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Ever since kindergarten, my 17 year old high school daughter cries at least once a week from her fear that her older than average parents will die too early — my husband and I were around 50 when she was born. She fears we'll — together or separately — get brain aneurysms, heart attacks, COVID, or fatal accidents. Husband and I bought life insurance, but this doesn't stop her from crying.

We don't do anything, or have medical conditions, that increase our risk of dying. But we travel for work — one of us is usually away from home. A family friend died of COVID that exacerbated my daughter's fears. We're all double vaccinated, but vaccines don't make you immune.

Three different adolescent psychiatrists assessed her, but they all evaluated her as normal. We were never in the same room as her and the pediatric psychiatrist, because we wanted her to speak freely. They didn't prescribe or diagnose anything. They found her more pessimistic than average, but pessimism isn't a psychiatric condition they said. Overall they found her analytical, rational, reasonable.

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  • On the one hand, I would agree that this is normal. I had this fear as a child, and it just cooled to resignation (everyone has to be prepared to lose their parents inevitably). On the other hand, if it causes frequent crying and interferes with her ability to function, it's worth finding solutions for. Perhaps it's not so much the death part itself as fear of being left holding the bag. She will eventually have to be functional without you, even as early as when she moves out. How can you prepare her to be OK with that reality? Oct 17 at 4:11
  • What age? The answer would be very different for a 13 year old vs a 19 year old
    – Hilmar
    Oct 18 at 21:26
  • @hilmar please see my edit. she's 17.
    – user41911
    Oct 19 at 5:22
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I totally agree with what the other people are saying about preparing your daughter in various ways (like teaching her to cook, manage money, etc.). On the one hand, feeling capable to take care of herself should make her feel more confident about her future. On the other hand, she just dreads losing you.

Personally, I’d probably tell her that unfortunately sooner or later all parents pass away, and this can happen to young people as well. Everyone’s life is very short. What’s more, one can never get enough of time with loved ones, no matter how much time they think they might have. So what shall we do about it? Enjoy every day we get to be together. Tears and fears only rob us of the happiness, which is so close…

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You have already got a lot of great answers, and I hope my words will help you too. Any attachment is harmful - we can be attached to a person or a thing, for example. Being emotionally attached to someone is not a problem until it becomes an emotional dependency. It can cause mental health issues, so we should try to figure out why we are addicted to something or somebody from time to time. Usually, the main reason is fear. Let's say, fear of loss and taking responsibility for all spheres of life. When a person fights their fears or makes up for the lack of something in their life, they get rid of their addictions. Try to discuss with your family how you can help your daughter to be independent.

Additionally, I can understand how difficult it is. Easy to say but not so easy to handle. I always say that we should not hesitate to contact professionals thus if you still need help, you can check out the most suitable mental health service in your country with this list. Some of these services work worldwide, and they help a huge amount of people daily.

Hope your situation gets better soon.

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You didn't say how old she is, but you should consciously make sure that she can stand on her own two feet. Teach her cooking, teach her cleaning the home, teach her looking after her own money, buying her own stuff and so on.

Tell her that's because she is afraid you might die, so it's no good being in fear and crying about it, the only thing that will do her any good is being prepared. And if she cries because she is in fear, then you take her and do one teaching lesson. Anything that she needs to know to survive without parents, instead of crying. Say how to fill out a tax form. Or how to fix her bicycle.

I'll add something that worried me. I have known two suicides and one murderer in my life. One suicide was a girl around 23 who was worried that her parents would die, and she wouldn't be able to look after herself when that happened. Like in your case, she had no reason to believe anything would happen to her parents. Since it's irrational, there is not much you can do.

But the fear that she can't look after herself, that's something you can do something about by making her as independent as possible.

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  • @hilmar please see my edit. she's 17.
    – user41911
    Oct 19 at 5:22
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That feels somewhat unusual for a 17 year old. At this age she should be getting ready to finish high school and get ready to go to college (or work life), i.e. prepping for leaving the nest (and hopefully be excited about new adventures).

I would start with having a detailed discussion with her about WHAT exactly is she afraid of. Could be all kind of things: fear of going broke or loss of quality of living, fear of losing a place to live, fear of losing a loved one, fear of having to go to a funeral, for of being singled out as an orphan, etc.

Ask open ended questions and listen carefully to the answers. Don't lead her but encourage her as much as possible to articulate the "specific" fears. Once you have a specific scenario that illustrates her fear, walk through it together in detail. Address them where you can. If it's about money, talk about life insurance and social security. If it's about afraid of becoming homeless, tell here what arrangements you have made. Example: If both of us die at the same time (which is very unlikely), you will be staying with Uncle Bob until you are ready to be on your own

Yes, it hurts to lose a loved one, but there are still other people to help and support. Explain to her how grieving works and how most people get through this ok.

Chances are a lot of this is "fear of the unknown" and "fear of change". The more you can help her articulate the specifics the more you can address them and the more the "unknown" becomes the "known".

Then focus here on her future: friends, school, college, work, relationships. These are all things were you as a parent will play less and less of a role and she will be more and more self sufficient.

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I would try to figure out with her what would happen if you both died within a short time. What would her life look like? Who would be there to help her? Are there any relatives she could turn to? Any friends to support her? Make a plan for the worst case, try to find solutions that are ok for her.

To me, it sounds a bit as if she feels utterly lonely, as if she thinks that there is nobody else in the world that cares for her, except her parents. If this is true, help her to build up stable relationships to relatives or friends so that she knows that she will not be alone, even if you die.

I myself was a shy and lonely child who often feared to lose both parents. And I, too, was an only child, which made things worse. What helped me was that my aunt had told me that if I lost my parents, I would live with her and her three children. I liked my aunt and her family and I was sure I could trust her. Having something like an emergency plan helped me a lot to overcome my fears.

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