As a kid, I was petrified of death and the vast expanse of the infinite universe. I think I probably had normal eight year old fears of monsters under my bed and strange noises in the night, but I know that a fair amount of the times I crawled into my parents’ bed for protection was because I needed to be assured that I was not going to die at that exact moment, and that the sun was not going to explode in that instant.
My fear of death has changed since then. It has become slightly more complicated: I don’t fear my own death (much) anymore; I fear the death of my loved ones.
Death seems like it should be fairly simple. Even the question of what happens to us after death seems to be fairly straightforward: We don’t know, and that’s all. But spending the last week of the winter holiday in Chicago with my dad, my sister, my cousins and extended family, I constantly thought to myself how complicated death is or can be. We die, but we don’t die. There are apartments to go through, books to pack up, medicines to throw away, clothes to sort and, if we are truly prepared, alcohol to drink and stories to tell. Meanwhile, there is the constant heartache of expecting to see the deceased at any moment, and always being reminded that they won’t be coming through the door.
It’s a selfish fear, and I admit it fully. I’m afraid of the pain I will feel when my loved ones die. I’m afraid of going through their belongings and remembering stories and expecting to see them at any moment and then realizing (repeatedly) that I never will again. I’m afraid of not being ready (are we ever really ready for the death of another?) and imagining a future without.
Sometimes this fear awakens the kid in me again. Sometimes this fear makes me want to hold onto everything in my life as tightly as humanly possible, and possibly lock them away to keep death from ever taking them. Sometimes this fear makes me want to lock myself away, to keep from loving anything, so death can’t take anything away from me.
But of course this isn’t the answer. Any self-help book, religious figure, Buddhist, or genuine human being knows that locking yourself or locking others away isn’t actually the solution to a pain-free life.