Friday, December 5, 2008

Behold a pale horse

And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him.-- Revelation 6:8.


I received a Christmas card telling me that another old friend had died. I wanted to write a proper obituary, but I don't know her year of birth. I found myself almost unable to breathe, and instead of writing about her, I wrote about the fear itself.

Sitting down very late, I wrote:

The news that still another old friend has died, causes me to nearly hyperventilate. I had last seen her in 2006 and she looked fine. That was two years ago, but of course, it seems like last week. (The compression of TIME that seemingly occurs with aging is proof enough that Einstein was right...time literally speeds up as you age.)

My fear of death sometimes overtakes me like a whirlwind...all of my talismans and novenas and amulets and incantations and invocations of saints, the existential wall of safety that I have constructed, turns to mesh, to porous cheesecloth. My fortress wasn't IN PLACE, shields DOWN; my saints have all gone to lunch, I have misplaced my amulets. I am confused and tired, I am not thinking clearly. And I hear of the death of one who is especially strong in my memory, a vivid soul that danced in front of me, made a deep impression. No, not her. She had more energy, more life than all of us.

It's like I left the back door unlocked. FEAR rushes in like some viper, like the Devil himself, whom I suspect he is. He slithers in while my reinforcements are down, gone, misplaced, asleep at the wheel.

It leaves me breathless and dazed, this kind of fear. It sweeps through me like the presence of sudden summer thunder. It's painful, it sears. You can wait, wait, wait for it to subside, but it doesn't, because then it is fully commingled with your grief.

Yes, says the fear, you will die, too.


Although I devoutly believe in souls, spirits, etc., earthly death, the death of the body, the mortal self, is often very frightening and final to me. I do not know what comes after. As in the movie Jacob's Ladder, I think the crossing over could well be terrifying, as we cling to our human consciousness, as we endure what the Church has called purgatory, what Eastern faiths have named Samsara. Maybe we won't be ready, and we will have to do it all over again. (Perhaps the sharp fear, a Buddhist friend once told me, is due to the fact that we HAVE died before?)


Do any of you ever experience that kind of fear or sharp (pleasant? unpleasant?) awareness of your own mortality?

I will write more about my friend, but I did not want to infuse her obituary with my fear, and conflate the two here, as I have in my own head. She deserves her own obit, and I will write one. But not quite ready yet.

Comments most especially sought. Thanks everyone.


JoJo said...

First I'm very sorry for your loss and grief.

And yes, I do worry about it, the older I get. I still have so many crafts to do and things to see. But I mostly worry about the death of the people I love, esp. Brian. I'm pretty prepared for the next wave of elderly relatives, including my mom, will be passing in the next couple of years, but not for the passage of friends & family who are still young. Are we ever prepared for that?

polerin said...

Occasionally I do get the fear, but for me right now the bigger fear is the loss of my parents or someone else of my immediate family. While I tend to be slightly gregarious, I don't have strong ties with many outside of my family, and they mean a whole bunch to me.

Bryce said...

you know how it is for me. great writing, d.

Amber Rhea said...

Very sorry to hear of your loss, Daisy. You are in my thoughts.

Daisy said...

I am sorry for the loss of your friend.

I am not scairt of my own death, which will probably be before everybuddy here, but thinking about my being gone makes my Mommie a little bit sad.

John Powers said...

My condolences dear Daisy.

I'm not such a good reader, strange because I do a lot of it. Novels are often very hard for me to make sense of, especially complicated ones. So I only read at Hyemeyohsts Storm's "Seven Arrows." Even just reading at it, I knew it to be a remarkable book--with pretty pictures.

In the story is a story Jumping Mouse. I was very moved by the story and I was quite intrigued by the context the story was told in the novel. The story is what Indries Shah calls a teaching story. Getting that changed my ideas about Native American stories, which I loved anyway.

I sometimes use Animal Medicine Cards. There are a few cards that make me roll my eyes when I draw them. These are the trickster cards. Rabbit in this deck rather than focusing on Rabbit as trickster draws on the tradition of Rabbit as Fear Caller. So afraid is Rabbit of Coyote he calls out. Coyote doesn't hear, so rabbit calls louder and becomes Coyote's prey.

The lesson of the cards is to deeply breathe in ones fears and then release them as a give away gift. Something like that, never have quite got the hang of it.

What we control is so little, not nothing, but not much. Yet there is a higher order much larger than ourselves. How to become a part of it? Jumping Mouse, what fear she has, but oh what courage she displays on her journey. Fear is not our enemy, but we must not let fear obscure the joy we can take.

Renegade Evolution said...

Jacobs Ladder and FLatliners both scared the hell out of me.

I'm not afraid of dying, I'm afraid of dying badly, or being in amazing agony and lingering on instead of just flat out dying...and for me pain is one of those relative things at this point.

I also tend to think death is worse for those left behind than those who actually die.

And I have to admit, I always loved the idea of reincarnation.

Sorry to hear about your friend though, and how it made you react.

ZenDenizen said...

I'm very sorry to hear about your friend, too.

I remember understanding death for the first time after John Lennon was shot and I would have trouble sleeping at night, fearing my own death someday. To answer your question, once in a while I still do panic at the finality of it all.

John Powers said...

Hum, there is a rabbit hole ;-) concerning inappropriate appropriation of Native American culture. Both my links are to authors in the thick of that controversy. So I'm aware of that and believe that the Native voices should be listened to. It seems neither the particulars of Storm's wonderful telling of Jumping Mouse nor the mention of the tradition of Rabbit as Fear Caller is inappropriate, notwithstanding the larger controversy about Storm and Sams.

Octogalore said...


