I think about death. A lot.
I haven't always been that way.
As a child I would think about it when we talked about Jesus, in school or home. When you are about 6 or 7 and learn that there was a person who sacrificed himself for you, even though they didn't know you or even about your existence, it makes you think about it.
But when you're 6 or 7, death to you is a concept, a notion, an idea. It's something that only happens to very, very old people, or very special people for some strange reason. It is distant. It does not have to do with me. Not now.
I used to hold my breath to see what it would be like to be "dead". What does it feel like to stop living? What did Jesus feel like? (Yeah, I was a bit devoted in my Catholic upbringing.)
The thoughts were fleeting, as only they can be at that age. It was a mere curiosity and then it was gone.
Years go by.
Teens feel invincible. They go off and do crazy things because they feel death can't happen to them.
This is a stereotype. It wasn't me.
I purposely avoided things to avoid death. I didn't smoke, or try drugs of any kind. I was the goodie-goodie kid. As I got older, I never let anyone drink and drive me anywhere. I was the designated driver. I knew death could happen to anyone, but it was unlikely that it would happen to me. Not now.
When I was 27 one of my best friends in the whole world died. Suddenly and without warning, his heart failed and he was gone. His sister was the one who called to tell us. To this day I don't know how she did it. To this day I feel his absence. Death can now happen at any time, to anyone of us. Hopefully not now.
My thirties brought on a new level of death thoughts. My husband and I now had three children and they were still very young. My family often talked to me about my weight and how it wasn't healthy. My husband mentioned that he wanted me around for a long time, so he wanted me to be healthy. Health versus death. Something new that entered my brain. With every year that passed, death was creeping closer. It is, after all, inevitable. It is going to happen some day.
The panicked thoughts would creep into my mind, ready to paralyze me. Then I thought of something. My children are small. They need me. I need to be here for them. I will be here for them. I am not going to die in my 30's. Not yet. It is too important for me to be here. Raising my children is my purpose here.
Paralyzing death went quietly to a place far back in the recesses of my mind. To haunt me another time.
I can't pinpoint the exact day or moment, but some time around 39 or 40 the death thoughts visited again. This time with a new sense of purpose. With a whole new sense of fear to share with me.
It's not that something dramatic happened to me. It wasn't one thing that sent death spiraling through my head. It was simply life happening. Life happens so consistently, it's sometimes hard to keep up.
Life goes on and people pass on. People who have lived good, long lives. They made it to a nice old age and died of natural causes. They've left us to move up the ladder of life.
Now, in my 40's, I have moved up a good few rungs of that ladder. I see others around me move up as well. Some are very close to the top. Death is welcoming them in like a long, lost friend.
Death visits my thoughts now like an annoying creature. He's noisy and loud and colorful. Too much so for my comfort. he comes into my head and stays for too long. He likes to make my heart pound, palms sweat and thoughts race. It's like he's mocking me by enhancing the things he will one day take away. I feel the life in me more clearly in those moments. I feel how I don't know what I will do without them. I panic. He stays and parties for a while, thinking it's all fun and games.
I've learned to push him away. I've learned to distract myself to quiet him. Not now.
I welcome distractions like I never have before. I like keeping my head busy, louder than death partying in the not-so-back of my mind.
Why does he paralyze me so? Does he do that to everyone?
Not now, please. Shhh.
I know it has to happen. I just hope that it is easier than it seems. The piece of wisdom I will take with me this decade is from my father; we are always afraid of the unknown. He is right. I am always afraid of what I don't know. Yet that hasn't stopped me from doing things I don't know.
Death will be one of those things. I will rise up to shake hands with him one day. Even though afraid of what I don't know, I will be confident that I will follow the millions of others who have done it and I will make it through.
Just not now, thanks.