For a while, after my cancer diagnosis, I often woke in the middle of the night nearly suffocating from fear of dying. My girls were 3 and 5 years old and finally sleeping until morning but since I was already in the habit, I’d wake and lie in the dark with fear sitting on my chest heavy as a dog or a small child. Part of it was the idea of leaving my children, and that part remains; but a large part of it was fear of the unknown bits — the big black hole death could be. That’s the part I got over.
On occasion, during my six months of chemo, I felt well enough to drive my girls to school. At the time they went to a preschool housed in an old church with a graveyard behind it. One morning, as I passed this graveyard, I had an odd little vision of myself lying in that very place, deep underground and beneath a blanket of snow. That was my exact thought, a blanket of snow — I can’t really describe how calming this vision was. I know “blanket of snow” is a cliché, but believe it or not, the thought that snow would cover me in a cozy way was exactly the thing that gave me comfort. I’ve felt pretty ok about dying ever since. Well, not ok about my children growing up without a mother, or my husband on his own, but ok about the actual being dead part.
I’ve had friends who’ve died of AIDS, cancer, cystic fibrosis, accidents, old age. I once knew a woman whose friend was killed by a Mack truck. She’d stepped off the corner of 46th and Ninth Ave when the truck hit her and that was that. How many times have you said, I could walk out the door tomorrow and be killed by a Mack truck? People die too soon, people die too late. It happens, it just happens, and that’s the way it is.
I think what I am trying to get at here, is that, for me, knowing I’m going to die someday is a bit of a relief. I think we spend a lot of time simply not believing this fact and not believing it just eats up so much energy. And so, now when I wake up in the middle of the night thinking, oh my god I’m going to die, and my heart starts to pound and my head feels all funny, and I can’t breathe, my next thought is pretty much: duh. Because really, “I’m going to die” is one of those statements for which there is no answer other than, Duh.
And this, I believe.
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