"It leaves me breathless and dazed, this kind of fear. It sweeps through me like the presence of sudden summer thunder. It's painful, it sears. You can wait, wait, wait for it to subside, but it doesn't, because then it is fully commingled with your grief."

That's a great description.

I'm not brave enough to fact these feelings, lately. It's hard to get rid of them, once I let them in.. so I usually let daily life subsume them.

sheila said...

I used to worry about death all the time. But I whole heartedly believe that your body dies and your soul goes on. There's no 'waiting' or pergatory. But you do enter different lifetimes in order to progress or advance your soul, by learning through those lifetimes.

Now I don't fear death

Morganna said...

I'm sorry for your loss Daisy, and I hope you can find some way to banish your fears.

I'm an atheist, and as such I don't believe in a heaven or hell, so I don't fear my own death. In fact, I'm patiently curious to find out what happens after you die.

But I do fear the death of my loved ones, and if possible I would like to die well- the only thing that discomfits me about dying would be to die in horrible pain, or to die after a really long illness (like Ren said)

Cassandra Says said...

Yep, most definately. For me most often it's when I think of my mother - she died of breast cancer at 50, and it's genetic, so it's always hovering at the back of my awareness, the fact that I might go the same way. Especially since my face looks more like hers every year. Also there are odd little moments where for example I'm not paying attention when I cross the street and a car passes too close and you realise, just one wrong step and that could be it. Maudlin perhaps, but then again I used to be a goth!

Sorry to hear about your loss, and I hope you're doing as well as can be expected in the circumstances.

Steve Hayes said...

I think quite a lot about death, but don't worry about it. But I think of the people who are no more, and their thoughts, their knowledge, their experience, lost to us.

LarryE said...

I do think about death from time to time. Not often, but sometimes. I just passed one of those symbolic milestones - I turned 60 last week - and the thought that, based on averages, about 80% of my life is behind me did occur.

The feeling is not a piercing fear; although the fear is surely there, I more find the thought of my death depressing.

Even better, frustrating. The ultimate, absolute, unavoidable frustration. The main thing that disturbs me is not "what will happen to me after I die" (I tend to think death is the end but can't completely let go of the idea that "something survives") but "what will happen here after I die." What events will happen that I would want to know about - but won't? What discoveries will be made of which I will never know? What scientific advances of which I will never learn?

For each of us there is, if you will, an end to knowledge, an absolute end to the possibility of learning. A point beyond which stuff will happen and we won't be able to know about it. And I just find that incredibly depressing and frustrating.

To be complete, I have to add the postscript that there are times I do not regret that I will not survive to see the world I see coming. But I suppose that's a different discussion.

Weasel said...

It's never fun to get that kidn of news, I'm sorry for your loss.

I don't so much fear my own death (though I do worry about leaving people behind) but I really don't like to contemplate the deaths of people close to me. I have lost younger friends in ways that I have eventually come to terms with, but the thought of a world without my partner, my parents and most loved others knocks me for six so I usually push it away with life as strongly as I can.

The thought that I will die myself one day is oddly comforting - I like the knowledge that, whatever does or doesn't happen afterwards, this experience has an end.

I remain ready for the possibility that, as I get closer to that end, my feelings may change somewhat.

mrsmadrigal said...

I'm so sorry to hear of the loss of your friend.

I'm an atheist so don't fear death. (Maybe that will change and I'll undergo one of those deathbed conversions).

I do fear the loss of loved ones and I am afraid of dying a long, painful death. I plan to go on my terms and hopefully voluntary euthanasia will be legal when it comes time for me to go.

Earlier this year I passed the age my father was when he died. (56yrs 2 months). It was a weird feeling. Shortly after I was diagnosed with emphysema (which took my dad) but its in its early stages and I'd already quit smoking so its no big problem yet.

Dave Dubya said...

Sorry about your loss, Daisy.

Everyone has some fear of the unknown. That's normal. We need to recognize it and face it in order to move forward. After all, fear is one of our survival mechanisms.

One thing I feel when losing someone is a renewed sense of my own purpose. We have to continue with our lives, and our departed ones would want us to make the best of what we have left. They would want us to expand our potential, seek new experiences, and embrace compassion and wisdom. Just as we would wish for those who survive us.

Elizabeth said...

I don't fear death per se. I don't what, if anything, comes next, but I have spent my life throwing myself into the unknown.

What I do fear is dying with my work undone. That is what keeps my up at night working and drags me out of bed early the next morning.

I'm sorry for your loss.

Ilyka said...

I haven't lost a friend--yet. I am sorry you have.

But I've had that fear. I had it most vividly one night when I was transcribing one of those hopeless cases: Patient in hir 80s or 90s, multiple comorbidities (chronic conditions--lung disease, congestive heart failure, diabetes, cancer, any of that stuff that stays with you, that you don't get "better" from)--and it just hit me how much I take for granted that when I am sick, I will get better. And I realized it isn't always going to be like that. Dying the way some of our elderly do in this country is basically a matter of getting sick--anything from a simple scrape to pneumonia--and then just not getting better. And we say they're the lucky ones?

I don't know. There's no good way to go, but no option to skip that part, either.

Trinity said...

I'm sorry for your loss.

And I'm terrified of death. I wish I could believe in souls, but I just can't make them make sense enough to be real to me.

I'm so afraid of death that I'm ashamed. I don't know that I'm actually more afraid of it than others, but it seems to me that I am, and that makes me feel immature and very stupid.

Trinity said...

Also, my partner is so much older than me. I think about what will happen if I'm with him years and years, and get afraid of him aging, suffering, and dying, and me not being able to do anything.

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