Sometimes it’s worse than others. I’m never able to predict it. And I never feel as if I do anything specific to bring it on. At times I am brought to my knees. Truly. They buckle and I fall to the floor, and I am unable to even lift my head. I’m left crippled. I have to sit and wait. Wait. Wait. And wait. Often it feels like the floor drops out from beneath me. I can feel myself floating with nothing to ground me. Sometimes I see the fires of Hell. Which is bananas because I am not a religious person so I have no fear of it. Sometimes I am in space. Actual space. With what I swear are actual stars. And then there is nothing but a vacuum. And I am falling. Just waiting to be swallowed by the dark. Waiting for the moment that I know will come. And knowing that when it does. I will not know it has taken me.
Usually these feelings only last a few minutes. My brain, well, I guess it reboots, for lack of a better word. Everything shifts and I am back to normal. I am me. What I described to you is what I lovingly refer to as a panic attack. I had an epic one once on a train platform while all alone in Copenhagen at two am. I have them in my bathroom. I have them in my bedroom. They are the veritable Green Eggs and Ham of anxiety. I can have them here, or there, or just about anywhere. Oh, did I mention that I am also a mortician? Yup. That’s right you read that correctly. I work with death. Every. Single. Day. On a regular basis, I walk into a cold dark room at my crematory and with my hand feel blindly across the wall for the light switch only to reveal the numerous bodies wrapped in white sheets waiting to go to their final destination. (It’s the middle room between me and the urns I need). And I am never ever ever scared. In fact. I love it.
I told my friend the other day how I was terrified to die. She looked perplexed. She told me she was pretty sure that I was in the wrong field for someone who was afraid to die, and I laughed and told her that that’s just the thing about fear. You know that saying, “wherever you go, there you are”? Well, the same can be said about fear. It’s like my depression. It’s this tiny black rain cloud that follows me wherever I go. And sometimes, even when the sun is shining, well, that’s when it is the worst. My happiest days can be the hardest, because that little black rain cloud is always in tow. Always reminding me that one day, lightning will strike. It’s really hard. I mean, really really. Because, wherever I go, my fear follows me. So why the heck would I want to work in a field that deals directly with it?
You can probably already guess the answer can’t you? Because the only thing to fear is fear itself and we must face our fears head on. Because this is my grief work. Because everyday I am actively living. And everyday I am actively dying. You cannot have one without the other. When I walk into a room full of dead bodies, I am not afraid because I can see my fear for what it is. It becomes real, and it allows me to process it. I am not afraid of the dead body, because I have found a way to love it. I have found a way to make what I am most afraid of, less fearful. And I am not afraid to admit that I am vulnerable. And I am not afraid to share. And I know that I can use my vulnerability to help others. So you see, I’m not really a funeral director. I consider myself more like a conduit for the thing that most terrifies you. I accept and see your fear and sadness, and I find a way for you to let it go. Because I know we are all in this together.
So, what does Death Positive mean to me? Well, it sure as heck doesn’t mean I think that death is great. And it doesn’t mean that I sanitize all deaths as good deaths. No no. Quite the opposite. Death Positive means that I am a safe space. That I am here for you. I am here for you to cry. For you to be angry. For you to scream. For you to question God, existence, and reality. I am here to tell you. You. Are. Not. Alone. I am here to tell you that it may not be ok and it may never be, but it is ok for you to feel. And I am here to help you have a good death, by ensuring that you have a good life. And more importantly, I am Death Positive so that I may give myself permission to be afraid. Permission to be human. And permission to go forward despite all of it.
I am here to find the balance. Without it we slide one way or the other. No matter the direction. An edge is an edge and we will fall. As a society. As humanity. And no, I don’t think I can save us all. And yes, one day I will die. Could be sooner rather than later if I don’t get my stress under control. And while it is true, that I will die never knowing what good my work has done. Isn’t it enough to live knowing I tried?