Posted by: jeanne | April 10, 2010

and now renee

god bless us all, death is all around me.  i can feel it lurking just out of my vision, waiting to snatch someone from my life.  i look at my daughter, my husband, my grandbaby and wonder, is it them?  i look at my mom, my ex husband, my sisters and brothers,  my cousins, my old friends – is it them?  i look in the mirror.  is it me?  not yet.  not yet.  not yet.  so far the shit’s hitting someone else’s fan.  but soon it’ll hit mine.  it feels very close.

just last week, it was my old friend marie, after a short struggle with pneumonia.  this week i find that it’s my old blogging friend renee, after a short battle with metastatic cancer.

poof.  gone.  no more ends to tie up; in fact, ends that can never be tied now.  there’ll always be unfinished business joining me to these people that i love, but not in a good way.  there’s a bunch of things unsaid between us that will now hold each of us back.  we’re joined in places that need severing in order that we can go on our ways, even if the issue remains unresolved (better luck next life).  i write to find the ties and and snap them, cauterize the ends and cast them off, minimizing the delay i caused by being too short sighted to have kept in touch.

when i say i see death around me, it’s not a visual feeling.  i’ts a back of the head feeling, an awareness of a presence in the room, in the street, in the shops.  death is watching me.  watching to see how i’m responding, whether i’m aware of what’s going on, whether i do something different because of it.  death is studying the people around me, wondering what i’d do if it was that one, or this one, and i was left to mourn: how i’d handle it, what it would cost me.

death is turning to peer at me, asking if i’m ready.  not asking me to go just now, but making sure i’d be ready if asked.  i’m getting a clear warning, the way i see things.

the way i see things, life is a metaphor.  everything is a metaphor, because we simply don’t have the capacity to see the truth in all its complexity, and are reduced to metaphors for every facet of human existence.  god, for instance, can only ever be a metaphor for something we can’t even conceive.  i think all religions are in agreement on that.  god is not some old white guy.

in fact, for the record, and not at length because i don’t want to digress – god is a woman.  god is a little old chinese lady who wrinkles up her face and shakes her finger and insists, ‘don’t you do that,’ in a loud, strident tone.  she appeared to me once, and that’s how i saw her.  and it was a whole lot more immediate and true than any renaissance painting or any angry daddy-god as described from the pulpit, so i’m sticking with that.

when death is in the room, there’s a chill that you could almost call a burn.  it’s the feeling you get when you’ve just pocketed that tube of lipstick and look up to see the store detective watching you do it.  it’s the feeling you get when you see the cop hidden in the roadside, watching you go by smoking a joint.  oh fuck, is the feeling.  i thought i knew what bad was, but i’m in for it now, is the feeling.  undo, undo – where’s the escape key, is the feeling.

and then part of you goes into emergency mode.  where all extra energy is diverted to getting thru the catastrophe at hand, and everything that isn’t needed is stripped away.  things like patience, politeness, indirectness, humor.  you batten down the emotional hatches so that when the wave rolls you at least you won’t be flooded, and you look to those around you while you can still do something.

when this goes on for awhile, it means you’re an anxious person, and could use medication.  i medicate, but i’m still anxious.  i don’t know if there’s a cure for death in the room.

i was telling another renee, my old yoga teacher who is thankfully only getting old – i had rung up to tell her about marie, and was talking to her about my anxiety.  i blamed the tornado we had here in 2008 for my anxiety.  it roared thru my back yard (yes it did, took down all the trees across the street), and i have had classic symptoms of ptss since then.  can’t sleep.  can’t think.  bad digestion.  forget what i ate ten minutes before etc.  it got better when i identified what it was, altho it took months for me to figure out that my intense fear of everything started one night in march.

anyway, i got better but i didn’t get all the way better, and in 2009 i got myself stressed out and anxietified all over again with swine flu, which i followed with dread intensity from march when the story broke until july when i got kicked off the last of several swine flu bulletin boards for i’m still not sure why.  it cured my obsession with swine flu, at any rate, and i soon figured out that i had just done what everyone does sooner than later, and believed the world was coming to an end and we all had to go to ground and survive at all costs RIGHT NOW.  which was a real eye opener.  as a consequence, this year i am much better about it, and am planning a month in europe in the fall, away from jim, away from my kid, letting other people take care of them if and when they fall ill because i’m not there looking out for them.  of course, i’ll be sick, but these days i get sick when i travel, so i just don’t eat.  i’m down to 130 now.

to get back to my yoga teacher, renee.  i was complaining about the tornado causing all these symptoms and she interrupted me impatiently.  it’s only getting old, she said.

oh yeah.  bad sleep, bad memory, poor constitution, frailty.

duh.  so the anxiety is simply getting old, and i should just take a chill pill, toke a pokey smoke, have a manana martini.

except there’s death, sitting in the corner waving at me.

the natural thing to do is to think that there is something you do that will keep death from acting.  if you’re careful enough, if you cover all the electric plugs, if you watch jim every time he gets out of bed in the night.  if only you can keep your psyche fully alert at all times, and attuned to threats involving any of your closest loved ones, if only you can worry enough, you can protect them.

anxiety is a poisonous thing.

since death has taken up around here, i have noticed that part of my emergency mode thinking revolves around what happens after.  after i’m left alone, after death has taken away a part of me i needed to live.  after i outlive my beloved.  (NOT FOR MANY YEARS YET)  for it’s jim that my anxiety revolves around.  i can (in my imagination) go on blithely after the deaths of my kid and my mom, but if i think about jim going i immediately get existentially angst ridden.  where will i go?  how will i live?  however, with death in the room i find myself thinking practical things about after i’m left alone in the world.  i sit there and think that i will probably live after even my jim would be stripped away from me, because i have a strong spirit, and i turn my attention to what i would need to do next in order to go on by myself.

because things happen in threes, i’m not out of the woods yet, and the temptation to be endlessly anxious is tempting.  but i’ve learned that anxious doesn’t help avoid the catastrophe, and that i’d be better off using my anxiety to create something, and that in fact i have a watercolor in the studio that i have decided to complete for my friend marie’s husband, so i’ll go away now and try not to worry.  i’m waiting for the other shoe, the third bell, the final rocking of my world.  but that still doesn’t answer the question –

what is death trying to tell me?



  1. Inasmuch as possible, take every day and try to connect with someone: perhaps yourself, perhaps someone else. try to close the open wounds, or fill them in. reconnect with old pieces that went missing that you still miss. Try to be mindful at least a bit every day?
    That’s what I am trying. Also, try for more fun in life.

  2. And I am sorry for both your losses.

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