I am just a little bundle of cheerful today aren’t I?
But actually – I am feeling better than I have in a while. Which is why I can write this with any kind of perspective, so bear with me and it will all be okay.
I was recently diagnosed with stage 1 hypertension and placed on blood pressure medications. Of course, my first reaction was that I was far too young to be running around with high blood pressure, because I don’t think, as much as I joke about it, that my age has ever really held any reality to me. I think I am still somewhere in my early thirties. At least that’s what I feel like most of the time. I have had someone who is in their seventies tell me much the same – you see your face age in the mirror, and in almost undetectable increments it gets harder and harder to roll out of bed in the mornings (despite the fact that you stop sleeping through the night). And yet inside you are the same person you ever were. That is the frustration of aging – it is inevitable and as much as you want to do it gracefully, the person your body wants you to be just isn’t YOU anymore.
Whether it is some strange PTSD after-effect of Katrina, or normal middle-age paranoia, over the last few years I have developed an almost obsessive terror about death.
It is an obsession to the degree that I avoid the death-drenched news, with its constant list of casualty counts. The news of every distant relative who has developed some kind of serious or terminal illness sends me into a near panic-attack, as my mind rushes to add the difference in our ages and see how old my son would be if I were to suddenly (and prematurely if it’s anything less than my own carefully planned death at 98) leave him to fend for his innocent little self without me. I don’t know if late motherhood fuels this morbid obsession, or only adds accelerants to the flame, but I know without a doubt that it plays a large role. I don’t want to leave before I am done.
I have a vague idea what “done” means, when it comes to motherhood, but I have this internal conviction that I will know it when I get there. I have nightmares that I will be torn from life, clutching with bared fingernails to the last shreds of my mortality because I am leaving my son without his fiercest protector, or more important, the keeper of THIS normality. The normality that I have fought since before he was born to establish and nurture, waiting for the right husband, the right father, buying a good home to raise him and fighting SO hard to keep a home after Katrina. He has good home, tidy if not immaculate, with two engaged parents. He wants for little (although sometimes, passing the toy lanes in the store, Harry would disagree). His sun rises and sets on a schedule that is stable and loving, and I want to be there to keep it that way until I know he’s going to be okay.
Unfortunately, this obsession about dying is interfering with living. The net result is a kind of forced in-the-moment attempt, like I am trying to dance faster to get the entire movement in before the final chords are played. I am struggling to gain a peaceful acceptance about mortality.
We are all dying.
It may be at 98, 29 or 9, but we will all certainly die. And counting the hypothetical years I have left with my loved ones is a meaningless exercise, because the number of my days and the manner of my exit are unforeseeable. Counting my blessings instead of my days is a much harder task than I anticipated.
But I feel if I can just come to some sort of agreement with the idea of my own finite-ness, I can move on in some undefinable, yet monumental way. I can jettison those things that I am only doing out of obligation and habit and really learn to live the time that is allotted to me. There is a transition that is waiting to happen; I can feel it coming and I am poised on the brink, clinging to a past I need to let go of – a past where I saw an endless span of days and possibilities ahead of me. I need to embrace dying to remember how to live.
But letting go seems so very much harder than just holding on.