Musings by Chris and Photos by Jim
I don’t think I’m consumed with death as a concept at the moment, but it definitely sits in my frontal lobe more than it use to. You can’t avoid death. It’s going to happen one day. I would love to think I would live until 92 years of age. My mother actually turns 93 in September. She is the longest living person on her side of the family tree. Quite an accomplishment for a woman who lived through the depression, had her share of operations and diagnoses, who has lived longer as a single woman than a married woman, manages her finances and her health impeccably, and continues to live independently and drive her own car!
I can’t boast any of those stats but I do feel I can accept whatever each day brings me. Have I assumed the mindset of one who is nearing her life’s end? Or am I finally settling with what is? All we have is each moment. If you live moment by moment, I’m learning there is nothing to fear.
“The one who fears something the most is the one who has it most activated in their vibration. And so, it is logical that they would experience It.” – Abraham
Fear is an ever-present dilemma in our daily lives. If I miss the bus will I be late for work? If I have another donut will I gain weight? Does anyone really like me? What if I can’t pay the rent for this month? Are our oceans radioactive on the West Coast? What happens if California no longer produces organic produce due to the drought? I’m not sure I can feed my family for the rest of the week, what am I going to do? My mother has breast cancer, does that mean I will? Who’s going to take care of my family if I pass?
Fear goes from what may be seemingly innocuous to serious life altering outcomes. And then there is just the plain old fear of what happens when we die. And that is where I went to in my memory bank.
As a fourth-year student in Early Childhood Education, I had my final practicum at Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto as a recreational therapist on the dialysis ward. I don’t believe they are called that anymore. In fact, at one point they were called child life specialists and who knows if they still exist as a line item in hospital programming budgets any longer. However, when I was in the throes of my practicum, I was there to spend time with children, to bring in activities for them to do, to create a fun, stimulating environment, and to just be with them. A child life practitioner would also bring in activities that may assist the child to deal with some of the emotional aspects of their illness or diagnosis and possibly prepare them through play for upcoming surgery and treatments. I didn’t have a particularly skilled supervisor role model to follow and was completely unprepared for the emotions that confronted me on my last visit to this young boy’s bedside.
I’ll call him Tim, though I really don’t recall his name. It was what he said, how he looked at me, and his abject fear that will stick with me forever. Tim didn’t want me to leave his room. He kept holding my hand with such trepidation in his eyes I felt like he was seeing through me to another dimension I couldn’t grasp. He was sure he was going to die. And he openly admitted to being afraid. As a completely unprepared frightened 20-something, I assured him that wasn’t going to happen. He was all right. That was not what he needed to hear. He needed to hear that he could let go of his fear; that I would stay with him until I could get one of his family members in the room with him. I needed to remain close and let him share what he was feeling and more importantly, seeing. I felt he was seeing something that was reaching out for him, but as a small child he wasn’t sure it was the right thing to do – to go without the consent of his family.
Tim was seeking permission to go, as well as asking to be reassured it was going to be okay once he left. All I could manage was to try and hide my fear from him, my fear of death, and my complete lack of skills to handle such loss and sadness from someone so young experiencing something this monumental on his own. I perceived it as tragic at that time in my life, when in fact it should have been viewed as an opportunity and a peaceful moment of moving on.
What I believe the ‘Tims’ of the world do for us is to open up our hearts and give us a glimpse into the evolution of life. Sometimes it goes on for decades, as in my mother’s case. For others, it may be a brief decade or less. But the process is the same. We come into this world in some way – some briefly for only a breath and some don’t even manage that first breath of oxygen. For them there is too much plenty and purpose to what they have experienced in utero. Their time is done. For those who choose to creep and crawl and walk and run and crawl and creep through life, we all take similar steps. What Tim reminded me of, is that there is a way to let go that can be gentler and kinder and softer.
