You Are Going To Die
It’s that simple. You are going to die. No matter how much money you have, no matter how many guns you have, no matter how much you push to the front of the line, you are going to die.
I realized my mortality when I was around 8. I think there were several factors that contributed to the moment of panic that was the epiphany. In Kindergarten, we went to see Charlotte’s Web at the movies. I came home and cried to my mother that Charlotte had died, and perhaps I was really crying for my still-born sister for whom I had waited to come home from the hospital and never came. I experienced my first funeral when my dad’s cousin was shot outside a bar by the angry man who lost the argument and waited for his revenge. I remember “Querido” on the flowers and everyone so devastated even though I didn’t really know what was going on. I remember thinking that I don’t like funerals.
So one night while I was supposed to be falling asleep, and I was listening to my clock radio in sleep mode, a commercial for a mortuary came on.
“MOM!” I yelled as I sat upright in bed in absolute terror.
Her voice came, tired, not wanting to deal with a child who was not asleep, “what?”
“I’M GOING TO DIE!”
My mother sighed, “you don’t have to worry about that for a long time,” with the tone that said now go to sleep.
I was not soothed.
Every Disney movie picked at this scab. It would make me more bothered or angry at the time, but later, always in solitary, always in the dark, the panic would randomly return.
I held a grudge against these stories. Time went on. I lost my grandparents. Time went on. I grew up. I should have been a grown up by the time my father was diagnosed with cancer. But I was still learning how to be an adult at 30. I thought everything would be ok, because my boyfriend’s dad had survived prostate cancer. It wasn’t the same.
“I’m ready for my box,” my dad told me one day as he got in my car to go to the doctor. “Put me in my box, Maria.”
I was struck by the men in the waiting room at the VA. My dad was an Atomic Veteran. I think these guys had been in Vietnam, and exposed to Agent Orange. They had common symptoms. They felt no one believed them.
One night my dad fell in the night and couldn’t get back up. He was taken to the hospital before I knew about it. I went to see him at the VA. They were all so nice. But they didn’t level with me. I thought he’d be home in a few days. He had a morphine drip. I didn’t know what that meant. They would transfer him to hospice. I didn’t know what that meant.
And then he was gone.
I was broadsided. He was everything to me. All I knew is that I had seen him suffer, and I didn’t want him to suffer, and I knew he was not suffering anymore. I will never ask anyone to suffer like that. And I will never belittle someone’s battle.
And so he wasn’t there to walk me down the aisle. And to give my child a nickname.
My mom was there for my wedding. She would get to see my child. But then she would turn sickly. In 2012 she was diagnosed with cancer and given 4 months to live. She held on until 2015, dying on September 11, and the extra time allowed her to lose her mind. You wouldn’t know if she’d be there or not when you visited. It may have been worse than her final passing.
I didn’t buy my child The Lion King DVD. My sister gave me a copy of Charlotte’s Web. I wasn’t sure if I should read it to my daughter. Of course she made the connection after my mom’s death, and one night at bedtime she told me she didn’t want me to die.
“Yes, I know. I don’t want to die. I don’t want you to die either. Someday our bodies will wear out. We don’t live forever, so we have to love each other now. I will stay with you as long as I can.”
We started Charlotte’s Web. It was different. The prose was infused with the smell of the hay in the barn, the damp of the flowers in the spring, the softness of the baby animals, the thrill and danger of a rope swing. It only took me 45 years to finally understand E.B. White. What White understood was the delicate beauty of everything on the farm. That life would come every spring, and even though we die, life is so incredibly beautiful that we only need to see it, hear it, touch it, smell it, taste it.
We live distracted. We work for material status that does not satisfy us even if we attain it. We fear.
Perhaps if we set aside fear, and understand we have limited time to spend with those we love, then nothing could harm us. Imagine. Trolls cannot take this from you. Terrorism cannot take this from you. You will die, but only you can choose to live first.
Breathe in, breathe out, open your heart, and step into the world.