Death showed it’s cold face to me when I stepped on an ant pile. I was probably six or seven and by then I had been through the death of a grandparent. Growing up I would say that I have had a pretty average run in with death; I’ve lost three other grandparents, some friendships, and the death of two classmates. Mostly death affects me just because I fear it. However, death is something that everyone deals with and everyone in their own way. As of late I try to distance myself with the reality of loss and death, because sadly, death is one of my greatest fears.
I have no idea why I decided to step on those ants…childhood curiosity I guess, because it was never meant to be cruel. I just didn’t understand. Once it was done I bent down to examine them. It was then, when I saw their twisted, twitching, little bodies that I realized they weren’t coming back. I had taken away their life! I remember crying for these tiny little creatures and even to this day I feel bad whenever I swat a pesky fly. I’m not quite sure if this is what started my fear of death or not. I remember growing up always worrying something was wrong with me or that I was going to get sick and die. When I was younger I never let anyone drive me anywhere unless it was my parents if I could help it. I was afraid they’d crash and we’d die. When I became an adolescence I feared driving myself, not because I feared being a bad driver, it’s all the other idiots on the road! I guess sometimes I see no reason to take unnecessary risks, for example, I don’t ride amusement park rides because what’s the point of having sixty seconds of fun when anything could go wrong. I understand that a lot of this is irrational and I understand perfectly how natural death is, I don’t fear growing old and dying, I fear dying young.
I think a lot of the fear is that fact that I have so many plans for my life, so far I’ve only got getting a college degree and getting married checked off the list. I also want write a book, have a family, and I want to be here when my kids have kids. It’s not too much to ask for. But reality is I could step off the curb tonight and get hit by a car and not live to see those things. Death can be so unfair and so unexpected. It’s something we all will face at one time or another. Sometimes it would be easier to go back to not fully understanding what death is, like when you’re a kid, because it’s just so much easier to move on and not be afraid when you’re young.
Good-bye's to Grandparents
I’ve had three grandfathers’ pass away; I went to all of their funerals. The first one I was five and all I knew was that I wouldn’t be seeing Grandpa Hrubes for a long time. I said my prayers, said I’d miss him and that I loved him, and that was that. I probably asked about him from time to time but I don’t think I understood at five just exactly what being dead meant. The other two grandfather’s deaths occurred when I was older. Papa was my father’s dad and since my parents were divorced I probably only saw him twice a year so I can’t say missing his presence was really an issue, though I did miss him. He was suffering from colon cancer and I knew that he was in a lot of pain. Not sure how old I was but old enough to know that once he died he wasn’t suffering anymore.
I remember the day I found out about Papa’s death, my mother woke me up and told me. I just remember that my room was so bright from the rising sun, and my mom held me and I cried. At the funeral I remember that it was an open casket and as soon as I saw him lying there I was scared. I had never, from my recollection, seen an actual dead person before, let alone seeing my strong Papa just lay there. It was hard but one thing I do remember clearly was that my dad just sat there. His face didn’t move, he didn’t look up, he didn’t cry. I think that was when I realized that everyone grieves in their own way. I knew that inside he was hurting. The final grandfather funeral I went to was my step grandpa. I was probably eleven or twelve when he passed away. However, the only thing I remember is that I felt guilty for not spending more time with him. I think that being around death can be beneficial to people’s outlook on life at times, however.
It was in my senior year in high school when my step-grandmother Pat passed away in front of me. My mother was taking care of her in our house and I saw her daily get worse and worse. She had severe dementia and I was never close to her, hardly knew her actually and yet the distance intensified when she took her last breath, I think at that moment she could have been my own mother and yet I would have felt outside of the room. Closeness doesn’t matter. When you witness someone die it’s a completely different feeling.
