When I was young I had full blown panic attacks at bedtime - I was afraid I would close my eyes and never wake up - be all alone in total blackness. As much as my parents tried to console me - tell me I wasn't going to die until I was old and gray and when I did it wouldn't be blackness, but something rather beautiful - I just couldn't wrap my head around how that could be possible.
Hers, His and Ours - I'M NOT AFRAID OF THE DARK ANYMORE. HOW DEATH SHAPED MY BLENDED FAMILY.
I think that's a big reason why my family started going to church every Sunday and saying a prayer before bedtime - in hopes it would cure me. Except nothing cured me of my fear of death and blackness - I just got better at hiding it.
For most of my life, I've wanted people to think I'm smarter than I really am - that I "get it" like they get it. Now I wonder if they really ever "got it" or just went along out of fear of being different. I mean how did any of them really know? Had they died? Almost died? How did they really have a clue what the deal was when your eyes closed for the last time?
When I was 28 I was forced to deal with my fear head on - my brother was going to die from cancer it was only a matter of days. I was in panic mode. The darkness - the loneliness was coming for him and I just wanted to make it all stop. Then I looked to my younger brother - he wasn't afraid. Instead he was at complete peace with leaving - he saw no blackness or loneliness even knowing his eyes would close for the last time.
On Jasper's final night his chest continued to faintly rise up and down, with everyone on high alert for his last breath. At some point it was clear Jasper was no longer in his body. I can't tell you how I know that exactly - I just knew with certainty that he was no longer in his body. It was no longer him laying there. Japser's eyes had closed to us for the last time, but not to his soul.
The presence of his soul was still in the room weighing heavy on us - like his arms were wrapped around our entire family for one last goodbye. He wouldn't be lonely because he was taking our love and shared memories with him. After all, we didn't share them with his body, but rather his soul.
The day Jasper died was the day I stopped being afraid of the dark.
I had no understanding how a truly heartbreaking event like my brother dying would help shape my life. Nor how it would be my guide with Little Hart's illness. One that I never saw coming and secretly hoped would never be a possibility.
March marked the fourth anniversary of Little Hart almost dying from sepsis. For the better part of those four years I've couched the whole ordeal as Little Hart's "brush with death." I guess I was too afraid to really say out loud the truth - Little Hart spent the better part of nine days fighting for her life. The statistics rattled off by her four teams of doctors were that Little Hart was more likely to succumb to her illness rather than survive it.
As a child I feared closing my eyes and never waking up - death. As an adult I learned that when you close your eyes that final time you take with you - the love you gave - the love you received and the memories made with those you love. It isn't black - it isn't lonely - it's beautiful.
My entire life since then has been shaped by that knowledge and it has been the cornerstone of my marriage and our Blended Family. At the end of the day the Love and Memories we shared have been paramount. I learned and had it reaffirmed with Little Hart that there are no guarantees in this life. A young age - healthy lifestyle - a good person. They don't guarantee how fate will intervene.
I knew as I sat across from Little Hart in an ICU room that I didn't regret one moment of the time we spent and the love we had shared. It wasn't perfect, but it was as perfect as one could ask for. Had her eyes closed for the last time - she would have been filled with the love and the abundance of memories our family shared.
I'm not afraid of the dark anymore.