Most of us don’t like to think about death much. I know a lot of people avoid the subject out of fear or discomfort.
Naturally, I have no desire to hasten the event — I enjoy my life and would like to live it as long and as fully as I can. But on a fundamental level, I’m not afraid to die. I recognize that death is inevitable. It’s the one thing we all have in common, and there’s no sense in pretending that it’s not going to happen. Like every other person currently on the planet, I know I’m going to die at some point, and I don’t know when that will be.
I grew up with what I consider a healthy view of death. I was taught — and still believe — that after our body dies, our soul moves on to the next world in a continual progression towards God. Call that world heaven, call it the next plane of existence, call it whatever — it doesn’t really matter. The point is that I believe that death in this world is not The End.
My faith refers to death as “a messenger of joy,” and tells us to look forward to death the way we look forward to any journey — with hope and expectation. So I’ve always viewed my loved ones’ deaths as a tragedy for those of us left behind but as the beginning of an awesome spiritual adventure for the one passing on. Because of those positive beliefs about death, I’ve never feared dying.
Until I had kids, that is.
Since my first baby was born, the idea of dying and leaving my children motherless has terrified me. And that fear has only grown along with my children. They are 7, 12, and 16 now and I cannot handle the thought of what my death would mean for them — and for me.
For one, I have a close relationship with my kids. I know that if I were to die tomorrow, they would be devastated to their core. They would live, of course, and they would learn to cope and eventually be okay — but their lives would never be the same. I can’t stand the thought of them going through that painful grieving process while they’re still growing up. I hate the idea of my absence hanging over every major life event, every milestone, every emotional crisis in which their first instinct is to call their mommy. There is simply no replacement for your mother.
I try to picture how my husband would handle their grief on top of his own if I were to die. Actually, I try not to picture it, because the image alone freaks me out. I would want him to find another wife eventually — truly, I would — but I cringe at how the kids would handle another woman stepping into my shoes. I hate everything about thinking about that scenario.
And I hate the thought of what it would mean for me. Watching my children grow up is a joy and a privilege that I don’t want to miss out on. I have a hunch that if I actually were dead, I’d have a better perspective on this point, but from where I’m sitting right now the idea just ticks me off. I didn’t have these kids to leave them prematurely. I want to see them grow up. I want to watch them graduate, get married, and have babies of their own. I want to be there to answer their questions about relationships, philosophy, society — and even boring things like mortgages and taxes. I want them to have a mother in their lives, and I want that mother to be me.
When I read stories about mothers of young kids who die, my heart breaks for her and for them and for everyone who knows them. I try not to be afraid, but those stories freak me out. Moms of young kids aren’t supposed to die. But they do.
And when I read stories of mothers who commit suicide… I just can’t. I know that depression and other mental illnesses are not logical, but I don’t understand what could ever drive a mom to leave her children like that. It simply doesn’t compute. My brain won’t let it. For someone to willfully act out my biggest fear — I’m sorry, I just can’t go there.
This thought — this fear of dying — follows me everywhere I go now. I don’t let it rule my life, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t influence decisions I make. For instance, I think skydiving looks fun and exciting, but there’s no way I’m doing it before my children are all fully functioning adults. I go through the “What if I die on this airplane?” fun every time I fly. I weigh the risk of everything, which flies in the face of my adventurous spirit.
And I pray, which is about the only thing you can do when you fear something you have very little control over. I pray and trust that whatever happens, it will turn out for the best.
I wonder I’ll ever get back to the point of not being afraid to die. Maybe once my kids are grown. But right now, at this moment in my motherhood, it’s too hard to imagine.