In Death as in Life

Nobody wants to get old. Getting old isn’t beautiful.

If we are honest with ourselves most of us look at the elderly with at least a slight feeling of revulsion in the pit of our stomachs. We feel this way only because it triggers fear within us. The fear of aging is not only the product of our own vanity but also the realization that the end is near. We want to presume, “it will never be me. I will never let myself get that old, that wrinkled, that stooped. I will never have that funk of age or skin like paper perforated with brown spots and bulging blue veins”.

But we will.

And we will wonder how we got there and how we let ourselves get this way.
photo wedding

But until I sat with my Mama* and held her hand, watched her breath get shallow and her eyes grow heavy I did not know this secret. Right before you die you become beautiful again.

The people that love you will gather by your bedside. They will marvel at the brightness and depth of your eyes. They will caress and wonder at the softness of your skin. They will clean you lovingly and brush your hair into place. They will be enamored with every wrinkle and with every imperfection that makes you unique. They will drink in the sweetness of your whispers and treasure every little snore as you rest and every breath that comes after a long silence. There is no insincerity in this admiration. It is pure.

Angela Josephine Fenech, nineteen years old, on her wedding day.

Angela Josephine Fenech, 19 years old, on her wedding day.

There is a strange but fragile beauty in death.

For those last few weeks, days and hours before death we will be young again. Beautiful in the eyes of those that love you. We will forget every wrinkle and every spot.

And we will die as beautiful and as precious as the day we were born.





* Mama was my name for my grandmother, Angela.

Monsters, Dinosaurs and Coyotes… Oh My!

My twins are entering a fearful stage. Little feet shuffle across the bedroom floor in the middle of the night and little bodies burrow under the covers and press into my side. There are monsters and snakes in their room. There are dinosaurs in the pool. There are unidentified noises. There are coyotes, lots of coyotes.

I know that this burgeoning fear is a normal developmental stage, but I find myself a little sad. When they are little, kids are blissfully unaware when it comes to fear and danger and as a parent there is a small measure of comfort in that. Life is simple and less complicated. They have no inhibitions. Fear is external and doesn’t penetrate their safe little bubble.

I am sad because I am watching that pure, innocent fearlessness slowly slipping away. They are starting to become aware of their surroundings. It is necessary for them to grow and fear enables them to learn to protect themselves in a sometimes rough world. They have to learn to be cautious and street smart in order for me to let go of their little hands and let them step out into that world. In essence, fear is part of human nature.

That doesn’t change the fact that I still find it a little sad. I want them to hold onto that innocence and fearlessness. For just a little longer I want them to believe that nothing can harm them or hurt them.

I don’t remember exactly when I developed fear as a child but I can still remember how it felt. One of the first fears I remember was the fear of death. When I was about five years old my grandfather had passed away. There was an open casket funeral. It was the first time that I realized that life ends. It was the first time I saw my father cry, my big giant bear of a father. I knew it had to be something bad.

That fear plagued me for years, still does sometimes. I remember sitting on my bed, my knees curled up under my chin, my feet sticking out of my nightgown and my heart racing. When I couldn’t stand it any longer I would run out of my room, down the hall, up the stairs, across the floor into the living room and fling myself into my father’s big arms and bury my face in his chest. It was the only place I felt safe. The only place that I could escape death. He would hold me and ask me why I was scared. It felt too silly to say out loud.

I see fear creeping into my kids’ young lives and I feel sad that they will learn that there are scary and bad things out there. For now my kids’ fears are about imaginary things; monsters and dinosaurs. But one day those fears will grow bigger and they won’t be about creatures that don’t exist. They will have real fears about life and death, choices, mistakes, risks and challenges. How do I provide them with an escape from their fears but also encourage them to face their fears?

Fear is a necessary component of life and with the bad also comes the good and wonderful parts of life. With fear comes the strength to confront it. But I still wish I could hold it off, push it back, for just a little bit longer.