Quit worrying

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

The hardest thing is listening well enough to quit worrying about dying.

–Brian Andreas

As Thanksgiving approaches and Rowan becomes impossibly cuter and more lovable each day, I find myself worrying often about death. Aside from a couple of low points in my teens and early twenties, I have never wanted to die. I am, in fact, terrified of it, not death itself, but of the deterioration, of letting go, of grieving the loss of everyone and everything I love. That or dumbly departing in a flash, with only a single thought before the lights go dark: That was it?

Now that I have a child this fear is greater still. I know my husband would be okay without me–it would be hard for awhile but he’d love again; this is one of many benefits of finally partnering with someone fundamentally whole. But Rowan, he’d have to do without his Mommy. And while I know the village would step in to care for him, the thought of him growing up without a Mommy breaks my heart.

I’m not, as far as I know, any more terminal than always. But the 4 a.m. wakings and feedings give my death anxiety a particularly opportune opening. To ward off this fear I have tried all of the following since Rowan’s birth: buying fancy vitamins and supplements (and forgetting to take them regularly), replacing all of my regular food with keto and paleo food (only to start eating bread and ice cream again within a few days), getting a CSA (the veggies often go bad), buying only local meat (yet still getting some at Publix), joining a gym (and rarely attending), buying an exercise bike (I didn’t use it), buying exercise wear (worn primarily for lounging), swearing to start walking, jogging, or jog-walking regularly (nope), and buying expensive sunscreen (I don’t routinely use).

The truth is there’s no escaping death, and while I can do things like eat “right” (whatever that is), exercise (I’m still hopeful), and abstain from alcohol (thankfully I’m okay there), I can’t control when I get hit by a car or the cumulative effects of all those cigarettes and beers I used to ingest.

I don’t know if the chemical self-abuse started in response to the sexual assaults as a teenager (oh you assaulted me? I’ll show you, I’ll assault myself even harder), or because it was cool and rebellious, or because I’m just prone to chemical addictions. But I do know I imagined in that boozy and smoke-filled haze that I was making an offering to the gods of death, inviting them close but not too close, hoping this would confuse them and and they’d go find someone eating kale and wearing sunscreen.

Now I’m trying to be the person eating kale and wearing sunscreen, but even with just intermittent effort I feel sheepish and exposed, like I’m greenlighting death. Hey, over here! Yeah me with the super greens and SPF 40! I’m stupidly trying to evade you in a game of peek-a-boo where I cover my eyes and believe I disappear.

I’ve got a weird spot on my left breast that is either killer melanoma or a benign birthmark that stretched beyond the size of a pencil eraser when my milk came in; I’m waiting to schedule with the dermatologist until my life insurance policy kicks in this January. I nurse Rowan and sometimes wonder, is he drinking cancer? Then he pulls away and smiles at me, milk running into his endless linty neck, and I dive into his bright blue unknowing eyes, forgetting for a moment that I am mortal, he is mortal, the seas are rising, babies lose their mothers every day, bombs explode, cartels open fire, refugees wait without relief, cut flowers wither and die. I am not an outlier; and death is not an outrage, no more or less personal and natural than birth. Eat the pig, the turkey, compost the flowers, wear my bike helmet, enjoy the pie, buy the life insurance.

Happy Thanksgiving indeed.


  • silviaedoan

    I LOVE reading your blog posts – so real, relatable, full of heart & soul, and so well written. Rowan is an absolutely gorgeous baby! Much to be thankful for. Happy Thanksgiving!

  • Anonymous

    Well said

  • Bobbie Jo Finer

    Your thoughtfulness and insight are such a well of wisdom. Thank you for sharing

  • Anonymous

    I highly recommend “The Denial of Death” by Ernest Becker. I read it back at UF in 2008, it gives a great human perspective of what we all go through and helps you overcome your fear of death! Bues Dias! -Mae

  • John P Korb

    Hi, Sara. I’ve just been perusing old emails and came across this one to your blog entry.
    The themes I relate to are Death and Control. Friends and family have been dying left and right. I suppose that comes with getting older, but I’m talking about five or six in the past year or so. All together it really slammed me, working at a job I hated – hated – and wondering (as I still am) what Art has even done for me. People say my art is good, and I believe it is…I know what I’m doing; but I don’t churn out masterpieces on demand. I’m not a machine. And a lot of my work is simply lost. So I’ve turned to an Art website that I neglected a long time. Updating and revising. I was never an Art Teacher, but maybe it will teach somebody something. At least, after I’m gone, there will be some remaining examples. Maybe I didn’t waste my life.
    I’ve also suffered from chronic depression for many years, so maybe it’s a good exercise: “Yes you did accomplish something. It wasn’t all for nothing but a job in Corporate America, when you could have been churning out Picasso Bumper Stickers.” I’ll probably be finishing my little website pretty soon and just leave it to let others decide. Just working on it is a lot of work.
    And Control. Control can get neurotic as hell. Yesterday, I remembered the ‘Serenity Prayer’ from Reinhold Niebuhr:
    “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
    Courage to change the things I can,
    And wisdom to know the difference.”
    I think it’s pretty wise. I’m not sure if I am. A major lifestyle change, from working full-time to “Retired” – when “retired” means I’m suddenly aware of all kinds of issues with our 3/4 acre property, how to prioritize them, making myself crazy with “lists” (at least I never got to lists for lists—how do you spell “Neurotic”!). And what, if anything I’m doing, even generates good endorphins? —Forget, art and all the rest. What about our Sense of Humor? I’m just now googling it, and Humor’s proven therapeutic for any number of diseases… Parkinson’s, cancer… I’m remembering an anecdote from GCG about someone who cured himself with old Chaplin films.
    If it isn’t evident, it’s helped me writing this and getting clarity. I’m not sure what’s next. Maybe cutting myself some slack, and appreciating the chuckles where I find them—including laughing at myself! And maybe I just answered myself? Anyway, thank you for the post. Hope you’re very well.

  • John P Korb

    I think I found a solution: Surrounded by serious issues, serious people and serious me (serious serious serious) as well as work (however one defines that)… at least an hour of Andy Griffith every evening. Meaningless Drivel is entirely underrated. Plus, I’ve never seen them and they’re completely ridiculous.

    (Love the picture and your drawing, btw.)

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