Grey Power 48 — June 5, 2014

John Fryters
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One of the current box office blockbusters is a movie based on a book called “Heaven is for real.”  

Released on April 16, 2014, the movie depicts the life of Colton Burpo, son of Christian pastor Todd, who, months after emergency surgery in 2003, started describing events and people that seemed impossible for him to have seen or met such as his miscarried sister and his great grandfather who died 30 years before Colton was born. 

Colton’s parents claim that they never discussed this with him prior to the surgery.  Colton also reported to have seen Mary, the mother of God, in various situations in Heaven.

The release of this movie comes on the heels of a recent Harris Decima Opinion Poll which concluded that 39 per cent of Canadians are “creeped out” and feel uncomfortable about discussing the topic of “death”.  Other findings in this interesting poll included :

• 60 per cent think it is important to have discussions about death but are not willing to talk about it.

• 45 per cent are afraid of death

• 48 per cent don’t want to upset family members by talking about it

• 42 per cent say, “I am healthy”! “I don’t have reason to think about it.”

However, Dr. Marla Shapiro, medical consultant to the CTV Network, believes that it is more important to recognize that advanced care planning (i.e. planning for the event of death) is something you can do when you’re well and NOT in the middle of an emotional time when people lift up their hands and say, “It is too late”.

The fear of death is known as “thanatophobia” and without making a diagnosis, from the Harris Decima Poll it is clear that many Canadians suffer from some type of thanatophobic behaviour.  

So is there a link between these poll results and one’s beliefs that Heaven exists or does not exist?  Many people’s fear of death is truly tied into their religious beliefs which are, of course, highly personalized.  Maybe, just maybe, Dr. Marla’s advice regarding advanced care planning (i.e. to discuss this issue is when your are feeling well and are not facing end of life problems) can also be applied to the discussion if “Heaven is for real or not.”  Such discussion might in fact be “spiritually healthy” for you and you would be wise to discuss it with a spiritual adviser, priest or pastor.

It would also be good to seriously look at the other “fears” which make up the fear of death ...  Is this a “morbid” column?  Is it morbid to talk about the inevitability of death and the need for older people, such as myself, to prepare for it?  After all, this column is a column for seniors. Yes, death is morbid, but coming to terms with it is key to your mental health during old age and a major challenge to those surrounding you including health, and mental health professionals and, for some you, the churches and its leaders.

The other question is, “Do we all have to die after a long battle?” so often quoted in obituaries ?  Can we indeed die in peace? Poet Dylan Thomas articulated this in a frequently quoted poem to his dying father:

 “Do not go gentle into that good night,

Old age should burn and rave at close of day;

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

The sense that we ought to fight death makes it difficult for people to die well.  Maybe, the enquiry if  “Heaven is for Real” might well be useful.

Next week in Part Two we’ll look at mental health concepts related to the fear of death.

Well, I hope that these discussions (this week and next week) will be helpful to you.


John Fryters is a 65-year-old senior citizen who is passionate about helping his peer group by providing honest information to them.  He can be reached by e-mail at

Organizations: CTV Network

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