduate student, unsure about her future vocational direction. Her six-year analysis revealed a woman who had had to rely on herself to make her way in the world, emotionally and professionally. While financially well provided for, her mother’s self-preoccupation and need for admiration left my patient feeling essentially unseen. She organized her self-esteem around her own achievements and ability for mastery <…>


Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 65(4):673-686, September 2017.

Link to Online Publication [download in the library or request from].


Previous Posts:

Ellen Pinsky, PsyD (2018). Mortality, Integrity, and Psychoanalysis (Who Are You to Me? Who Am I to You?). In Flirting with Death: Psychoanalysts Consider Mortality, edited by Corinne Masur. London and New York, Routledge, 2018, Chapter 8, p. 141-157.

Cordelia Schmidt-Hellerau, PhD (2018). La résolution par l’intégration: Une invitation à reconsidérer la théorie des pulsions (Resolution by Integration: An Invitation to Reconsider Drive Theory and a discussion with Michel Ody). Revue française de psychanalyse, 82/1: 179-197.

Alfred Margulies, MD (2018). Illusionment and Disillusionment: Foundational Illusions and the Loss of a World. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 66/2: 289–303.

Nancy J. Chodorow, PhD (2018). Love, Respect, and Being Centered Upon: Loewald’s Image of Development in Childhood and the Consulting RoomThe Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 71/1: 224-233.

Rodrigo Barahona, PsyaD (2018). Book Review of Una visión binocular: Psicoanálisis y filosofía (A Binocular Vision: Psychoanalysis and Philosophy). Bárbara Bettocchi & Raúl FatuleLima: Fondo Editorial de la Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú2014, 265 pp. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 66/2: 386-392.

Steven H. Cooper, PhD (2017). The Analyst’s “use” of Theory or Theories: The Play of Theory. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 65/5: 859-882.

Ayelet R. Barkai, MD (2017). Troubling Gender or Engendering Trouble? The Problem With Gender Dysphoria in Psychoanalysis. The Psychoanalytic Review, 104/1: 1-32.

Morris Stambler, MD (2017). 100 Years of Adolescence and its Prehistory From Cave to Computer. Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 70/1: 22-39.

Rita K. Teusch, PhD (2017). More Courtship Letters of Freud and Martha Bernays. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 65/1: 111-125.

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