The first time I contemplated my own death, I was nine-years-old. I had already lost three out of four grandparents, had endured breast cancer with the remaining one, and was regularly reminded of what would happen to me in the event of my parents’ untimely demise. (Don’t misunderstand, my folks were not morbid and they certainly had a will spelling all of this out, but I think they just felt better knowing I was aware of their wishes just in case the legalities got “complicated.”)
For years I lay in bed at night reciting a simple prayer my mother taught me when suddenly, at the ripe old age of nine, the full meaning of the third line brought the harsh reality of death to the forefront of my brain. “If I should die before I wake”…Wait…What did that mean? Was that a real possibility? It sounded so matter-of-fact and yet it was a really scary scenario! Sure, I wanted to go to Heaven and live with God and Jesus as much as the next person, but I preferred not to be ripped right out of my bed, thank you very much!
My mother would listen to my extensive list of “God blesses”, give me a kiss good night and walk out of my room unaware she was leaving me riddled with anxiety and wondering if I would actually make it through the night. I never told her that the prayer frightened me, or how nervous it made me feel inside. I think deep down I was worried that she wouldn’t take my concern seriously, or worse she might confirm the possibility that I could up and die in the middle of the night. Who needs that level of neuroses?
Here’s the thing: Now that I am older I know one day, I will no longer exist. However, I don’t really feel any better about it than I did when I was nine. I don’t know when it will happen or under what circumstances, but at some point, my life will be over. Whatever I have done up to that point will stand as my contribution to the human race. Whatever I still planned to do will go unaccomplished. My children, grandchildren and, if I am really lucky, my great-grandchildren will still talk about me from time to time, but within a few generations, it’s highly unlikely anyone will remember my name. At best, someone might remember that there was a writer in the family, but because I am not J.K. Rowling, I suspect my literary legacy will fade pretty quickly.
I suppose none of this should bother me because I won’t be here, but it does. I want to ward off grief from my heart and put away trouble from my presence, but with more years behind me than in front of me, I can’t. This is the only life I’ve known. It’s what I’ve got. As for what happens after this life…well, that’s another issue and one I struggle with. Yes, I want to be with God and see my parents again, but I don’t want to give this up. (I’m also not to keen to leap into a great big unknown!)
I always thought that with age, I would be able to face the inevitable with the same level of maturity my parents did, but so far that hasn’t happened yet. I thought with age, my faith would strengthen but in reality, it’s pretty weak at times, just like Jesus’ disciples. I may be nearly halfway into my 40s, but I am still that same, scared nine-year-old shaking in the dark – the one who has paid attention to the words, but doesn’t always understand their meaning and who is still looking for answers, but is too afraid to ask the questions.
Today’s Mass readings: ECCL 11:9-12:8; PS 90:3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 14 and 17; LK 9:43B-45