Monday, February 23, 2015

Living Perpetually In Fear

 I have built my entire life around the fear of loss.

 I’ve had a string of losses, in my adult life, perhaps more than most. Each loss dug deeper wounds into my heart. Each loss wove more fear into the sorrow I felt. Each loss added layers of protection to my spirit.

 I came to England in a flight from grief, after the loss of my sister and my mother, within a year of each other. Twelve months and two weeks after my mom died, we lost my sister-in-law. All the women in my family. Gone.

I lived a lonely life, here, in England, in the beginning, visiting places and travelling largely on my own, protected from the pain of relationships, isolated in a city of millions, but safe. Cocooned.

Then I met the man who would change my world.

And from the moment I fell in love with Stan, I lived in fear of losing him.

Realising I loved him filled me with excitement and joy, but that joy was tinged with an underpinning of fear. It felt like I was jumping off a great cliff.  

I worried about his health. He did not have the healthiest of habits, though he was working to change his lifestyle. I used to lay my head upon his chest, when we were in bed, and listen to his heart, secretly counting the beats, checking to see if they were irregular, or too slow or too fast. If I came upon him sleeping, I would creep up next to him, and listen for his breathing.

Sometimes, he’d hold his breath, and wait until I got real close, then jump up and holler. He thought it was hilarious.  “Don’t be so ridiculous, BooBoo, I’m not going anywhere,” he'd say.

When we went to see him at the morgue, I looked at his cold, still body on the table, and I hoped that perhaps he was just holding his breath. I hoped he’d jump up and holler, like he used to, and tell me it had all been a joke. There was no logic in these thoughts. But there is no logic in the face of such great loss.

In the aftermath, consumed with guilt over the things I had done wrong, or not done well, I thought that perhaps my constant worry, propelled into the universe, was a factor in causing his death. There are those new age gurus, out there, after all, who preach about how our thoughts create our reality, and even the Buddha said that our thoughts make the world. I wondered if it was true. I wondered if my neurosis killed him. It was not logical thinking. But logic does not figure into the shock and trauma of early grief.

I have a dear friend named Barbara, who lives in Seattle. She and I, and her sister, Nancy, were travelling buddies in our 20s, crisscrossing the country, more than once. Barb and I attended the same college, for a while, and embraced sobriety, a few months apart. The three of us remained close friends, through the years, sharing our lives in snippets, short visits, and phone calls, while living on opposite coasts. Our lives seemed to echo each other’s—they lost siblings, and their mother, too. Barbara met and fell in love with someone, and married him, two months before I married Stan.

Barb’s husband became ill around November of 2013, and they rode the roller coaster ride of his sickness, with ever increasing hospital visits, and brief promises of recovery, followed by further deterioration of his condition. On the 9th of April, 2014, Barbara’s beloved husband died.

I grieved for her. I had never met Chris, but I knew their love was strong. I couldn’t imagine the pain she must be feeling. I cried for days, thinking of her loss. It made me worry, also, about losing Stan. Life felt so tenuous and unfair. I couldn’t let go of it. My fear was exacerbated, later in April, by Stan’s stay in hospital for five days, with a bout of diverticulitis.

He tried to ease my fears. He told me not to worry, that he was going to be all right. He assured me that our situation was not the same as that of my friend and her husband. He held my head to his chest, and stroked my hair, as he always did, when I was afraid.

Two months later to the day, on the 9th of June, Stan was dead.

All the time I wasted, steeped in fear and worry. All the time he spent, calming my fears, convincing me that he would be okay. Precious, fleeting time. All the effort and energy expended, trying to wrestle some kind of control over life, instead of just living it—instead of just loving him.

Barbara and I speak often, to each other, now, and share this, another facet of our echoed lives. We provide a foundation of support for one another, though we live 5000 miles apart. We have lost so much of our family. We have lost our husbands. But we want to be freed from the slavery of fear, to learn to live fully these lives that are beyond our control. 

We'll continue to lean on one another. We’ll help each other stay soft.

Barbara and Me, circa 2000


  1. I don't know, Tricia, how to change who we have been for so long. We know how easily, how unexpectedly, death comes. Maybe for us it's not subtraction but addition, in that it's not taking away fear, but celebrating every day as well as we can. So that when death comes, we can at least say, at least I lived.

  2. I am afraid every single day

  3. I struggle with these fears too, every single day. I was silly to think Mike could never die, as if he was some magical immortal...he wasn't, and now, the reality of more deaths to come is palpable. I try to reason with myself: death is just a part of life. But it doesn't make it any easier. hugs.