“Cowards die many times before their deaths. The valiant never taste of death but once.”
William Shakespeare, Julius Caeser
It was February 1977. We tumbled out of our wooden paneled station wagon, returning home from Indian Princesses, a YMCA craft and activity program to enhance relationships between fathers and daughters.
At the age of five I was as carefree as they come. The world was my oyster. I was happy as a clam. Giggling and poking my sister, I was placidly oblivious to how in the next instant the constructs of mortality would fall on me like a ton of bricks.
During that evening’s session, we learned about Presidents Lincoln and Washington. As we climbed the front steps, I haphazardly queried, “Where are the presidents now, Daddy?” If I knew the answer would be so trenchant, that life would drastically turn away from the pell-mell bliss it had been, I would have never been so nonchalant about asking. In my mind’s eye, I’m viewing the recollection from above; snow on the ground, ice on the driveway, smiles lighting up our faces. And here it comes, like a cloud covering the sun:
“They are dead.” He says.
“What’s dead?” I sing-songed, innocent as pie.
He winced. Uh oh. My father was less than comfortable with this topic. He comes from a large family of Italian Americans, all with excessive fears of illness and death. He panicked. I am a bit panicked just typing the memory, thinking of how I might answer this bright-eyed, rosy- cheeked soul, without crushing her. And so he crushes her.
He may have tried to answer casually, but I read the energy of his fear. He tilted his head and changed his voice to a strained whisper. I derived from his heedful expression that “dead” was bad news.
“It means you are not alive anymore.” Gulp. “It is like sleeping without waking up. We all die.”
WHAT? Mid skip, I stop in my tracks. My mind’s eye now pans in close to my face. I can see the penny drop through the look of alarm in my eyes. Instantly, the smile evaporated, hope vanished, joy disappeared. It was my initiation to dualistic discourses of impermanence. You’re either alive or you’re dead. Alive was good, dead was bad. I was fortunate enough in my young life that “bad” did not exist up until this point. And now, since “bad” existed, fear of said “bad” was brought to life like Frankenstein with the lightening bolt. A context was created for fear to settle in. And settle in it did. I felt the betrayal go straight to my heart, shattering my assumption that life was singularly happy. Introductions were made. Jodi meet fear, fear meet Jodi. Hello anxiety, how are you?
I’m not pleased to meet you!
Tears filled my eyes and loud sobs began to heave as I grieved the loss of my innocence. Hearing the wail even before she met us at the door, my mother was trying to assess what happened. She looked from my sister, who shrugged, to my father’s confused expression, to me who had now collapsed on the floor of the foyer weeping uncontrollably.
I was never the same. Time became my enemy as I assumed I would fill it in anxiety and it would be dreadful. As fear and anxiety took root in my life, the abilities to eat, sleep or be alone evaded me for years. Rumination of fearful events such as when my “time” would come and when my family might “leave” me were a constant companion. I made my mother read to me to get my mind off it. At the end of the book, the thoughts and images would return immediately, sending me into another panic. The most horrible pictures and videos ran through my mind with a vengeance. I could not imagine how I would handle it if “death,” or death’s friend and ally, “illness” happened to someone close to me. I virtually was experiencing death over and over.
Have any of you felt this anxious?
By Jodi Lobozzo Aman
I blog here: Heal Now and Forever Be In Peace
and here: Anxiety-Schmanxiety Blog,
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