Today I had a direct confrontation with death anxiety. If I’m very honest, I can acknowledge that my fears of death have been diverted by my anxiety about my son’s health and medical condition. My focus has been on his life and my desire to have him live the best life he can and my own death awareness has been minimized as a consequence. The anxiety has been present, emerging in dreams of waves that overtake me, in terror driving on a snowy mountain road, and I’ve theoretically engaged with death. However, I’ve always redirected that anxiety and terror into something more tangible.
That is not the case today. Today, I got frustrated with my daughter about something that is really insignificant & felt regret immediately for hurting her feelings. I recalled the many times that my own family of origin did the same to me and how even today, I’m unraveling those threads. As I read the book “Staring at the Sun” by Irv Yalom, I read the passage where he talks about rippling–the effect that our lives have on people in our immediate circles and often for generations to come. I pondered family patterns, generational behaviors and how so often, we embody the very things we despise about our childhood experiences. I wondered what the ripple of my own life will be on my children, on their children, on the grandchildren I may someday have and I realize that there are many things I just don’t want to pass on. Yalom talks in the book about the idea that we cease being after we die, that we don’t really have a soul to pass on, a heaven to go to or the possibility to get it right in the next life. Perhaps this life we are living truly is the only one we have and while I’m not quite sure what my belief system is about that, the thought that there is no afterlife struck me deeply. Later, Yalom reflects on Nietzsche’s book ‘Thus Spoke Zarathustra”, where he asks how we would live if we had to live the same life over and over again, like an eternal Groundhog Day. As I pondered these thoughts, it struck me that I wouldn’t be fully pleased to be condemned to re-live this life I’m living. When that thought entered my awareness, tears flooded my eyes and when I re-entered my vehicle, a stream of tears began flowing.
If I were to die today, what would be my legacy? Would it only consist of the trappings of this world, a few degrees that cease mattering once I am gone? Would my life be a story anyone would want to tell? Would people line up at my services reflecting on the ways in which I changed their lives for the better? While there is certainly some of that present today, it is nowhere near what I would like it to be. I would want my story to be one of more bravery, more vulnerability, more compassion, more love, and mostly, I want my life to have mattered. I want my children to reflect on their relationship with me and to have the awareness that they were deeply cherished, adored, loved, cared for. I don’t want them to have painful memories that were birthed out of my own unconsciousness and patterning. I want my parents to know that even though they weren’t perfect, I forgive their failures. I would want my family to know that even if we disagree on some fundamental things that I never stopped loving them. I would want my legacy to be one that sends out ripples of hope in a despair-laden world, to be one that inspires, motivates, encourages and can even help someone who I never meet.
And with these realizations, a part of me is dying while another part awakens. I’m laying those pieces of myself that no longer serve me inside the coffin of the past and giving birth to a new me. There is a part of me that has been trying to emerge for a long time that I managed to keep at bay with other pursuits and other distractions. That piece of me that has been buried has rent the veil of my awareness and has shouted into my mind “if not today, when?”.
So here lies the Lisa I used to be. Today, I choose to laugh more, risk more, open my heart more, engage more deeply, embrace the breath I’ve been gifted and the lives I can touch. Today, I am reborn.