On death

My grandma died at the end of spring in 2002. It was such a nonevent. I had had experience with death prior to that... always shocking, paralyzing. We had lost my teenage cousin in an accident a few years prior. Friends had died. Several relatives. This one was slow. Hard to watch.

She was one of those cancer anomalies. I say this because she was given a gloomy prognosis, we said our goodbyes, and then it was as if she rolled her eyes at the doctor, went home and made fried chicken. Then died about 11 years later. 

It was slow and painful as a spectator. I was only 15. I remember watching as she reluctantly began to allow others to help her. Then, as she allowed hospice in to her home. Then, as she closed her eyes and took a month-long nap. Then, she was gone.

When you are 15 and observing these things and not knowing what to feel, you try and conjure up what you feel are the expected emotions. I would go by her house and tell her I loved her... which was strange since we didn't really say that to each other when she was lucid. I remember hearing someone say that the cancer had gotten into her hips and was eating away at her bones. I pictured small, clear termites slowly chewing away at her pelvis... and wondered what that must feel like.

A relative said to another that my grandmother was so afraid of dying she had tried every cancer cure imaginable, including drinking peroxide. Then, the relative's face became contorted, as if drinking peroxide was the most desperate thing someone could do. I remembered the pelvic-eating termites and figured I would probably drink peroxide, too.

Despite this death being a small affair after a decade of preparing myself to say goodbye at any moment, it impacted me significantly. I had never known anyone who knew they were going to die. And this one person was very afraid of it. So afraid she had chosen to drink peroxide which, from what I could gather, was only done as a result of being in a hopeless situation that was also impossible to deal with.

Watching someone die that is terrified to die impacts you. My grandma had a nice life... but I wouldn't call it anything extraordinary. She was a religious Catholic and regularly attended mass... yet, she did not appear to be looking forward to this forced change of address. So, I took from this experience, death is something to dread. Death is something to fear.

I hadn't thought of this fear or my grandma much in the past few years. But during my last pregnancy, I had a small scare involving a lump in my breast. The midwife referred me to a breast cancer center for testing. At this point, my grandmother was on my mind constantly. Before this scare, I had come to think that I had a realistic hold on this fear of death and that I trusted God.

I was so wrong. The thought of death terrified me. I waddled around on the verge of tears. I couldn't read a book to my son without choking back sobs. 

Fortunately, the lump was benign and just one of the many resulting joys of prenatal hormones. But I am so aware of my fear of death. I have discussed it with believing friends. I have listened to sermons on the topic. I am well aware that I am "supposed" to be looking forward to eternity in Heaven. But the fear of the unknown is so much stronger than any joy or hope in eternity.

I realize the ideal ending to this post would be how I am slowly learning to deal with this or accepting it or finding joy in accepting that I am not a citizen of this world. But none of that is true. I am still afraid. I still don't want to think about it. I don't want to talk about it. I know the correct theological answers and I don't care. I am afraid of death. And that's how this post will end.


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