Right after Jesse was diagnosed with a relapse, I wrote a post titled Fearless. We had been through this before, we were going to beat it again. His spirits kept mine going. We were going to be fine. The leukemia was an annoyance, a returning nuisance, after the bone marrow transplant, all would be well. He'd never have to go through it again. Then later, when we realized his blood counts were worse than we thought, when the pain got worse, when the infection started, and it hit him that he might die after all, we only had a few days for him to confront the possibility of his death, to fear it, make peace with it. Ignore it, and live each minute as if it were just like any other. I prayed all the time. Every step was a prayer. Everyone I knew prayed.
Yesterday I was walking home from work, and remembered that his last moments of consciousness were a wry smile at the nurse, who had found him sitting on the john, slumped against the wall. Dying. She had asked him if he was alright and he smiled. And then he was gone. They pumped him with drugs to induce a coma. By the time I got to the hospital he was out cold on a gurney, getting prepped to go to the neurological ICU. Intubated. The MRI showed a fountain of blood in his brain, destroying everything that was Jesse. Obliterating memory, movement, thought, dream, breath. All that was left for days was his heart. It stood up to everything, until they pulled the tubes out of his lungs, and then only slowly did it give up. My hand on his chest, feeling those last beats, as precious to me, each one, as his first.
It wasn't the first time I'd been that close to death. I was there when my father died. I kept him alive till the ambulance crew arrived. I knew the color and smell of death, the taste of it, the sound of the death rattle, and lived with that for another 28 years. Longer than my life had been till then. And I had Jesse alive, with me for most of those.
Two years later, those last moments with Jesse stick to me. But then, his whole life is mine now. I'm the only person left alive who remembers it all, or most of it. Everyone else is dead, or born or came into his life later. I will carry you. Up until I lost him, I worried about both boys, about losing them, about what would happen if they lost me. It kept me up at night, fearing for their safety, praying to God to protect them, praying to my Dad to look over them and keep them safe and happy. As if my thoughts, from the moment they were conceived, somehow kept them in this world.
Now that seems so foreign. Someone else did that. Someone misguided worried about things she could not control, believed she had a way to trick life, to fool death, to beat the odds like so many do. Now I don't fear for my future, for my life. I don't expect or believe God or my dead will protect us. The only life that matters to me is my son's, now, and I have given up believing I can do much but be part of that. I can't protect him, only hope that he cares for himself. It's not for me to worry, but to trust him on his own journey, however long or brief.
I don't see my own death as such a terrible thing anymore. Either you are alive or dead. (I could never understand this until recently, and now I can't remember what it was like to see it any other way). The blessing of death is that you know no more loss. Whether part of you carries on or not your time here is done. There will be no more goodbyes. The fear in the pit of my stomach is gone. That writhing, constant weight of worry lifted. You don't have to worry about death, and worry won't stop it coming.
So, no more fear of death. Acceptance of my own at least. I realize that the world works this way: I don't resent that I will go. The world must be this way, and there are nations rising up to take my place as I leave. Who would want to change that? It's fine.
Imagine how surprised I was when someone told me there was something wrong with me for feeling this way. That therapy would fix it. Why would I want to change my peace with mortality? What is there to gain, in wanting to live longer than my time here? What good did the fear of death do me? I was angry that this person thought I should go back, give up my newfound understanding. It took days for me to realize that if I had been who I was after my father's death, I probably would have said the same thing to me. I believed that all my fear and worry somehow kept my world spinning around, kept me and my children alive, kept us in God's eye. But death and I are a little better acquainted now. Life is what's sad and terrible and necessary. Death is just the other side of that, not really a door so much as another step.