There’s an eerie calm before the storm. It’s the same with death. Her lungs filled up with fluid as she inhaled a gargled breath, then there was a pause, another breath, pause (longer this time), then the final breath. And even before she had the chance to breathe again if she was going to I just knew she wasn’t. There was no evidence of reality at that moment for me except for the distant sniffles and cries from her brother. It was like we hung there in the room waiting for her to go, mentally telling her to go, that it’s okay…go. The tears came after the ambulance took her away. They came in a flood for me. I had just witnessed a human death; not a fly, not a creepy crawling spider, no, a woman who was a daughter, a mother, a sister… a grandmother that I wasn’t even close to. I cried for shame of not knowing her, cried for the fact that it was too late to get to know her, and for the last breath that she exhaled silently.
Hospice and Kayte
I volunteered at Hospice for most of my teenage years. Sure it was sad and a little uncomfortable talking to someone that could kick the bucket any day but it was satisfying as well. I played my violin for them and the ones that were “with it” always had a smile on their face when I came. I was happy to give them some joy in their final days. One of the patient’s families actually had me play at her funeral. It was like a sendoff and I’m sure if she could have been there she would have been smiling. But it always made me wonder about death and how people deal with it, which is partially why, along with my fear, I decided to take a death and dying class while in college. I figured learning more would maybe help my fear. But it seems as I grew up and began to understand more about death the more I saw it all around me. I always hear older people say that the older you get the more people die…I’m only twenty-one and I find that true.
My latest run in with death happened earlier this year. A school friend from middle school and high school had a brain aneurism on Monday, January 23rd; she passed on Wednesday the 25th. How cruel is death to take away a twenty year old all of the sudden like that? We knew each other well enough, we weren’t super close or anything now but it was a shock. And of course she was one of those girls that always had a smile on her face, she volunteered, she was always having a good time, and her glass was always half full. Everyone that knew her was in shock, we were confused, and we were upset and angry. Many said that God takes the good ones young. I even said that we gained an angel that night. But it really makes me question ‘what’s the point’. I’m not really religious, I lean toward more the biology of it all and not the creation side however it’s comforting to think some higher power needed someone like her. How could a strong, healthy, young body just shut down like that? So it makes me want to believe that our bodies wouldn’t just kill us off unless the Good Lord wanted it done. But then why are there horrible car wrecks that leave children mangled, or even the latest shooting, and we say “Oh God needed them.” Why kill them off in such a horrible way? My friend Kayte didn’t die a horrific death but nonetheless, she was a good girl, young, she had plans and knew where she was going in this life, it was just cut short.
Dealing with my Fear
Death is cruel, I think that’s what I hate the most…what I fear the most. I took a poetry class and we had to write a poem about our greatest fear and use imagery to compare it to. I used a tree to compare death to. It’s about how strong a tree is, or in other words how young I am, and how quickly a chainsaw can end it all, or my untimely death. We think we are strong like trees but despite how strong we are death will come for us all one day regardless. This is another reason why I read Emily Dickinson; she had the same fears and questions as well. Sometimes it helps to relate our questions to something else.
Maybe the best way is deal with it all is to live everyday as if it’s your last. If you go suddenly then at least you had a good life, or as you grow older you can look back on fond memories. I may never ride a rollercoaster but I try to fill each day with stuff that will make me happy. Try to stay positive and better myself. Some days I fail but most days’ I succeed. I may have an irrational fear of death but I know that if this was my last day I’d have a lot of great memories to think back on and be proud of.
I know as I get older I’ll have more experiences with death, maybe my fear will start to fade. I’ve come to learn that even though death is a common everyday thing, once you witness it you think of the whole process a little differently. Also, as I’ve grown up, especially after my friend’s death this past year, I see that you must, must, must live each day to the fullest. Tell the people you love that you love them now; tomorrow they or you may not be here. And even through all of my regrets of the past, I learn, I grow, I think of the great memories and the things I’ve accomplished in my twenty-one years and I can be happy with that. Life is too short to worry so much…something I need to work on. As I grow to my death I’ll keep a smile on my face, it may come too quickly not to.