Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Fearing Death

I have begun reading rather compulsively. For the first five or six weeks after Hudson died, I had no desire whatsoever to read any books about grief or about bereaved parents, despite the growing stack of them arriving in the mail from thoughtful friends and family. Then, a week or so ago, I picked one up. And started reading it. And had a hard time stopping. This one, When the Bough Breaks: Forever After the Death of a Son or Daughter (horrible title, helpful book) was written by Judith Bernstein, a psychologist who lost her 25-year-old son to cancer. She and her husband, also a psychologist, decided to undertake a research project where they would interview bereaved parents down the road a bit to see how they survived. Although the book leaves a fair bit undiscussed, it was incredibly helpful to discover that everything I am experiencing right now is totally normal. Even though I rationally know that anything I feel right now is OK, there are still days where I can’t help but feel as though I must be insane, or heading in that direction.

One section that struck me is a discussion of how bereaved parents experience changing attitudes about death. The gist of it seems to be that parents no longer fear death, because death is a “place where their child resides” and thus it no longer seems scary and unfamiliar. For these parents, death offers the hope of reunion with their child. They also view later deaths differently, for they envision those loved ones joining their child in heaven or wherever.

My attitude about death has changed, too. But in the opposite direction. I fear death more than I ever did before. Not because I fear being dead or the unknown of death—god, if anything, right now death seems like it would at least offer permanent relief from this unbearable pain (this sentiment is totally normal, too, I was grateful to read). No, I fear death even more because of this unbearable pain. I have now lost my only living grandmother, my mother, and my daughter to death. I know the pain, all too well. The very possibility of losing another loved one, the very idea of my loved ones, especially my Ed or our future children, having to bear the grief associated with my death… well, I can’t even let my mind wander too far down that path.

Obviously, I can’t, and won’t, live my life paralyzed by a fear of death. If anything, losing my sweet Hudson has taught me (in the worst of ways) that we have to live as though we might die tomorrow, not as though we are afraid to die tomorrow. But on the morning of May 10, despite a general malaise about my work, I was blissfully happy, easily the happiest I have ever been in my life. I truly believed that the saddest times in my life were behind me. Twenty-four hours later, swelling in my 17-month-old daughter’s brain had put her into a coma from which she would never wake. For as long as I live (and it will be a lifelong struggle), I will have to work very, very hard to ignore that nagging feeling somewhere in the back of my mind that the other shoe is always just about to drop.


  1. If there were any justice in the world, you'd never have to grieve another loved one's loss again. You've done more than your share.

    I was reading recently about Joe Biden's loss, when he was a newly elected senator, of his wife and baby daughter in a car accident in which his two sons were also seriously injured, and how it angered him and made him question how God could have played such an awful trick on him. I've often felt the same way about what's happened to you and Ed.

  2. I know how you feel, at least on some level. After losing my mom suddenly and tragically a few years ago, I have been terrified of another loved one being taken from me. I have frequent nightmares about losing my daughter or partner. Thank you again for sharing what you are going through. You an Ed are constantly in my thoughts. I think you're both amazing.

  3. Wow, this is some intense stuff, Mandy. I'm right along here with you, reading, feeling, and learning from you. I "check in" with you, with your writing, and with our photos of Hudson every night before I go to bed. Most nights I go to bed drained and sad, but also appreciative of the lessons I have learned in the past hour. I also go to bed every single night so so so grateful of everything I have around me, for my daughter, for our health, and for the memories we make every moment of the day. I feel guilty that you are in pain while I am "learning" from you. But I really really appreciate your sharing your thoughts and feelings with us all - everything you write touches me deeply and I truly wish there was more that I could offer you besides the mere comfort of knowing that we, your family and friends and even people who only know of you, are still with you in support and love, as strong as ever. Big hugs and goodnight.

  4. these reflections resonate with me as well, mandy. after a series of tragedies and hardships in my 20's, i lived in a state of fear for quite some time. i remember watching in terror as allen pulled away in the car with both boys certain something awful would happen to them. i was always certain something was around the corner because i had just rounded so many terrible corners. i was constantly bracing myself for the next tragedy. i remember thinking it was an awful way to live- always bracing, not really living. instead fearing. i'm not sure when it really lifted. to be honest, it wasn't until i read your post that i realized that it has fully disappeared. but i know it took years to slowly dissipate. days of months of rebuilding confidence in life. rebuilding trust that there perhaps wasn't another shoe. or maybe that if there is another shoe, faith that all those other shoes have strengthened me enough to know that i can handle shoes. even horrific ones. time and faith in knowing that you're strong- you've strengthened more than you know. strengthened in ways you didn't want to strengthen, but strengthened still.