I have been fearful of death for as long as I can remember. Never fearful of dying but fearful of losing one I love. I do fear dying now but not for reasons one may think. I fear it because I don’t want my boys to suffer the pain and loss of their mother and because I do not want to feel the pain of loss either.
At the age of 34 I have yet to lose a loved one. So I still fear. It’s the fear of the unknown. The fear of having to deal with a pain that I’ve never felt. What will it feel like to lose someone who means so much to me? What will moving forward look like? How strong or weak will I be? Will experiencing that loss cause me to fear death more or less?
I am constantly reminded to treasure and appreciate each moment I have. Whether the reminder comes from my bout with a pancreatic tumor, my twin boys’ struggle for life when they were born 2 months premature, the could’ve been fatal car accidents, seeing my husband being airlifted off a mountain after a bike accident or lying on the side of the road after being hit by a car, watching paralyzed as a minivan nearly backs over my 3 year old child on our culd-e-sac, watching a loved one nearly kill herself with alcohol, or as we hear of our many friends and family struggling with illnesses and cancers. I am reminded when I hear of another cyclist hit on streets we ride, or when people are gunned down by a madman at our local safeway, or when yesterday on our way home from NM my sister (a nurse) stopped to help at an accident involving three teenagers (one of whom died at the scene and the two others airlifted for treatment).
Our lives are temporary and in that single instant they can be terminated. I’m afraid of that moment. Afraid of that phone call that says “your boys were in a bad accident” or “your husband was hit by a car.” Simply terrified.
When I left christianity fear of death was one of those key components that kept me clinging to the religion. I didn’t want to die and go to hell. I didn’t want my husband and boys to experience fiery eternities. I didn’t want to up my risk of dying by pissing off god and thus he teach me a lesson in humbleness by removing those who mean the most to me. So I clung to christianity out of fear. And I see this argument with so many of the religious. They are believers because they want so much of what comes after this life. This life is nothing more than a trial before god rewards them in the afterlife. I get it. I really do. I think the afterlife is a key selling point with religion and many need this assurance. They are unable to see the beauty in today. They live in fear of death and religion provides them with a pretty portrait of everything to come. Heck, I bought it for 30 years of my life. Problem was I still feared. But I feared for different reasons. If I was sick or thought I was going to die I’d throw up salvation prayers for myself in case I hadn’t made it abundantly clear that I believed and I want to be in heaven. I feared my sins being made public in front of others on judgement day. I feared that I would not see others that I loved because they chose Hell instead of Heaven. I feared that god used death as a punishment and lesson to others so I wondered when I would be in need of that horrible lesson. I feared I would miss all the signs of the antichrist and unknowingly get the mark of the beast tattooed on my arm or forehead and then after all those years of servitude god would ultimately reject me. I even feared that I might hate heaven…singing and praising god all day on streets of gold for eternity sounds kind of…yawn….boring.
Yeah, having the insurance of a heavenly, blissful afterlife wasn’t enough to keep fear of death from me.
Accepting death as part of this life, as something necessary and inevitable has been part of my journey away from christianity. What I once feared I can see the beauty in. I cherish every moment of this day. I put to memory the smiles, the laughs, and even the crazies of each day spent with my boys and my husband. I accept that I am not guaranteed anything other than this moment. I accept that death is part of this life. I recognize the importance of cherishing relationships and the world around me. I am doing better at not controlling situations. I accept that death will come with or without my interference. So if Mark wants to ride his bike, Mark will ride his bike and if Mark gets killed while riding that bike I will know that he died doing something he loved. Whereas if I choose to live in fear of death and forbid Mark his bike rides I will have cheated him of a life he loves. Fear and life don’t really mesh all that well.
And the greatest leap in this journey is my freedom from the fear of pleasing god. I no longer fear his judgement. I no longer feel the need to spend my days pleasing god and making sure I make it to an eternity in heaven. That bag of fear is long gone. It has been replaced with a great desire to enjoy today, love, and see the beauty in the deeply rich life I have.
Death, the most dreaded of evils, is therefore of no concern to us; for while we exist death is not present, and when death is present we no longer exist. — Epicurus