I talked a few posts ago about the fear of death and how perhaps I feared the coming of the fear of death. I was speculating then because of where I was at that point in time. But time moves inexorably forward. You can't stop it at a "comfortable" time and decide to hang tough for awhile. The sands keep pouring out of the glass, continuing to remind you that you have a limited time to live.
Those of us with premature death sentences hanging over our heads find ways of compartmentalizing things so we can live life as normally as possible or even just make it through the day. But sometimes things happen that slam you back against wall with the truth. And as Jack Nicholson suggests, sometimes we can't handle the truth.
I realize now that you can't hold the truth at bay forever and that it isn't something that you can just decide to face a day or two before you die. You want to hold it off as long as possible so you can squeeze as much living as possible from the days you have left. But sometimes it just comes and there's no way of stopping it.
Over the past couple of weeks, my pain level has increased significantly. Although I have increased my pain meds, they only make it bearable at best and, at times, it's almost unbearable. That's when I can't sleep. That's when I can't get comfortable. That's when I can't think straight. That's when I cry. It's when I feel the fear.
Where does it come from? I was laying in bed, squirming around to get comfortable and feeling sorry for myself when it hit me. But it didn't suddenly "become". I realize now that the fear of death is always there. It is something that begins to grow early in our development when we come to realize that we are live, thinking creatures that will eventually cease to be live, thinking creatures. We compartmentalize it then by pushing it away, consciously forgetting it by concentrating on living. As Ernest Becker suggests, we begin to adopt the role that will eventually define the meaning of life for us and makes it unnecessary to think about our death. While this thought lingers in self-imposed exile, it grows and evolves as our subconscious feeds it information about what death is, when and why it could happen, and what it might mean to us. Then (hopefully) many years later we are hit with a car, a life threatening disease, or some other bad luck and it comes oozing out of the dark recesses of our minds to scare the hell out of us!
"I could have died!" you cry. "I'm going to die!" you moan. At the very least, you realize, "I could die!". For me, my initial diagnosis made me think that I could die and the fear of death popped out of its hiding place long enough for me to convince myself that I wasn't afraid of dying and I honestly felt okay with that. At first. Strangely enough, it was two or three years later that it snuck back out when my analytical mind tried to find the true meaning of life in a world whose morals and priorities I was beginning to question. I eventually found something that I could hang on to and that was enough to carry me. For awhile anyway.
It popped out again when I discovered that my cancer had metastasized and was now incurable. It scared me, but the uncertainty around time frames seemed to blunt the fear somewhat. But when things started to advance more aggressively and I was given the 12-18 month time frame, it really hit me hard. That wasn't much time and even if there was some uncertainty, the time was short. I had to see just what I could accomplish with that much time. Interestingly, this focus on planning and worrying about how my family would cope allowed me to not deal with the fear. But now it's back in full force as the symptoms have progressed to the point that I can't ignore the reality of my illness anymore. It hurts and I'm scared. In fact, it really hurts and I'm really scared. But I'm not afraid to admit it.
So it seems that the fear of death is something that is with us from our early years and when there is a real reason for it to spread darkness into our conscious minds, it comes and goes and comes and goes as our journey progresses.
So now I lay awake at night and, tired as I am, the thought of dying will not go away. I think about how long I have left and the things I still have to do and I wonder how sick I'm going to be and how much pain I will experience. I used to think that I would be okay until the last couple of months, but now I fear that my back will break and I could end up bedridden and in severe pain for all the time I have left. And I think, if that happens, I will die much sooner because maybe I won't want to live that way. Maybe.
So the lesson here is that fear of death is not a one time thing and that those of us with a terminal illness will experience it at many times and in many different intensities. But I feel strongly that the only way to deal with it is to talk about it; get it out in the open and work it through. Nobody wants to go through this alone. It's too much and too dark. And while I will fear my death, my loved ones will also fear my death. Talking about it, exposing it to the light can only help us all. None of us will leave this world alive anyway so we might as well get it out in the open and deal with it.
I'll keep you posted on how it comes and goes and how it affects me. Today I'm afraid, but who knows what the future will bring?