I just finished taking the class, “End of Life Issues” and didn’t take from it quite what I had hoped. Sure I wanted to use what I learned in practice, but truthfully I was hoping I would get at least half a step closer to relieving some of my death anxiety. The only real thing I took from the class was that certain Middle Eastern cultures loathe the way they THINK we treat our elders. That theme became evident very early in class. I’m not going to elaborate; I’d need an entirely new blog for that topic, so I’m just going to move on. What I did find in my search was several books related to this fascinating topic of death, the “main task of human life” (oddly put, but all-in-all very true), of which I have chosen “The Denial of Death” by Ernest Becker to begin my literal venture. The title, for obvious reasons, caught my eye since all my life I have tried to deny that my death is evident. Tried to set it aside in the back of my mind….but that never works, let’s be honest. And I can’t say that I’ve chosen the best career path, nursing in an ICU, if I was actually trying to avoid the thought altogether.
But lately, series of events have made my “natural phenomenon of life” become real as ever and I have been having pretty severe anxiety because of it. As kids we think of ourselves as invincible, death to us is so far away it barely exists to us–we almost consider ourselves immortal. The evidence is in our careless, “it couldn’t happen to me,” actions. And here I am the nurse who works in ICU who sees tragic diagnoses that change the lives of families in the blink of an eye. My friends getting surgery to prevent cancer and, sadly, friends getting cancer. Hell, my own three year old cousin is fighting cancer right now. So what will be my fate? What life-changing phone call will I receive? Or will it be me with the cancer, my family at the next terrorist attack, my care hit by a drunk driver? These thoughts never leave me. They follow me constantly as I try to “live life to the fullest”, my so-called motto.
So I’ve set out in search of some comforting words that may make some sense of it all and it seems that my fears are the “paradox of man.” “…to live a whole lifetime with the fate of death haunting one’s dreams and even the most sun-filled days…everything that man does in his symbolic world is an attempt to deny and overcome his grotesque fate.” OK. So this guy Ernest and all the philosophers before me get what I’m feeling, so what do I do about it? I’m too literal to turn to the Bible…I just don’t get the Message. Pope John Paul could have lunch with me and it’s not going to make me feel any better because he can’t give me the proof I need. Is this my temporary body? Will I see my loved ones on the other side?
“The great boon of repression is that it makes it possible to live decisively in an overwhelmingly miraculous and incomprehensible world, a world so full of beauty, majesty, and terror that if animals perceived it all they would be paralyzed to act.” So maybe I was an animal in a previous life because sometimes I feel semi-paralyzed. To be continued….