Updated: Aug 30, 2019
On August 7, 2000 at 9:03 pm, a baby prone to discomfort and anxiety was born. She had no idea that eight years down the road, her vulnerability would cause her to be overwhelmed with the very opposite thing she celebrated every August:
the fear of death.
It started when her grandmother died in 2008.
She was nauseated at the thought of it, walking around with a dull, numb feeling weighing her down—not just because this was the first loss she had ever experienced, but because it was the first time she became conscious of death.
Until then, death was just a plot in a movie or the downfall of one of her favorite characters in a book. It was just this "thing" somewhere off in the distance that she saw people on the news, strangers in different countries, encounter from time to time.
But, being that death was right in front of her at that point, that it was her grandmother, she thought to herself: This is real.
And, not only that: This is scary—
in which this thought set her on the path of enduring a fire-breathing fear of death.
She became alarmingly afraid of storms—scared that one lightning bolt, one clap of thunder would take her life. She couldn't enjoy family vacations, wondering if death would take her on a rollercoaster or with a shark at the beach. With the exploding rate of mass shootings across the nation, she couldn't help but imagine that she'd die at the movies like the moviegoers in Aurora, Colorado in 2012 or in a classroom, the Sandy Hook shooting giving her nausea for weeks.
Death after death, tragedy after tragedy, each news story and funeral fed her paranoia. She was coming to terms with the fact that death wasn't a thing of the past. She, too, could die at any moment and at any given time.
So, inevitably, her childhood imagination allowed her ignorance to wander off and brainstorm the details of the how and when of her death, creating anxiety.
And, just in case you didn't catch on, the girl I am writing about is me.
I was the one terrorized by death. I was the one who was paranoid.
Death, as far as I knew, was forever.
When my grandmother died, I knew there was no reverse switch, no "go back" button. Her last breath was already taken.
There was nothing I could do.
And because I hated (and still hate) feeling helpless and out of control, I felt like death robbed my grandmother's and my chance of being together forever. No more going over there in the summer for popsicles. No more hearing her long stories and her constant, joyful humming. I knew that for the rest of my life on the earth, I would be without her.
But, as I got older and took every moment I needed to stop and mourn, I did something revolutionary for an anxious girl like me: I stopped worrying about it.
I stopped imagining how or when I would go and just accepted that I one day would, and when I would, I wouldn't have to think about it anymore. Until then, I didn't want to think about it at all. So, gradually, as a result, I stopped.
However, now that we're mourning over stars like Nipsey Hussle, Mac Miller, Christina Grimmie, and many more, I could feel the little kid in me begin to awaken, questioning the whereabouts and the timing of death—
especially with the most recent tragedy with Cameron Boyce.
I'm not too far off from 20 years of age, so Cameron's death was nothing short of eye-opening for me. Here, a bright and successful star, his career on fire with plenty of life left for fuel, passes away by doing the most innocent thing on earth—sleeping. He went to bed expecting to wake up the next morning. He ended his day with plans to start another one the next. His tomorrow was taken from him. His youth failed to protect him from death. He was a young boy who went to bed thinking that tomorrow was another day to add onto his building legacy.
Same for Nipsey.
Same for Mac.
And, the thought of it causes the same uneasy feeling I had as a kid rise back to the surface.
They had plans to see tomorrow. I have plans to see tomorrow.
How do I know if I will? Or won't?
This question does not suggest that my childlike fear of death has come back to haunt me. In fact, the truth is that this agony has very little to do with death. Instead, it has just about everything to do with another fear, a fear I had no idea a person could even be afraid of. That is, of course, none other than:
I've mentioned in previous blog posts that I feel safe and secure when I know the details, and if there's one thing that you and I collectively don't know the details about, it's forever.
As far as I know, "forever" is nineteen years of life on the earth. That's the only point of reference I have. For some of you, it could be thirteen years, or thirty, even. Some reading this could even be sixty.
