Tuesday, May 31, 2011

My New View of Death

Catchers Mask

This post was originally written on August 31, 2010.

Duality of vision. At least that’s what I’m calling it. As of May 4th last year, my way of looking at physical things has changed. For example, driving into my garage every day I see Maggie’s catcher’s mask she used to wear while playing softball. It hangs just inside the garage door right where I park the car. When I see that mask, I think of the soft plastic that used to touch her forehead, the grill she used to breathe and taunt through, the strap that used to get tangled in her hair…. Such a simple object yet so filled with the richness of her experiences, the richness of her. I also see it as a creepy object a dead person used to wear. Both perspectives exist simultaneously, separately and incongruently in my mind. One of those perspectives exists only in my heart.

Because of what I've experienced, death has lost its cold hard edge for me. It doesn’t scare me anymore. I have no fear of dying. It doesn’t give me the chills or turn me cold. All that which was very scary before has now been replaced by a much different feeling. Instead, death seems to me like it was that day with my baby - the day It happened. It’s warm, soft, peaceful and relaxing. Death has now been humanized and even maybe romanticized. And it’s certainly nothing to fear anymore, not for me. How could I fear that which brings peace? How could I fear that which might bring me back to my baby? I can’t and I don’t.

Lord, I can feel my mother’s blood pressure rising as I type this. Chill, Mom. No, this is not my suicide note. I hope that most who read this know me as quite stable yet prone to over-intellectualizing, even about that which might be considered risqué. I am just trying to describe yet another interesting change and/or step in this journey, one I could never have imagined, like so many others that came before it.

I could never have imagined ever in my life my wife dying. I could never have imagined holding her as she breathed her last breath while I whispered how much I loved her into her ear. I could have never have imagined wishing I could lie just one more time next to her lifeless body, the body of my best friend and life partner. I could never have imagined being happy that she was no longer breathing. How could anyone ever imagine that death could bring such happiness to someone so deeply in love? But yet it’s undeniably true. The warm, soft, impermeable blanket of death doesn’t scare me anymore because death, to me, now means relief. And sweet relief, after what I’ve seen, can be much more meaningful than anything else living could offer.

I’d guess that few others around me share this duality of vision. Instead, the creepiness factor colors all that death touches. The softness I see and feel and experience isn’t typical. Instead, the cold, bitter harshness of death prevails. I’ve seen it. I’ve seen it in the eyes of people who have come to the house. I’ve seen it in my friends’ eyes when I tell them (which I rarely do, unless they specifically ask) where Maggie’s ashes are (beside me on the desk as I type this note.) I’ve seen it too, when potential new friends look at me when I say “last year, in May” after they ask “when?” which is typically followed by an awkward pause in the last conversation we share.

I’d guess that other widowers or widows have different views of death than I do. I’m certain many of them still see death as the enemy, as evil… like it stole away their sweetie. No doubt, for their situation, they are right. Oh, I see it so amazingly differently. And if being a widower didn’t alienate me enough, my new and somewhat non-conventional views on death surely finish the job.


  1. Chris, You might be surprised at how many of us share your view of death. I no longer fear it at all. Actually, I no longer fear anything since I've been through the worst thing that could ever happen to me.
    Not only do I NOT fear death, I look forward to it's coming for me. Like you, that doesn't mean I'm suicidal. Not at all. But I look forward to the day when I will see Jim again. And to the day when all of the pain and crap that everyone deals with here will melt away.
    I, for one, was rather disappointed last Saturday night at 6:01 to find myself still here. Yes, I thought that "rapture" guy was/is a nut case, but
    a tiny part of my brain hoped he was right.
    Dang it!

  2. There is not one size fits all view of anything, imo, death included. For me though, it's just a next step. A transition in the journey of my self - kind of like life is. It shouldn't be scary but the unknown always is which is why some many people prefer not to think or talk about it.

    I am in no hurry in any case. Life is good and even the missteps and setbacks have their purposes.

