Becoming Family with Death


Family with Death

I just listened to the second episode of a new podcast, Invisibilia, on the topic of fear and fearlessness, and it got me thinking about what my fears are and how I’ve dealt with them.

I’ve mentioned before about my decision at eight or nine to  let myself completely conceive of my own death, and the weeks-long terror that caused in me. I think that my desire to be a hospice volunteer has its acorn there (to bring in James Hillman here), perhaps an attempt at auto-aversion therapy, facing into my own fear of death by becoming familiar with it.

When my brother, Jeff, died in 2006, I took some days at a hot springs north of here. I wanted time by myself to try and assess what I was feeling. I’ve been called “sensitive” before–not always a compliment–but I know enough about myself to know that it would be easy to just skip over the emotions, grin and bear it, and get back to work. I might have even wanted to do that, but I’ve had enough experience with these things to know that I’ll have to face these things–grief, sadness, numbness, anger, relief after all his pain–and I was better off (and my loved ones were better off) doing it sooner than later.

While at the springs I soaked and walked, cried, napped, thought and wrote a lot. In the process, I had a realization I’ve returned to a lot: while it’s beyond my abilities yet to become friends with Death, I think I might be able to become family with it. Like family, my death is unchosen but inevitable, and ideally I’ll accept it, hopefully even comfort from it. And like family, I became afraid of the obligations of death at a young age, and I now see it as part of my ongoing project of growing up to let go of both those fears.

This is the self-interested part of my work now–in hospice, and in chaplaincy–attempting to gain this comfort and this growth with my own inevitable companion.



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