I'm looking for a word or expression describing extreme fear of sudden death. This could be caused by a (real or perceived) life-threatening situation, such as acute illness, violent assault or disaster/accident.

Terms to describe the fear of death at some point in the future can be included, where they lead the individual to experience panic states.

The form I'm looking for is something like this:

As the armed robber ran off, Sally's X began to wane.

The doctors had exhausted all alternatives and could provide nothing more than painkillers and a priest attempting to soothe the patient's X using calm words.

  • Terminal-fear. The word terminal works for some illness, disease or suffering that's incurable and certainly leads to death. May 23, 2015 at 10:58
  • "ran of" is not a phrasal verb.
    – user21820
    May 23, 2015 at 11:41
  • 1
    I think "fear of death" works pretty well.
    – Hot Licks
    May 23, 2015 at 11:49
  • Although it wouldn't work in your example sentences, a common expression is: "I saw my whole life flash before my eyes."
    – Oldbag
    May 23, 2015 at 20:15

4 Answers 4


This oxford entry defines the following idiom:

in ˌfear of your ˈlife

feeling frightened that you might be killed

You can also say "fear for his life" (Examples)

  • Michael Brown's friend claims Officer Wilson made HIM fear for his life

  • Tom Cruise admits he feared for his life when he had to hang off a flying plane

or: "scared for his life" (Examples)

  • Ever since the biker gang threatened him, he has been scared for his life.


EDIT: Just saw you edited examples into your question. I suggest:

  • As the armed robber ran off, Sally's mortal fear began to wane.

From TFD:

mortal: 5.) of or like the fear of death; dire: mortal terror.

Mortal fear is a very common expression

  • @qnyz: See edit.
    – Tushar Raj
    May 23, 2015 at 19:18

Shadow even without ...of death.

But more precisely, Crisis (MW)

1 : the turning point for better or worse in an acute disease or fever; especially : a sudden turn for the better (as sudden abatement in severity of symptoms or abrupt drop in temperature)—compare lysis 1


Some broader terms are "sudden foreboding" or "panic attack", but they do not specifically refer to fear of death. A medical term is "thanatophobia" or "death anxiety", which refers to fear of death or the anxiety stemming from it, but do not have a connotation of suddenness.

So perhaps something like "sudden foreboding of death" or "sudden death anxiety" might work in some cases, though not for your example with "Sally's X began to wane".

Surprisingly, although not referring to death, "nerves" fits in both your examples:

As the armed robber ran off, Sally's nerves subsided.

The doctors had exhausted all alternatives and could provide nothing more than painkillers and a priest attempting to sooth the patient's nerves using calm words.

  • "Death anxiety" was one candidate I considered but, as you say, lacks the suddenness.
    – qnyz
    May 23, 2015 at 15:18
  • I've considered "death anguish" but it seems to be used to describe grief due to the tragic death of someone else.
    – qnyz
    May 23, 2015 at 15:28
  • @qnyz: Death anguish is totally different from death anxiety, and in general anguish connotes sadness but anxiety connotes an uneasiness.
    – user21820
    May 23, 2015 at 15:36
  • I've always felt that when you're actually afraid you might die it should be "fiveboding".
    – Hot Licks
    May 23, 2015 at 21:11
  • @HotLicks: What does "fiveboding" mean? I've never seen it before and can't find it in a dictionary.
    – user21820
    May 24, 2015 at 2:50

I don't have a single word but I would suggest

."As the armed robber ran off, Sally's overpowering feeling of imminent death began to wane."

  • overpowering (adj) So strong as to be overwhelming TFD
  • imminent - (adj) ready to take place; especially : hanging threateningly over one's head MW

Not idiomatic but expresses what you mean and fits your model sentence.

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