  3. I was hoping for that rapture too janine! Drat.

  4. I no longer fear death like many others. I believe I will be reunited with the man I loved so dearly. After dealing with such a severe and tragic loss, I can't think of anything that scares me immensely, certainly not dieing.

    Thank you Chris for a great post.

  5. Hi Chris, I enjoyed your post. I was wondering why there isn't a spot for you on the widow's blog writer's tab? It would be nice to be able to view your grief story by reading a short excerpt like the other writers have.

  6. I loved your post. i used to fear death, but mostly of my loved ones. Well,it happened. The worst thing that could happen to me did happen. What more do I have to fear? I am not going to do it, but when death comes and this pain ends, it will be a joy. I just don't want to suffer!!!! And someone to take care of my dogs which I will most certainly have.!!!

  7. I agree with Sue. The worst happened- what's left to fear? Death wasn't scary, or gross, or anything negative. I grieve for the companion I lost- because I miss him.

    When people ask about my kids and how they handle things it's usually a surprise when I start out by saying that because they've seen death in our animal projects before it helps in coping with losing their dad. We've had dead sheep, rabbits, guinea pigs, puppies, and cats. A few of them we've even killed ourselves (either to eat or to euthanize). The market lambs my oldest son raises for 4-H include a lamb designated for our freezer. Understanding the cycle of life has been an amazing blessing for our family- because it removes the fear and the creepiness factor- just like you describe.

  8. yep..thanks again SSLF/WV

  9. I too no longer fear death, and welcome the day so that I can be reunited with my greatest love. I have lived to have worst thing in the world happen to me and also feared happening. There is nothing that can compare with this loss, it is unmeasurable all that was lost. Thank you for another post, I get and share the same feelings and thoughts -

  10. Having read all of the comments, you can see that everyone does get it, Chris. I am at 19 months, and have not moved any of my husband's things. They bring me comfort, and there is nothing creepy to me about it. I have spoken to other women who were widowed and they cleaned their husband's belongings out immediately and can't understand how I didn't, which is fine and goes to show we all grieve in our own way. I have a vivid memory of coming home from Hospice the morning my husband passed and when I opened the closet I had an immediate thought of "these are now the clothes of a man who has died" but after that I have left them alone. When I'm ready I will know. I don't fear death either, fortunately he went to sleep and never woke up. It takes a very deep true love to be happy for someone who goes, because you are putting them first and want the best for them, and in the case of a cancer patient, you want them to be out of pain and at peace. As an aside, there was an interesting documentary on HBO this weekend about "Compassionate Dying"..the law in Oregon and Washington which allows a terminal patient to end their life when they are ready. It featured a woman named Cody Curtis, who had liver cancer and who tried all of the conventional treatments and fought the good fight, but was glad to have the out, and she took it. After watching her try to deal with her pain, and labor for breath, she bravely made her decision, which I am sure was difficult considering she had a loving husband and two (adult) children she adored. No one could blame her, it took great courage for her to take this step, but you could see she was desperate for relief. Watching this really changed my life. God Bless you for truly knowing and wanting what was best for your wife.

  11. Chris, I too can see death as a relieve from suffering,and living life as a vegetable or living in a way that takes away a the person-dignity- not the person who needed to be changed like a baby! I experienced this first with my mother than my husband and I miss them both for my own selfish reason, but it was not a life for either one. Both died at home with me and their loved ones by their side. Cancer robbed them of life! My husbands ashes live with me in our bedroom until we can be buried together,maybe along side my next partner. Boy, does that complicate things! I too longer fear death, but still hope to live a long happy life someday! understand

  12. Written so perfectly again! I too share those same feelings, both sides...love how you wrote the sentimental part of the face guard, then the "creepy dead person" part. I still see both sides of that when I look at my LH's belongings and how he used them. I see that "black widow" humor come out often in my life, especially when I'm at camp widow with my friends!! I also do not fear my death except for how my young children would survive, that part is fearful. Maybe in another 30 years when my children can care for themselves, it would make me feel better to leave them.