Death – Struggling with the Phobia

One of the things with which I have struggled for some time is a fear of change – specifically in the form of death. To some degree everyone has a fear of dying – or of no longer existing, but the two aren’t quite the same. Then there are people who have an intense fear of both. I would fall in that category.

I have blocks of memories as a child, from the time in which my grandmother took me to visit my great-grandmother, complete with sitting on someone’s sunglasses and breaking them. (They weren’t hers. I don’t think we ever did figure out whose they were.) It was summertime, and my parents were either going to pick up or drop off my brother from Summer Camp. I can’t quite remember which; but, I was excited for the chance to have time alone with my Grandmother – whom we called ‘Lady’ – and my Great-Grandmother – whom we called ‘Granno’.

This is the last real memory I have of her.

My grandmother died you see. She was in her early to mid fifties. She died from what people commonly refer to as ‘Sudden Death’ heart attack. Or at least that is how my father described it years later. It painted a very – very real picture of just how final death was, and my brain simply couldn’t wrap around it.

I have vague recollections of that Christmas a few months later, of using one of my toys – a phone, and being absolutely certain that I was talking to her and she was coming back. It took me three years, I think, to get the hint. It wasn’t something that any one person could easily explain to a child. I’ve little recollection of how much of it was discussed with me to be honest – if it was at all. I can remember plenty of things that happened before my grandmother passed with surprising clarity. But everything about that, save for the leaving with her, and the arrival of my Uncle and Aunt, remains a significant blur.

Each death in my family that followed, or death(s) that I witnessed, garnered a very similar response.

My Great-Grandmother passed when I was 9. I couldn’t bring myself to go to her funeral after seeing her in the coffin. It terrified me – in part because it made me think about what I might or might not have seen when my grandmother died, and in part because on one level, I was angry. A corpse was not my great-grandmother. I wanted someone to give her back. It felt like she had been taken, much like my Grandmother, and I didn’t know what to do with that sensation. I’m not sure that many adults know what to do with that feeling let alone children.

I started ..disconnecting around this time, I think. There were still outbursts and I was still having issues; but, I recall feeling emotionally numb for the first time – even if briefly – around then. I’d put on shows for attention; but, that wasn’t quite the same.

There were many children I spent time with. Neighbors. Children of my parents’ friends. But not all of us were friends. A few of us were – to a certain extent. But for the most part most of the older relatives in my family I saw more as friends. Sure, there was the part of being spoiled and shown unconditional love that helped my developing brain see them that way; but, part of it was also because they would answer my questions or show me how to do things when I asked. While they may not have given me the answers I wanted or what I was looking for, I never felt blown off. I never felt awkward or scared with them – not even in the presence of alcoholic relatives. They encouraged me. Inspired me.

Losing Granno was like losing my best friend, because I hadn’t had one yet. She was it.

And the way I perceived the family growing apart afterwards really didn’t help matters. (I don’t necessarily think that’s what happened. But again, a child doesn’t ..always understand. At the time? That’s what I saw.)

My therapist says that most people with PTSD or any anxiety-related disorder have an incredible fear of death because we’ve experienced something that makes us have a greater sense of immediacy with regards to it all. The average person may think about it, and logically see it as something to prepare for down the road; but, it isn’t immediate for them. For me? It’s something that even if 50 to 70 years from now, I still wake up in the middle of the night with panic attacks over it.

I’ve seen my family struggle with heart disease, obesity, diabetes, alcoholism, drug addiction, etc. And given my own brush with drug addiction and issues with weight, half the time I feel like the odds are stacked against me. My motivation in weight loss and exercise has its roots just as much in /fear/ as it does in a desire to genuinely just feel happier and healthier.

I still struggle with this fear.

I don’t know that I’ll ever stop struggling with this fear; but, writing about it certainly seems to help.

Love and Light.

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