Mind Candy

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Facing death

Posted by mandyf on August 3, 2012

Death is one of those things that never seemed to phase me the way it did others, not just for my age but among people in general. I used to wonder why it was so bad, or if maybe I was missing something because I didn’t weep openly and go into a state of shock as I had seen others do. I wondered what that said about me, what kind of person I was, and if somehow I was flawed.

The first time I came face to face with death I was eight and visiting my grandparents. Grandpa was one of those people that always complained about his health but somehow seemed to be immortal to me. I spent the afternoon sitting on his lap with the television tuned into the Red Sox game, volume off, and each of us with our little transistor radios with a single earpiece nestled in place to listen to the radio broadcast. He insisted this was the only way to take in the game if you couldn’t be there live. I forget how the game ended but when I got off his lap I noticed he didn’t move. I thought he was asleep. In actuality he died sometime during that game. How I didn’t notice that I don’t know, he just got quiet and expired. In my mind I just guessed that’s how death happened and it didn’t seem so bad even if I was going to miss him.

Only two years later I watched my mom die just after Christmas. On Christmas morning she said she didn’t feel well and was going to stay in bed. I figured she was up too late wrapping gifts or something. I didn’t believe in Santa anymore but I maintained I did because I thought somehow that would translate into extra presents. We returned home from mass and the next thing I knew my dad was taking her to the hospital. Two days later she was dead. Officially the hospital wrote up her cause of death as cancer related but we knew it was a suicide by overdose. I didn’t want to admit that but it was pretty evident and after a few years of fighting cancer she just gave up. I guess when news it had returned arrived a few weeks earlier it was just too much. Still I only cried once for a couple minutes and then went back to my own life. I felt very wrong for not appearing to feel worse.

As high school went on of the group of five friends I associated with one died in an auto accident, another hung himself in a rather grisly manner involving wire, and a third was dragged behind the bumper of a car. Although he didn’t die on the spot he did die in the weeds on the side of the road waiting to be found. I had many emotions including outrage and confusion, but no tears. Somehow it just never triggered the response I thought I was supposed to have. Even the next year when my college roommate died in an auto accident I couldn’t muster tears for him or even my father one year to the day later when he died. Not even my godson drowning in the tub two years after that elicited the pain I thought I was supposed to feel. I had come to believe two things; I was a death magnet and a cold unfeeling person. I didn’t want to be, I just didn’t seem to feel the way I thought I should when faced with mortality.

Many years down the road I was confronted with my own death. Obviously I’m still here, but after teams of doctors independently confirm you are not going to see four score and seven years or even two score and ten, you get a taste of your own impending demise. The best case scanario I received was seeing fifty would be a blessing and curse. A blessing in that it is more time on earth and more time for the possibility new drugs or procedures will be discovered to correct everything going wrong in my body. The curse is that it just isn’t likely. What do you do when medication to treat one thing aggravates another? What do you do when the only unknown is which thing is going to plant it’s flag in you and claim victory over your body?

I wanted to be angry, I wanted to scream and throw things, kick and hit people, but I didn’t. I hardly reacted. I just remember parroting what my doctor said, confirming the time line and things I had to look forward and saying “okay.” It hit me after a few weeks I couldn’t even mourn my own approaching death. Then I wondered if I even should.

I don’t really fear my own death. I’d prefer it waited awhile and didn’t claim me piece by piece for several more years but it’s something beyond my control, much like my bladder in three to four years. I don’t embrace it, but I’m not fighting either. Fighting death seems useless like so much wasted time and energy. So what can I do? I joke about, I try to take care of myself within reason. I’m not giving up coffee or a few drinks now and then to try to save an extra day on the back end here or there. I’m spending time with the people I love. I’m trying to document every thought no matter how silly they may be so one day my daughter can reflect on all the things that went through my mind. Maybe she’ll learn something or smile when she does. If nothing else she’ll know how much she was loved. I tell people how much they mean to me today instead of waiting for tomorrow.

I try to face the process as positively as possible. I made all my loved ones aware so it’s no surprise and is just a given. I made deals with myself that when the day I need that Depends undergarment arrives I’m going to rock it in style and show no shame purchasing it. If nothing else it’s got to improve my non-existent backyard. When muscle control goes further I’m going to lay back in my ratty recliner I love so much demanding my minions fan me and feed me Lil’ Choco Donuts as if I were Cleopetra herself. Ideally I’ll go watching a baseball game with a loved one in my arms just like grandpa did.

Maybe I don’t face death the way I’m supposed to or the way I’m expected to. As corny as it sounds I see a certain peace in death life just can’t offer. I may not like the way that peace arrives sometimes or the schedule we are placed on to arrive there, but I just don’t fear it and facing it just seems like part of the process. I will have regrets there are things I’ll likely never see, but everyone has that to some degree. Of course I’ll be the first to admit when my last day comes I may completely change my mind and demand to be plugged into a car lighter or whatever it takes to get an extra hour, but for now it’s okay. The only thing I fear about it all is the way it may be handled by people in my life, that maybe it will hurt them.

Ultimately facing death is more about facing life and I think those that fear there own passing do so because they haven’t done with their life what they have hoped to. Then again I could be wrong and maybe it’s just me that sees it this way. Faced with the choice I’d rather live like I’m living than live like I’m dying.

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4 Responses to “Facing death”

  1. I’m crying right now. I knew about this long ago, but seeing you write it today just makes it feel more real for me, a person who’s never met you, and can’t know exactly what you go through, but has known you awhile all the same.

    I admire you so much, and I know you know that, but I want to say it all the same. You’ve mentored me and made me smarter and stronger and better. You’ve been a good friend.

    And I can’t tell you how poignant reading this is today. But just know what you wrote means more than what I can tell you right now.

  2. Michelledh said

    Wow, getting all out there? ….. I’ve always feared death – no I haven’t done all I want to – I fear death and I fear people dying, you are right I think that most people do – unless they have found peace with a religion, which is another story but I think that helps people cope with it easier. I haven’t been to a funeral since my mum passed it was just too much – However, My cousin, was always very flippant about death, like seriously had no problem at all – it didn’t bother him, always seemed uncaring but very helpful to us that couldn’t function properly at family funerals, but he said he was just used to it. That was until his own mum died, and he was, still is a wreck. I think it must be because all these experiences happened to you early in your life, and its prepared you. In a way being prepared is better than being scared, Even though I feel totally different about death – I feel the same about living – life is for living, and every second counts. xxxx

  3. How sad 😦 I think it’s wonderful that you are facing life in this way.

  4. Reblogged this on shadowvigil.

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