I skittered through a funeral on Monday of a woman I did not know. Her daughter is an acquaintance of mine, not a close friend, but friendly none the less. Briskly, I walked over the matted red carpet, eyes cast downward, hotly aware of the scarcity of familiar faces in the closed room. It smelled of lilies, of every casket I have walked beside in all of my life. The air was heavy, abrupt laughter drifted through the alcove, a sin, a breach of contractual grief. I hugged the dead woman’s daughter, she firmly hugged back. Quiet, resolved to the finality of the day, she dropped my hands and moved along to the next person in line.

I was not part of the funeral procession. I did not know the family, did not have a strong enough connection even to stay for the services. It was borderline inappropriate for me to have attended at all, but I could not stay away. I walked to my car, my heels clicking and wobbling along the broken sidewalk, and climbed into my car.

Later, I sat at my desk and read the obituary of a man who was a client of the company I work for. In seven days, he would have celebrated 48 wedded years with his wife. Seven short days. The thought of this, of being the wife left behind, of having woken up next to the same man for half a century, and suddenly after 47 years, waking alone, shattered me. My gut twisted. Quite plausibly, that could be me, or equally, my husband. I pushed it out of my mind, willing myself to move on with my morning.

That evening, after tucking my daughter in for the night, I sat beside my husband on our couch, together again after a long 12 and a half hour work day. He smelled of the ice rink, of sweat and winter. I breathed him in, finally relaxing. “That woman I told you about?  The really pretty one? I found out that she passed away today. It is so sad.” He said, reaching for my hand. Anxiety grasped my throat. Another one, gone.

I went to bed and dreamed broken dreams, of loss and suffering. I awoke in a sweat, my right arm twisted through the thin black strap of my night dress, the hem sucked around and beneath my bottom leg. I untangled myself and sat up, looked at my husband soundlessly sleeping. I laid my hand on his chest and waited for it to balloon with breath. It did. Relief seeped in to the muscles in my shoulders. Quietly, I walked across the span of our room, checking our balcony for what I don’t know, and crossed the hallway to where Vi lay, sleeping. I placed the same hand on her chest, and waited. She rolled away from me, disturbed by my probing. Mollified, I went back to bed.

In the darkness, listening to the hum of the baby monitor, I realized, it is not death I fear. I am a believer. I am a good soul. I have made peace with the unsavory parts of my past, I have forgiven myself and forgiven others. I lead a peaceful, rich life. I do not fear passing on. It is in the leaving behind where my fear is firmly rooted.

Perhaps it is the concoction of pregnancy hormones that has my mind tilted this way. Perhaps my bringing new life into this world is perfectly congruent with the passing of life. Perhaps it is all very normal. Possibly, it has been this sudden exposure, the repeated assault of the effect of death that has me tied up. Whatever the reason, despite the choking anxiety, I am grateful for this discomfort. It has prompted me to be more aware of my gratefulness. It has reminded me to drink in every drop of life I am given with my family intact, as so many around me can no longer do.

20 responses

  1. “It is not death I fear… it is in the leaving behind where my fear is firmly rooted.”

    You’ve written about this so well. Once you have a family, or more specifically a child, you fear that one day they may have to cope without you. And that is a very hard thought to have to process. I often say to my husband before we go to sleep “If I die before I wake, please remember to check the children every night before you go to sleep. They often kick their covers off and I wouldn’t want them to get cold.”

  2. Yes, this is totally true, every word. I had that awful feeling during pregnancy that something would happen….and then it never went away. I get totally torn up at the thought of anything happening. It’s overwhelming. The price of loving.

    • I know, thinking of the unthinkable is completely overwhelming. I sometimes can’t even allow myself to focus on it for more than two seconds, it would ruin my life. I completely agree with you, it all started with pregnancy, and it seems to never leave!

  3. Absolutely beautiful. Life is so cyclical, with loss being coupled with the creation of someone new. Both those things together make me realize their profundity. This is gorgeous.

  4. Amazing. I’m not afraid of death. I am afraid of hurting my children, my mister, with my inevitable passing. I know it will happen some day. I do not know when or how, but my fear is that it will be too soon. I want to live long enough to hold my grandbabies, and maybe even a great-grandbaby. I want to grow old with my Mister.

    My dad said it best “We mourn not for those who’ve passed, their suffering is over. We mourn for ourselves, for we are not done loving them.” Having recently lost my godfather, this rang so true with me.

    My fear is I will leave before I am done loving and being loved.

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