This past month or two, I’ve been posting a fair amount on what appears to be a “mid-life fear-of-death crisis.”
While I’m not totally sure what brought this on, I suspect it has something to do with watching my best friend’s parents pass last year (both were in their 90’s and had been married 65 years).
In witnessing their fears of death, I also uncovered my own.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m glad I figured out now that I’m afraid of death, rather than waiting to die before I figured it out!
But not knowing how to address this fear – or how to solve it – has still felt like an obstacle….until recently.
After my last post about my fear of death, a sweet Facebook friend commented that I might enjoy a certain book by Annie Kagan called “The Afterlife of Billy Fingers.”
When I first read the title, I was quite sure I wouldn’t like this book at all – “Billy Fingers” sounded like a ghost’s name, and perhaps one with ties to the kind of folks who like to bury their dead in concrete shoes.
However, my desperation for something to do trumped my hesitation, and I ordered a copy that same day.
As of today, I am on my third straight reading.
Over the decades, I have immersed myself in the study and experience of many paths – always in search of answers, but mostly (I now realize) the reassurance of proof.
Having “beliefs” is not something that has ever reassured me.
I can believe anything, but if I can’t prove it, well, that belief eventually gets tossed on the growing pile with all the others.
What this has left me with is precious few remaining beliefs, and a newfound openness and craving for direct experience in a form I can locate and return to again and again.
My longtime mentor, Lynn, has often reminded me that the most accurate signposts in life come in the form of what she calls the “fruits of the spirit” – love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, gentleness, self-control.
Here, I have to assume they might be equally good signposts in death as well.
As I have continued to practice my meditation day after day and year after year, I have sought ever more ways to experience these fruits both in and out of meditation.
Also, whenever I have felt love, joy, peace, or one of the other fruits arise in any context, I have tried to consciously pay attention, tune in, follow where it leads me.
After reading just a few words of “The Afterlife,” I began to feel peace arising.
After I had a few whole chapters under my belt, I felt even more peace and increasing levels of gentleness directed towards the part of myself that had been feeling very frustrated with my death fears.
By the end of my first full reading, I was feeling a lot more love, joy, and peace, as well as an eagerness to begin reading it again and an equal eagerness to dive further into my meditations.
So my friend was right. Reading this book didn’t answer my questions – per se – or help me form any new provable beliefs.
But in lieu of either, it has gifted me with repeated experiences I can return to and have learned to trust far more.
Above all, I notice I am all of a sudden not quite so afraid of death.
I am still afraid on a very human level – on account of how such a transition cannot be planned in any of the ways I have learned to plan.
But I think more and more, my fears are centering on the transition itself – will dying be painful (and will I be brave or wimpy if there is pain) and will I struggle on the “other side” to adapt and adjust to the sudden shift in my situation.
Perhaps as I put those fears out here in the open as I did the fears before them, more will be once again be revealed.
Today’s Takeaway: Have you read “The Afterlife of Billy Fingers?” Or is there another book, movie, or practice that has helped ease any fears you may have about the transition involved in dying, or dying itself?