Back in October of 2015, when my mom had just started to be gravely ill, I worked in a restaurant. It was an amazing place to be, but sometimes the nights could be slow. It was a hard time in my life to have hours on end without any kind of mental diversion.
Two of my coworkers and I devised a game to pass the time. We would come up with the most probing, thought-provoking questions we could and ask each other sporadically throughout the night between tasks. For some reason, we were always transparent with each other. We would clear a table, pass by the host stand, balancing dirty dishes in our hands, and throw out a question for them to mull over. These two kiddos are still some of my dearest friends and the fastest friends I have ever made.
One night, we were asking each other questions, and one of them asked me “what’s your greatest fear.” I responded “that my mom will die.” It took everything I had not to start crying. But I was at work. It was strange, speaking a fear out into the universe that I knew was at once impossible to comprehend and, yet, inevitable.
Once my mom was gone, my greatest fear turned into losing my dad. If I didn’t have her, he was my only person left. If I lost him, I thought, I would be totally alone.
I know, in theory, that I have so many other people in my life- but none like the original trio of me and my parents. We were a team. My dad and I still are a team. The thought of losing him is unbearable- which is when the paranoia set in.
My first month in Nashville, separated from my dad for the first time since my mom died, I had a dream so vivid that I can still see the images behind my eyes. My dad had died- it was awful. I woke up shrieking myself hoarse and spent the rest of the day jittery and unsettled.
I have had multiple fights with my dad that have been sparked out of pure terror for his safety and longevity. There’s been more than one occasion where he’s decided to go into the backwoods of Montana to hike and forgot to communicate the whole plan to me. After not hearing from him for over 24 hours, I started to lose my mind. I’m not ashamed to admit that it resulted in panicked calls and texts to all our immediate family members, hoping they had heard from him. Terror of the possibility of my worst fear coming to fruition- once again- was stronger than my self-control. I had come to expect the unexpected. And fear the worst.
(There he is, the little stinker! I have to admit, I do love his adventurous tendencies.)
I know I’m not alone.
Friends who have lost loved ones ask me if this is something I’ve experienced before. Even my dad and I agree. Now that we are more closely acquainted with death, we see it looming more frequently than the average person. It has no longer become an inevitable afterthought, but something we view as a very real part of our lives.
When I got news this week that my brother had been injured, I flipped out. Even though I received word that he would be okay pretty quickly, I had a hard time suppressing the immediate panic that had set in. My mind went to the worst case scenario. With a little reassurance from family, I was able to trust the reports that he was going to be in pain, but ultimately alright.
How do you deal with that kind of cynicism?
That knee-jerk negativity?
How do you tell your biggest fears to not take hold of your brain with a vice grip?
Obviously cold hard facts that someone is okay works! But also being brave enough to speak that fear out in the universe and to your loved ones- telling them how precious they are to you and how much you fear losing them- can bring you peace of mind. You need to have people in your life who you can go to with this worry- if only so they can calm it with rationality when you cannot summon it for yourself. These are tools to keep those worries at bay.
Death is not something to be feared.
It’s going to happen eventually.
Not allowing ourselves or the ones we love to live fully? That’s to be feared at all costs. No amount of false sense of protection will make up for missing out on life.
Have a little faith that life will work out like it’s supposed to. Have a little faith that your luck isn’t doomed to be terrible. Have a little faith that some things will still go right for you. Allow your loved ones- and yourself!- to live with hope and abandon.