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“No Leave, No Life.” Can Death Anxiety be Therapeutic?

“No Leave No Life.”

This billboard is only meant to be about taking time off work. Just going on holiday; planning a trip; embracing a bit of tourism.

But if you read it again, a little differently, it seems to whisper at something much bigger.

Something more like: if there’s no leaving, there’s no life.
Or: there’s no life without leaving.

Suddenly, it seems to be about mortality, our ticket out of here, already booked for and paid in advance. For, in a way, we’re only tourists here, in this life.

It’s pretty big to think about.

So how can we bear this knowledge – that we have to leave at some time? Leave this life, leave all the people we love, leave all that we know.
(Maybe even leave all that we are…).

How do you deal with the idea of your eventual leaving?
Does a certain level of denial factor into it? A handy forgetting that your time will (must) come.
Or maybe your faith or a sense of spirituality link arms with you in the face of it?

How do you make meaning of your (limited) time here in light of your impending departure?

Existential therapy looks this stuff straight in the eye. It wants you to remember – to truly know – that your time here is passing.
Day. By. Day.
And if you feel uneasy at the thought, existential therapy sees that as a normal thing, and actually welcomes it.

For death anxiety has an important role to play, if you can just invite it in sometimes.

It’s awakening you, in a sense, so you can consciously live this life while it’s still here. So you can do the things and say the things and be the things that matter before you hear your final boarding call. So you can heal what needs healing, say what needs saying and fulfill your secret dreams (or, at least, die trying).

So what are those things for you? Those desires or wishes or wonderings.
Have you made time lately to contemplate them?
Do you even know what they might be?

(If you’re looking for some inspiration, check out Life Before Death’s ‘Bucket List’ for some ideas).

…No leave, no life…

Perhaps in some ways, death anxiety and the very fact of leaving, are the things that actually enliven


Photo: Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar

Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar (Grad Dip Counselling & Psychotherapy) is a writer, blogger and Sydney psychotherapist in private practice at One Life Counselling & Psychotherapy. Gabrielle also co-facilitates telephone support groups for people who are living with cancer, for their carers, and for people who have been bereaved through a cancer experience. She is the editor of a journal on counselling and psychotherapy and she provides regular therapeutic updates on facebook and Twitter @OneLifeTherapy.

“No Leave, No Life.” Can Death Anxiety be Therapeutic?

Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar

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APA Reference
Gawne-Kelnar, G. (2019). “No Leave, No Life.” Can Death Anxiety be Therapeutic?. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 25, 2020, from


Last updated: 29 Mar 2019
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