There is one thing for certain in our world: we all will die one day. There is no guarantee on how many days we have. It doesn’t matter if we’re young or old, religious or atheist, healthy or frail – we all are going to die and none of us have any idea when.
My grandfather passed away on Wednesday morning at 4:30am. He had a bone marrow problem – myelodysplastic syndrome, or MDS. It’s a condition similar to aplastic anemia, in which the bone marrow does not produce cells properly. This can result in a critically low red and white blood cell count. No red cells? No blood. No white cells? No immune system. The condition can progress into leukemia and often has no known cause. Treatment involves frequent transfusions and even chemotherapy drugs. To be honest, the side-effects seemed worse than the condition itself.
The Friday before, he fell at home and fractured his hip. He didn’t survive the surgery and passed with my grandmother by his side. My brother and I arrived only minutes after his death; his hand was still warm when I touched him.
Trigger warning: sexual abuse mention
Death was my biggest fear when I was little. It still is, though I think I’m slightly more afraid of stink-bugs now. (They’re gross and smelly and have CREEPY HOOK HANDS.) Other kids were worried about, you know, kid things. Toys and friends and playing nice. I was afraid of getting cancer and dying in childhood. I was afraid of developing a heart condition and dying in my sleep. I was very, very afraid of pretty much everything. The anxiety was crippling and it took a lot of the fun out of being a little kid.
Not everyone fears death, though. I do know that. I’ve spoken to many people who were completely satisfied with their lives – people my age, people older – and felt that if they died now, it would be fine. That’s just not something I could wrap my head around. The comfort of religion – the promise of something after – I think that’s what eases people the most. I wish I had that, I really do. I wish I could believe something greater than myself was taking care of me. But I can’t. The idea of blackness forever is so beyond my comprehension, and it terrifies me.
And what about leaving your mark? What about living a life worth reading about? What about leaving your world a better place? I wanted all of those things so badly. But the older and more cynical I get, the more I find myself pursuing my own personal happiness and saying fuck it to all my altruistic instincts.
If you’ve ever heard of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, you might be thinking: clearly this girl needs to satisfy some basic aspect of her life before she can do anything worthwhile. And you’re probably right.
Thankfully, I have the bottom pretty much covered. (Plus or minus rest. Hooray insomnia!) I’m relatively secure in my position in life and I’d consider myself quite safe. Once we get to the psychological needs, things take a bit of a turn. I am very very very very very VERY bad at maintaining friendships. VERY. I’ve lost nearly every friend I’ve had since high school and the people I met in college, who I swore I’d see again, are all scattered across the country. The girls in my dorm were very understanding of my “hermit” tendencies. They were the sweetest, kindest people – and I’ve lost touch with them all. Because I suck, and I fall into phases of ignoring the whole planet and not eating or washing my hair. Thankfully, I have awesome hair.
Very few people stuck around and forgave my vanishing acts. And I’m so thankful that they did. My best friend Jenn – featured in “We Love the Moon” and “Hot Boogies” – has been my rock and my soulmate from the very beginning. (15 years of sweet, platonic, probablydefinitely gay love.) Tyler, who has known me since I was an evil box-dyed high-schooler, has most definitely witnessed some of my darker days. You’d think these things would be enough to satisfy the third tier – but something is hindering me. Something is holding me back from feeling like I am loved and needed, despite all actions and words telling me otherwise.
After my mother found out about my experience with sexual abuse while growing up, she did some research. She told me that often times, children who are abused get “stuck” in the age they were abused. And maybe that’s why I’m living in constant fear of the unthinkable beyond. Maybe that’s why I still cry when I’m scolded, or why I shrivel up to nothing when other people exhibit anger, or why I’m constantly in need of emotional coddling, or why I want to quit my job and abandon all my responsibilities and give up on everything I’ve worked so hard for.
This post is starting to spiral, so let me try to connect my thoughts.
Fear of death is normal. It’s scary and unknown and it’s the end of everything we’ve ever known. But to die before you’re ready – to have so many plans and endeavors… That’s terrifying. It’s unfair. The first time my grandfather was in the hospital for a transfusion, I had a friend tell me “don’t be upset – old people aren’t afraid to die.” I wanted to say “fuck you,” but instead I sobbed on the floor of his dorm. Maybe for the people who’ve lived full lives and done all the things they wanted. Maybe for the people with put-together families and lots of grandchildren. Maybe for the grumps who have no hope for the world –
But I don’t live for myself, do I? I live for the people around me. I haven’t learned enough, haven’t seen enough, haven’t fixed enough, haven’t said all I want to say. I feel like I’m still a child. I’m still in the middle of the pyramid.
I’m not even close to being done, and that’s why I’m scared.
My grandfather gave me a home when I was scared and had nowhere to go. He loved me unconditionally when my dad made me feel unlovable. He was a father to my brother, and I will miss him forever.
(Feel free to share your thoughts on being afraid of death. Are you?)