On Being Asked “Why Are You So Afraid of Death?”

Have you lived in eternity?

Revelled in it?

The thin pale veil

Of Belief and Meaning,

God’s Love, your everlasting soul,

Fluttering before your eyes,

Though you are not sure

what tethers it to you?

 

Have you ever wondered whether

A gentle breeze would be enough

To blow it all

Into the pale blue sky?

 

Have you lost eternity?

Has your familiar universe

Turned strange to you in an instant–

Vast, unknowable, and indifferent–

Your soul and God’s Love stripped away,

Time suddenly constricting you,

Eternity closed off to you,

And all of this happening

For no discernible reason?

 

Has panic tickled your ears and neck,

Heaved your guts,

Clenched your breaths,

When you think about death

And try to imagine non-existence?

 

 

Why am I so afraid of death?

I don’t know, ask

My grandmother who died from cancer,

Who wept on her last Christmas and

Whose eyes betrayed uncertainty

In the final days when Father Albert came

To administer her last rites.

 

Ask the chipmunk my cat paralyzed,

Who hid under my car and could not stop

The eyes rolling in its head, the breaths,

Shallow and fast, that heaved its chest,

The unmistakable signs

Of panic and fear

That recurred in my nightmares.

 

Ask anyone afraid of anything unknown, or

Do some thinking on your own;

Fear is not hard to imagine.

Pops

You liked sitting in the last pew,

The one with blue-cushioned chairs,

From which there was a clear view

Of a high stained-glass window

And the anguished face of our Lord on the cross

Gazing down at all of us.

 

I spent my childhood at your home:

Summers swimming in your pool,

Bare feet cool on your grassy lawn,

Picking hawkweed and dandelions–

Bursts of yellow and orange life–

Which sprouted near the old stone wall

That ran along your property line.

 

Your lawn was enclosed on all sides by trees–

Oaks, pines, white birch, blueberries–

Which sheltered us in their generous shade.

 

In fall, the oaks turned red as flames

Then one-by-one they dropped their leaves,

Which you always raked into one big heap

So my siblings and I could take turns

Burying each other inside,

The leaves now brown and autumn-sharp,

Smelling like the woods on Halloween,

And burst out screaming “Here I come!”,

A game we called “Dead Man Walking.”

 

You died when I was just sixteen

Of a heart attack,

At the hospital, almost all

The ones who loved you

By your side.

Except for me–

I was traveling

Between England and Ireland

When my mom,

Your only daughter,

Called two days later

To say

“Honey, Pops died.”