Death is my greatest fear but also my greatest fascination…
And so it is, with a certain amount of trepidation, I am exploring my thoughts, feelings and experiences of death. As the subtitle suggests, it is my greatest fear but over time I have had to concede that trying to ignore and not think about it doesn’t make it go away. In fact, I discovered the more I avoided thinking about it the more frightening of an idea it became.
Over the years I have slowly learned to face this fear and, rather than trying to avoid thinking about it, I have instead tried to gain a better understanding of my relationship with it. Whilst I am not completely cured of this fear (sadly it is one, unlike many others, that can never be rationally dismissed as unlikely to happen), I have become less scared and more fascinated.
This is not a fascination in a macabre sense but a fascination of how we, as human beings, live with the knowledge that one day we will no longer be and how we deal with the loss of those around us.
In this series, I will talk to people of different beliefs, backgrounds, ages and vocations to better understand our thoughts, fears and feelings about death.
But for now, I shall ask myself… how do I feel about my experiences with death?
What was your first experience of death? How old were you?
I was around five years old when a friend of my parents committed suicide. As so often with these things, it came as a complete shock to my parents as they had been unaware that their friend even had issues with depression or mental illness.
My parents did not hide what had happened from my sister and I, explaining to us how their friend had driven into the woods and ended their life in their car by attaching a hose to the exhaust. I didn’t really understand what that meant or comprehend the fact their friend had taken their own life. All I understood was that their friend had gone, and that it had made my parents incredibly sad.
How old were you when you first fully comprehended the concept of death?
Despite the death of my parents’ friend, I don’t think the concept of death had formed fully in my mind until I had another close-up experience of it. The incident occurred when my sister had tried to save a little field mouse from the clutches of one of our wily farm cats. I remember watching this tiny mouse lying in the palm of her hand, its rapid breaths becoming shallower and shallower before it was finally still. It was such a beautiful little creature and feeling so thoroughly angry with the cat, I promptly chased it up a tree with a stick.
The death of my parents’ friend and witnessing the demise of the mouse slowly solidified the idea that I, one day would die. An idea that would come into my head on the eve of my sixth birthday. The night before my birthday I went to bed but didn’t want to go to sleep, too fearful of the thought of being another year older the next day. In my young mind, I had somehow equated the fact I would be a year older with being one year closer to death. Sitting up in bed, I sobbed and looked out into the night, praying it would not pass so I could stay five and live forever.
Thankfully, whilst death is still a rather terrifying concept for me, I no longer find myself in tears on the eve of my birthdays.
Has anyone close to you died? If so, what was the experience like?
As yet I have not experienced the death of anyone I had a close relationship with. Although I lost both sets of grandparent’s between the ages of 7 and 21, because of distance or relationship break downs we didn’t have a particularly close relationship.
For example, I was eight when my paternal grandfather died. He and my grandmother had moved to the States before I was born so I never got to meet him in person. All I knew of him was through photographs, the odd phone conversation and the exciting parcels full of toys he would send my sister and I for Christmas and birthdays.
I can vividly recall sitting in our living room when my parents announced that my grandfather had died. He had been ill for some time with cancer but, despite knowing he would die, I didn’t know how to react or what to do when he actually did. I remember curling up in a chair, trying to force myself to cry as that is what I thought you did when someone died. But no matter how hard I tried; the tears would not come.
My overriding memory of losing my grandfather was a sense of guilt. At the time I felt confused as to why I didn’t feel or act like those around me and at how easily I could go out and play without giving him a second thought. As an adult, I can look back and understand that my grandfather was, to all intents and purposes, a stranger, and that there is no right or wrong way to feel or act when someone dies.
Have you seen a dead body? If yes, how did it make you feel?
Yes, but only from a distance. It happened when a friend was driving me home in the early hours of the morning after a night out in the city.
As we neared the town where I lived, we were flagged down and stopped by a policeman who told us there had been an accident and that we needed to wait while they cleared the road. As we waited, we could see under the light of a nearby lamppost that a paramedic was giving chest compressions to a person lying on the verge. It was a surreal moment seeing someone literally fighting for their lives. In the meantime, the road was quickly cleared, and we carried on home.
A day or so later it was reported in the local newspaper that the person being given CPR, had been injured as a result of coming off their motorbike and had subsequently died at the scene.
It’s a strange feeling knowing you have witnessed someone’s last moments in this
world. For years after there were flowers tied to the lamppost nearby, a common sight on some roads, so much so you barely give them a thought. But those in particular, I always paid attention to every time I passed.
What do you think happens after you die?
The short answer is I don’t know but for me personally, I think there is something. When I say that I don’t necessarily mean a place such as heaven or hell or even somewhere we all go.
This sense of ‘something’ originates from my own experiences and encounters with what I shall crudely describe as ghosts. I do, however, appreciate there is a lot of hocus-pocus surrounding that whole subject, which makes me somewhat hesitant to delve into it too deeply. That being said, I may well explore that topic at some point. For now, however, I will leave it at that I believe that there is something after death but what exactly that may be? I have no idea.
Have any experiences in your life changed your view or perceptions of death?
It wasn’t something I experienced personally, but it was an article I read after watching the rather controversial documentary film, The Bridge. The article concerned two men who survived their falls and their thoughts and feelings about the experience. I won’t go into it further here as it is something, I want to revisit in a later blog but it definitely gave me a new perspective.
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Also, if you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, you can receive advice and support from Cruse Bereavement Care. Cruse is a wonderful nationwide charity who offers support, advice and information to children, young people and adults when someone dies. www.cruse.org.uk/