Thinking (and Feeling) About Our Own Deaths
Yesterday morning, my 8-year-old son was lying in bed with me, snuggled safe against my shoulder, when he blurted out of the blue, “Mommy, when will you die?”
“I don’t know, honey,” came my reply. “I hope not for a long, long time.”
He pondered that for a moment and then said, “Maybe one year?”
I had to laugh. Funny how a year is so long to a child.
Sadly, the Buddha’s question didn’t really catch me off guard. I’ve been thinking a lot about death lately. It — or the threat of it — seems to be all over my radar the past few weeks. A dear friend, friends of friends and parents of friends with cancer, small children in fires, teens shot, innocent bystanders outside grocery stores and inside airports.
What all those have in common is that they’ve happened/are happening to someone else. I, while experiencing feelings of sadness, sympathy and loss, am essentially OK. My body, at least for now, is safe and healthy. I have no heartbreaking news to share with my children.
I am simply standing by. Waiting. A witness.
But simply standing by sometimes doesn’t feel like enough. So I decided to offer my energy to D.C.’s highly regarded Wendt Center for Loss & Healing, a place where grieving people of all ages come for support.
The center, which helps anyone from those mourning the loss of an elderly parent to those stunned by homicide, clearly — and understandably — wants to make sure it knows who it’s putting in front of its vulnerable clients. The Ivy-League-college-length application challenged me with several introspective questions. For example:
How do you feel when you think about your own death?
Great cocktail party banter, eh?
Seriously, though, this is such an intriguing question. For lots of us, I suspect, our own deaths cross our minds from time to time But how many of us ever think to put our thoughts and feelings on paper? I certainly never did before this.
There are so many ways to think about our own death. How? Where? When? What do we feel when we think of it? My response came surprisingly easily. I wrote:
It depends at what stage of life we’re talking about. In later years, it’s part of the cycle of life, and I am at peace with that. That said, I do hope to die without much pain or suffering, knowing that I had loved, had been loved and had led a meaningful life.
The idea of it happening sooner causes far greater distress, not so much for the dying itself (though that is scary, too), but for the emotional pain that dying relatively young would cause. Most especially for my children, who would have to finish growing up without their loving mom. For my husband, who would have lost the love of his life and his partner in raising our children. For my parents, who have already lost their only other child far too young.
And for me, who cannot begin to imagine the possibility of not seeing my children grow up. That thought, nearly unbearable, brings tears to my eyes.
No doubt, this question helped prepare me for my son’s Sunday-morning query. I told my dear Buddha yesterday morning that I had every intention of sticking around much longer than a year … to watch him become an adult and do wise and brave things in his life. I told him I hope to live waaaaay longer than one year.
“A hundred years?” he then said. “MAYBE A THOUSAND!”
Not sure I want live quite that long, but it sure beats his alternative.
How would you respond to the question: How do you feel when you think about your own death? Please share your responses in the comments.
LEST YOU THINK IT’S ALL DOOM AND GLOOM AROUND HERE … Every one of my clients has had a powerful experience meeting his or her Future Self through a guided visualization. Would you like to meet yours? Today’s the last day to take advantage of my special offer to facilitate the introduction at no charge.