I am afraid of dying. It’s not a unique fear, nor a novel one.
From people in the religious community to which I belong, my statement draws vocalizations of denial. They say life persists after death. They know I will see my passing friends and relatives again in some grand family reunion.
But even they avoid reminders of The End.
They do not house dying relatives, attend festivities at Adult Day Care centers, or wish to visit those inevitable hellholes that await the living: nursing homes.
They’re just as afraid as I am. We’re all afraid.
My parents took us to visit relatives in “care centers” when we were young. I didn’t like going. I resented being forced to sit there while some wrinkled, age-stinked woman barely recollected her younger years. I didn’t realize my parents didn’t like the situation, either. Still; it was a sense of duty, family, and love.
Perhaps our problem is not entirely a fear of death.
True, we are scared. We do not wish to stare at the handiwork of The Grim Reaper and know it is our end as well.
However, the whole picture of avoiding age is a painting of mural dimensions. The painting, of course, is not a happy scene of meadows, sunlight and wildflowers. It’s more like those dark-shaded scenes of swirling landforms and moody lakes.
See those painted weeping willows over the water? They are not happy trees. They are our own, selfish sadness at losing our loved one. We feel the hole in our lives, to some degree. We recall happy (or sad) memories and accordingly droop to the reflective surface morosely.
Mountains and hills shading the background represent trials and difficulties. Why is an entire range present, and why are they so far away? We want them far; we don’t like discomfort.
Real life, adult life, needs people willing to face and overcome uncomfortable things.
One such uncomfortable activity is the care of helpless, dying humans. If you think you don’t want to do it, think about the people who are paid by hospice companies or care centers. The high turnover rate is an obvious sign that no one likes wiping old peoples’ bottoms.
Filler scenery like grasses, dips, valleys, and bushes are the long, unknown journey. It’s not a cushy trip, nor one we can predict the duration of. It’s annoying. It’s a detraction from our regular life and a depressing play on our emotions.
Finally: the lake. Water is a favorite metaphor in creative works. We think we see the bottom, though it’s a murky, weed-choked one. Simultaneously, saddened viewers may see a reflection of themselves on the surface, of their mortality.
The water is the dying one’s life. The size and depth thereof depends on their personality and experiences.
So, what now, art lover? Do you wish to continue avoiding your picture as it takes on more and more of your regrets and negligence?
I don’t blame you, really.
I’ve brushed closer to Death within the last week than I’ve had to for many years. Good healthcare, I suppose.
My grandmother is drawing her last breaths, completely unaware of the world around her. She hasn’t been awake or eating for five days. She hasn’t known who I am for a few years.
She was moved to a special Alzheimer’s facility last autumn. It’s only ten minutes from my house, but I have not gone frequently. I’ve felt impotent, as she stares at everyone around her in confusion.
I’ve felt deeply saddened as I briefly made eye contact and saw only emptiness.
Why go, then? She doesn’t know.
Fear of an eternal religious judgment? I’m not that superstitious anymore. Mostly.
Let me draw you a death-scene a little different than the one my grandmother is part of now. Different, slightly, than her being completely asleep; with her anxious children staring at each other for hours, for hours of days.
Over a year ago, we were told my husband’s grandmother was failing. Confined to her bed in a home shared with her oldest son, she woke occasionally and spoke little.
When I arrived, armed with disruptive children and a picture book of garden flowers, I found my husband’s cousin already there. She had brought a guitar. Patiently, sweetly; she strummed it and sang.
She had a lovely voice.
Right then, I decided I wanted to be loved enough that someone would sing me off to Eternal Sleep.
And that, fellow Thanatophobics, is my impetus for care of the elderly. It’s a Golden Rule sort of thing. How would I want to be treated? What attentiveness may I expect?
Given the obvious truth that I may be susceptible to Alzheimer’s as well, I’m likely to degenerate to a similar state of ignorance. When I am anxiously rubbing my hands, wondering at the empty walls of strange rooms, and feeling a strange sort of violation at having others bathe me -who will care enough to visit?