afraid of the dark

photo by Jenny Kristina Nilsson.


I feel small. Alone.
It is suddenly upon me. Takes hold of me. I am a small molting creature. I want to crawl under something. Or play dead. Or turn the exact shade of my bed covers. I kick my legs and turn over. Then turn over again. It is always night when I feel this weight on me, or rather all the skin off of me. Always night when I become terrified of mortality. Mine. Yours. My parent's. My children's. And then the fear turns to some kind of vortex in the time-space continuum. Time folds in on itself, across my year and into old age. I no longer feel, in those moments, as though I am thirty-six, but I gag on that withered end-of-life taste. I can smell the sweet orange cleaner that covers old age. And see myself wanting to believe in something. Life seems so fucking fast now. My kids and their kids are going to be old before I can even process how amazing their youth is.
I existed in a miniature terrarium before Lucy died. It was a self-constructed sterile world with plastic signs that read, "This is your home. Nothing can hurt you here."

I can see beyond the glass now. It was rather silly to begin with, surrounding myself with moss and other tiny soft things. I didn't realize I was doing it, after all. I just sought comfort, like any animal.  I thought I was a Buddhist. I thought I was an existentialist. I thought I was an existentialist Buddhist. Death. Life. Mortality. Morality. There was some bullshit zen place I felt I had gotten with death. Death happens. To everyone. I thought I made peace with that. Until someone so loved and daughterly died inside of me. Then I realized I was only prepared for other people's deaths, not my own or my own child's death.


After Lucy died, tectonic plates shifted in me. Whole continents of me are no longer flat. My body navigates the outside world and then my new and ever-changing internal landscape. First, twisting and moving around other people's fears of death and child loss, and then, of course, charting a course through my own. I have become terrified of gravity. Plagues rest right over the horizon, ready to capture my children. Even Daddy-wrestling seems wrought with portent and disaster. The most pedestrian of activities have become the potential for the most dramatic of endings.

A small green plaque now reads at the base of me:

The Caution Mountains.
Elevation: Not High Enough to Hurt Yourself.

The truth is I cannot protect anyone from death. We are all going to die. We don't know when and we don't know where. And it makes all of this impossibly oppressive. We all know this, but did I really know it? Did I really understand that? Not until Lucy died and I held her small, lifeless body and wished it warm again.

If I needed to pick one word to describe grief for me, it would be fear.

Fear of death. Fear of disaster. Fear of the unknown. Fear of others. Fear of myself. Fear of the market. Middle of the night fear. Shaking fear.  Fear that feels like the dysentery. Fear that feels like indifference and apathy. Fear that feels foolish. Fear that does not resemble a labyrinth, but rather the exact opposite--a maze with no outs.

No matter how much bubble wrap I had, I could not have kept you safe, daughter.

This fear isn't debilitating. In fact, it is so functional and so understandable, I allow it to exist without medication. "You are afraid," I say, "because your daughter died. You are afraid because you don't want anyone else to die. You are afraid because you don't want to die. You are afraid because you have seen person ash and it is not clean and smooth and easy, it is lumpy and different colors and includes someone you loved more than the sun. And the others are afraid too. It is normal to be afraid."

So much of who I was died the day Lucy died. Not just the happy one, the non-grieving Angie, but the secure one, the peaceful one, the one who wasn't afraid of shadows and boogey-men. The existentialist Buddhist one.

In the past eighteen months I have talked about these two people with my name--the Old Me and the New Me. By the sounds of it, the Old Me is a pretty terrific person. The Old Me was pretty. Kind. Light on her feet. An athlete even. She was a positive person.  A non-grudge holder. She meditated and practiced ahimsa. The Old Me remembered your birthday. The Old Me was striving for selflessness and enlightenment. She sat with discomfort for wisdom. The Old Me was funny without being bitter and sad. The Old Me talked about your stuff with you. She was a good listener. The Old Me also wore crazy earrings. You would have liked her.

The New Me is bitter. Angst-y. The New Me is a sad person. Defeated. The New Me is afraid. She is anxious, biting her nails and pacing. Up late at night thinking about things she cannot change. The New Me doubts. Often. Constantly, even. She doubts her abilities as a parent. She doubts her diligence in everything. She doubts her beliefs and unbeliefs. She doubts truths. She doubts justice. She doubts knowledge. She doubts herself.

The Old Me/New Me dichotomy is cruel, because I was never that great, nor am I that horrible. It is also a lie. This is just all me. Me. This is just me grieving. This is me soul happy, but body sad. This is me afraid. This is me parenting two live children and a dead one. The truth of it is most of the world saw the commercial of me. The me with make-up on, drinking a bourbon on the rocks, laughing at irreverence, riffing on a story with an old friend. I was selling an idea of me. That was me socializing. A very different me. This is the rather unchangeable borderline agoraphobic me trying to figure out how to live this life without my child.



What one word would you pick to describe your grief? How has anxiety manifested itself in you after the death of your child or children? How do you deal with your middle of the night anxieties? Do you believe that there is an old and new you? What is the new you like?