Have you ever been so scared of something that it nearly controls your life? Something so horrible has happened to you that you’re scared to death that it will happen again? And that fear cuts you like a knife every time it hits, slowly sawing away what little resolve you have left?
I am. The fear comes and goes. Sometimes it’s worse than others but always there, eating away at my mind and making me go crazy inside. The worst part about this fear is that you have to hide it. If you don’t hide it, the people in your life will truly think you are crazy and you can’t handle that. You can’t stomach that look of pity when you tell them what’s really bothering you so you give them an excuse instead.
And I hate that look of pity. For four and a half years that look of pity has followed me. Four and a half years of having to dawn the mask and dance through this masquerade called life; pretending everything is ok and that I’m strong. That I don’t have this ridiculous fear hiding behind my eyes, threatening to take control at any moment.
What is this fear, you ask? It’s death. The thought of how short life can be and how fast it can be taken from you, no matter your age. I’ve seen it too many times to count but there are four that hit me closest to my heart and mind. Each one was more heartbreaking than the last. My grandfather was probably the least shocking of the four and was also the first one that gave me the first taste, smell, and feel of death. He had cancer and I know that I knew about it before he even told anyone else about it. My parents always shoved this knowledge aside, saying there was no way that I could have known but he was my grandpa and I was the apple of his eye. We had a special bond that not even death has been able to sever.
My brother-in-law, my husband’s brother, was a shock. He was fine the night before. No warnings, nothing; his son found him that morning and I still remember how my husband was convinced it was some kind of horrible joke. He asked me for months if his brother was going to be calling him the next day and I couldn’t find it in my heart to tell him the truth. I didn’t know how to handle this type of grief. I had never lost a sibling, especially one that I was so close to. My brother-in-law was 36 when he died.
My husband was the next huge shock. It was probably the one that set my fears in motion. Why wouldn’t it? I was only 22 with a two and half year-old little boy and a barely three-week-old little girl. They would never know their daddy. I kept telling myself this couldn’t be happening. This must have just been a really bad nightmare and I would wake up at any second and find my life was still the picture-perfect spectacle I thought it was. Worst of all, it was only five months after his brother passed away. His family was devastated. His mother had buried three of her children by this time: a daughter who didn’t make it to the age of one, my brother-in-law, and then my husband. He was only 38.
Then came my cousin. My sweet, beautiful, carefree cousin. Hers was a work accident, a freak accident, where the dumbwaiter at her work caught her hair as it descended, crushing her at the bottom of the shaft. There are only two records of dumbwaiter deaths in the United States in 50 years. She had her whole life ahead of her still. She was only 21. She’d never get to have kids like I did. She’d never graduate from college even though she was in her senior year. She’d never get married or live in that perfect little cottage she had always wanted. This death made me feel guilty of all the things that I was able to experience and do.
Now every time I step into an elevator I hold my breath. Could this be it? Is the elevator going to keep moving to the third floor or is it going to race downwards to my death?
When I drive anywhere, my mind is constantly assessing everything. Is that lady going to stop at the stop sign? What if she doesn’t? Do I have enough time to stop? What if she kills me and leaves my children as orphans? What would happen to them? Or I would feel extremely grateful that my children weren’t with me when these thoughts raced through my mind. Thankful that if I did get into a car accident, that it would just be me and I wouldn’t have to worry about them getting hurt, too.
The nights are the worst. I’m constantly waking up to check on my family, too afraid that they’ve stopped breathing in their sleep. Some nights the fear of closing my eyes and never opening them again keeps me up till the early hours of the morning. The fear makes me tremble and I’ve even woken my children up from their sleep just to know that they are alive only to feel guilty after doing so.
I don’t like this fear or how it controls my life at times, but yet, I can’t seem to help it. I know that I can’t handle another death of someone so close to me. I was strong once but I know the next time I will break. I will fall from that light that I’ve forced myself into but this fear, this life-altering, time-consuming fear will always be there, slowly tugging at the back of my mind until I, too, crumble.