Wednesday, June 16, 2010

death anxiety

I've been having these dreams...yes, about death. I used to teach the Death & Dying course at the University where I'm studying and part of the course involved discussing death anxiety. Most of the time, death anxiety is much below the surface for people. Since what maintains anxiety is avoidance, we all do a very good job of avoiding death in our lives. In fact, there is a whole death system set up so we don't come into contact with the reality of death on a day to day basis. Think about it: Have you ever seen a corpse in a hospital? Me neither. That's because they carefully hide the bodies once they are bodies and no longer living people. I also think about it when I see roadkill. Just the word: roadkill. It's kind of awful because what it is actually, is a little being that was alive very recently and now is dead. The little raccoon or squirrel or dear was walking around minding his or her business and got hit by a car and died. When do we actually think about that when we see it on the road? It's hit and miss for me.

Anyway, I've been finding that my death anxiety has really gone north (can I say that?) since the failure of the infertility treatments. My anxiety has gone up in general, but the death anxiety just kills me (sorry, I couldn't help it). And it's been in my dreams lately. I'm having dreams where my friends are getting cancer, or I'm getting cancer. Last week I had the most vivid and terrifying dream about my beloved friend Abigail who is traveling the world at the moment. In the dream, she fell from a great height and died. Her husband and I were left to figure out what to do with her body and I was so paralyzed by my grief that I couldn't do a thing. Just an awful dream (and I emailed her to implore her to be extra careful, since my dreams are sometimes premonitory).

Aside from the obvious connection between grief, an emotion that has been close to my heart lately, and death, I think there is also another piece to look at here. I think I've been struggling lately with the fact that my genes won't be passed on, that there won't be a little girl or little boy who looks like me, that when I die, I will not leave a (first degree) biological relative behind (unless I die before my parents). It's really sharp when it hits me. I'll be at a coffee shop and see this little girl with her mommy, and the little girl has beautiful red curls and the cutest nose and her mommy looks like an adult version of her. And I won't ever have that.

In a way, this is a death, except that there is an absence of an actual person to mourn. There was never a baby, never a miscarriage, never even an egg. Just my hopes and dreams; may they rest in peace.

I feel like one of the cancer dreams had something to offer. In the dream, a friend form school who did in reality have cancer as a teenager had found out that her cancer was back. It was devastating news. I couldn't bear it, I was so devastated for her. And in the dream, it somehow became more important to find the right word to say that the cancer was back. And the word that came up was Resurgence, which wouldn't be applied to a return of cancer after remission. I've looked up the definition of resurgence and here is what I found: "A continuing after interruption; a renewal." and "A restoration to use, acceptance, activity or vigor; a revival"

I've written down the definitions and pasted them on the wall in front of my computer. Maybe it's not death that awaits, but a resurgence instead.

1 comment:

  1. Lovely post. Thanks. That's a new term for me, "Death Anxiety" but I'm glad to have it since my Death Anxiety has skyrocketed since my miscarriages. I was generally able to avoid thoughts of death, and I have always feared it greatly. But I definitely feel the tenuousness of life much more keenly. Everyone seems a thin line away from possible death to me. And right now, I must consider the possibility of death every day as my current pregnancy may end in a death. Yep. Death anxiety in spades