Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Behind the smile terror lurks

I usually write here about things which are life affirming, because that is what I think most people want to read, and that is what I need to write about if I am to enjoy blogging. So I write about what is funny, or interesting, or moving, or thought provoking. But this blog is also about being old, and today I need to write about what lies behind my enthusiasm for life, which my readers comment on from time to time.

We all know in our heads that we are going to die one day. For most of our lives we imagine that to be so far in the future that we really don’t need to be conscious of it at all. And if it was not so, life would be miserable, and we should probably make a pretty poor showing at it.

Later, as our bodies become noticeably less reliable, we may find that the end of our life has begun to come into focus, and we may start thinking about what it will be like. But if we are well most of the time, the force of life within us will still bear us along, and the chances are we will still be thinking: “It’s not my time just yet - I’ve still got a way to go”.

And then one day, if you are like me, in a moment of mind-blowing clarity, you may realise that your own imminent mortality has become a reality, and is part of your daily perception of who you are and what you are about. You may suddenly feel that the dark angel is sitting on your shoulder, rather than lurking on the horizon.

The loss of my husband left me acutely aware of being now the oldest in the family. Of course, I don’t have to be the next to go, but hey! just look at the odds. My heart attack four months ago revealed that two of the four grafts I had done 15 years ago have become blocked again, and I have to face the implications of that too. So now I know in my gut that my time is drawing to a close.

As a result a real sense of urgency has overtaken me: so much to finish, so many people to see, so much to put right if I can. And then there are the unanswered questions, the unspent passion, and the unfinished lives that I shall never see come to fruition. I don’t want to leave all this behind. I can’t bear the remorseless cycle of life and death, which demands that after so much effort, so much caring, so much creativity, it must all become the past, me included.

Will it be enough if among my descendants, someone decides to trace their forbears, and discovers my existence on a genealogy website? Will it be enough if my blog is still out there in cyberspace, available to be read by all? Will it be enough if my sons still think of me with sadness, but also with impatience at my remembered weaknesses and follies? My blog helps me to screen out the fear of being nothing any more, and to maintain an appetite for life, which I hope is one of the best ways to prolong it, because ....


The drawings I have used to illustrate this piece were done by Valerie Beeby, digital artist and web designer, as part of a feature on her own website about drawing the faces of fear. I am much indebted to her for permission to use them in this way, as they add a touch of humour to an otherwise rather bleak message. You can see more of her work here: http://www.purple-owl.com/art-faces-fear.html


seniorwriter said...

Fascinating! I agree that the drawings make the message more palatable. What you say about aging and wanting to be remembered is so very true. I share many of the same thoughts.


G in Berlin said...

That feeling you are describing, which I describe as terror, is one I know. It comes in sine waves in my life, with higher peaks since the deaths of my aunt (at only slightly older than I am now) and my granmother. Of a friend at 6 years younger than I am now and at watching my children and realizing how even with the best circumstances I will see so little of their lives. My blog does, comfort me. When I had just started exploring blogging I fell onto a woman's site. I linked to it through a post from another blog and I started reading throughit, several months worth, before realizing that the woman, a beautiful person, had succumbed to cancer. But I met her and grew to like her, oh so much, after her death. Her blog is still on my blogroll for others to meet such a wonderful person. It is a form of immortality isn't it? Andperhaps more than letter writing or keeping a diary because it is so vibrant, changeable and includes things such as photos and history and context. Btw, that site is: http://headlint.blogspot.com/ and Ellen is well worth getting to know.

Granny J said...

Thank you for writing this, Judith. It came at the first time that my MD has said that maybe we should do some Xrays. Not a good time.

Maggie May said...

Well...... yes, it makes you think. However, as a Christian, I don't think it is all over when we die, not for a minute!

Pam said...

I wish I could think of what to say in response to this; I'm so sorry that you are feeling this way, and I guess it's perfectly natural. But at least it's honest, and that is probably the best way to face up to the future. There's no denying that you live life to the fullest possible, though ;o)

Lucy said...

Bless you Judith, for writing this. It's the one inevitable isn't it, for all of us, all the other awful things we can quietly hope will happen to someone else and not to us! And you're right, we can keep putting off thinking about it...

Was it Woody Allen who said, 'I don't mind the idea of dying, I just don't want to be there when it happens!'.

Don't ever be afraid to write about these things.