Victoria Karuna Scott creator of Infinitely Possible Human Beings writes about her experience with death and her work at hospice:
“It’s so often an unconscious thing that we do, trying to help & make better & somehow free others from not having to feel any pain. But that’s not what life is about. It’s not that we have to experience pain to feel peace but we do have to allow others to feel what it is they need to feel. “– Victoria Karuna Scott
Fear was definitely what Tim needed to feel and work through and be guided to a quieter gentler place within his soul. I was not his angel that day. I failed him miserably. I’m hoping an angel did wrap his/her wings around him. I hope his family clustered near and cried and hugged and breathed his last breath along side him as they held his hands. The next morning I went to Tim’s room, he was not there. He had passed in the night. I had no closure and I definitely continued to carry fear with me for many, many long years, especially around death.
After my operation, fear left me. I was so occupied with fear prior to my operation; it consumed me and left me with residual doubts. And then I woke up and felt and counted the scars and stitches and staples and the stiffness and numbness in my neck and tongue and ears and shoulders, and the tubes in my throat and mouth and arm and realized I was alive. I had a beautiful loving man holding my hand through all of this with tears in his eyes and so much adoration, my heart glowed and light projected around Jim and me. And it was then I knew I had nothing to fear. Whatever will be, will be. Que Sera, Sera – thank you Doris Day.
So why is fear so darn important to me of late and why do I feel we live best without it? Because I’ve seen Both Sides Now. (Thanks Judy Collins).
There definitely is a musical theme to this post.
There are benefits to fear as outlined in the article The Benefits of Fear.
We need to know when fear is alerting us to something we should be cautious or careful around. But to let it consume us allows fear to get the better of us, thus clouding our perceptions of reality.
And then I found this article from Huffington Post – Why Should Anyone Be Afraid Of Dying?
Karl A. Pillemer, Ph.D. wrote about the aging boomers and all the ‘death is okay’ books that are out there. So he decided to interview elders/seniors and noticed a substantial relaxing with the notion of death and the alleviation of fear. One of the seniors he interviewed, said the following:
“But about dying, I’m not one bit afraid. Well, if you stop to think about it, it’s a natural thing. Everything dies. Whether we come back or not or what happens there, I don’t know. But it’s like my husband used to say whenever we did discuss it: “If you go to heaven, how wonderful. But if you go to sleep, what’s wrong with that?”
I really try to get eight hours of sleep a night since having radiation. Sleep feels so good. It is a time my mouth doesn’t hurt and my neck can move and I speak so clearly in my dreams and give speeches and laugh out loud without any modesty around my scars and deformities.
On my first day home from hospital, as I stepped into our new apartment, Jim led me to our bedroom and how he had set up the Buddha on the dresser next to our loving Buddha painting (We are forever grateful for you Carole Leslie) and I fell in love with the sanctuary he had created for us. And then I saw the brand new (thoughtful) foam wedge he had bought me so I could sleep upright. Something I did for at least the first month. I choked my breath down with painless tears as I realized, my life would never be the same. We all have something we have to repair, heal, deal with, live with, be consumed with, and just wish we didn’t have to be with. But that’s life.
“If you break your neck, if you have nothing to eat, if your house is on fire, then you’ve got a problem. Everything else is an inconvenience. Life is inconvenient. Life is lumpy. A lump in the oatmeal, a lump in the throat, and a lump in the breast are not the same kind of lump. One needs to learn the difference.” -Robert Fulghum
Jim and I went climbing/crawling along the rugged, uneven, bumpy, rocky, jagged, craggy Dallas Road beachfront. I was sure I must have some muscle memory left from when we use to climb there on Sundays with our young children. But the bent, stooped, cautious senior I was did not match my upright sure-footed and confident younger self. Jim’s hand was always there to guide me as he carefully marked areas where the best foot placement was. We were a fine pair, out there in the sunlight with my Greta Garbo look in a large sunhat and sunglasses and scarf to protect my radiated body from the gorgeous sunlit blue sky.
We remarked later how fortunate it was we could be doing this on a Monday afternoon. How blessed to have the agility and wherewithal to get out there and move and soak in the ocean breezes and aromas. How extravagant to gently and selectively pick wild roses to sniff along our walks. How generous our earth is that we can be offered such stunning vistas and solitude and peace.
Yes, there is a lot to fear but that’s not my game plan anymore. I will accept visitations from time to time but it is no longer a permanent houseguest. I value happiness and joy and love and forgiveness and acceptance and trust and faith over fear. And with all of that backing me, I know there is nothing to fear, ever again.