No matter your age, you and I have never seen the end of forever, because forever has no end. It's this endless amount of time that is beyond our reach, a time that even one billion years can't compete with. To us, eternity may merely seem like "a very long time," but it surpasses even that. Forever was there before light entered the earth. Forever will be there when the sun and moon stop shining. Forever doesn't dictate the beginning and end of life. It existed before the beginning, and it'll exist after the end.
What I mean is that forever was there before me when I was born, and forever was still there after my grandmother died. Forever was there with Christina Grimmie on her 1st birthday and still continued to reign on the tragic day of her death.
So, if forever is there before the beginning and there after the ending, then where are we? If there is a time that we're born and a set time for when we die, how do we play a part in forever? Would it be wrong to say that our lives, our destinies, last forever if we die? If death is forever, could life be eternal too? What about when our loved ones are taken from us, when death steals and hides our chance to be with them forever? If forever is ongoing, wouldn't we run into them again? Does the end of a life mean that there is an end of forever?
This is where my mind goes at 3 AM. (Please, show me some pity.)
I am coming to terms with the fact that my fear of death as a child may not have been about death at all. Instead, it was more about the limited knowledge I had of forever. I knew that death was permanent on earth, but I questioned whether or not it was permanent in the big scheme of eternity. I knew that death takes people's souls to a side the living cannot see, but I didn't know how "forever" played a part in the side we can see. Like most people, I believed that death was the end of forever, but I'm beginning to realize it isn't. Death is the end of a life, not the end of forever. It's the end of having a chance to do it all over again, the end of an era on earth.
The reality of it is sickening because it's beyond us. No one has ever really seen the end of forever. We only see the end of people's lives, and it's scary, because if forever goes even beyond death, how far can it go?
What does it look like? Does forever have a sound? A face? How close can we get to its end?
We can't grab it to inspect it. We can never catch up to it. It's just never ending, always going. Forever does not have the only thing we can use to measure it: time! It will always be right in front of us, beyond us. In fact, it's even behind us too! It's older than nineteen years, older than a billion, older than the time earth was first spoken into existence.
And while I can't imagine that everyone else thinks the same as I, I do feel in my heart that this is, in fact, a thought many of us meditate on after a loved one passes away. It leads us to ask a question that has been festering in our minds all along:
"Will Forever let me see them again?"
Did death really steal my last chance of being with the one I love? In the grand scheme of time and the fullness of life, is there truly a time somewhere in forever where we can meet again?
I had no idea that this was the question I had at eight, but I finally found the words and courage to ask this to God eleven years later. Because, the truth is, God was the only one I knew who could understand forever. In all of my desperate searching of trying to figure forever out—how it doesn't have a start and end point in the way we all have birthdays and funerals—I realized that God is the only one who doesn't sit back and try to do the math in His head. God knows forever because He is forever.
And, this is exactly why He is always the first one I get mad at when my own idea of "forever" comes to an end—when the ones I love most pass away, when the relationships I thought I would have for life tear in two, when the life I thought I finally figured out changes its course. It's because I know Him and what He could do. I know He could bring dead things back to life again. I know He is the only one in control of the endless amount of time that is beyond human reach. He is the only one I know who can manipulate forever, but I also know that He chooses not to.
It's because He doesn't have to. Before the world began, He had already put everything in its timing, gave every creature a rhythm and a beat to live by and dance to. And, with that, He was already aware when each song would end. He knew that some songs would last for ninety years. Other songs would end at three. He knew how much it would hurt you and I when the music stops playing too.
But, God doesn't keep forever to Himself. He doesn't tease us with time and makes us beg for more of it when we lose someone we love. Instead, He uses forever to His advantage since we will never be able to understand it. He decided that if we are going to be a part of this story, our own chapters written in this eternal book of life, His love for us will endure forever. If He's going to be the God we go to for security, for questions, for a sense of belonging, He is going to be there for us forever. And, until we see His face, until we reach the end of our lives—the end of forever we think we know—I think we're supposed to make our part in forever count, which is to love hard and live the abundant life He died for us to have. He has reserved time for us to mourn, but there's plenty of time to dance too. And while we may never understand forever, we should at least enjoy the moments it gives us to the full and make every little thing count while it lasts.