In high school, a girl in my grade passed away suddenly in a car accident. We were juniors. She was the first person our small-town grade lost. I think almost every single student attended the heartbreaking service. The funeral made me see, for the first time in my 17 years on Earth, that death wasn’t just for the elderly and the sick. Death could come at any moment, its arms grasping anything within reach.
It was the first time I realized death could make me feel claustrophobic and panicky. The idea that you will never again see someone’s face or hear their voice settled heavy on my chest. It felt like a grey Midwestern day, when there is no cloud break in sight: just grey skies and flat, grey roads and wintery, grey ground all around you. Will it ever lift?
When my mom told me the news that she had passed away, I fell into her arms and wept. I didn’t know her very well, but the reality that someone could be here today and gone tomorrow, without warning, seemed so unfair. She had no time for goodbyes or last wishes or bucket lists. If I’m being honest, this was the loss that taught me to fear death.
I believe in God. I believe in Heaven. I believe it will be better than what we have here on Earth.
But I fear death.
Not my own.
I fear living on Earth without the people I love. I fear not being able to hear their voices every day. I fear never seeing their handwriting again, which is probably a silly thing to say. But sometimes, when people write me messages - little ones - like “I love you” or “don’t forget snacks!” scribbled on a sticky note, I save it, just so I always remember their quick, every-day handwriting. My mom wrote “Welcome home Saxon family of 3!” on a sticky note the day McCoy was born. She left it on our kitchen table and I put it in his baby book. I want to always have that perfect, quick note with her handwriting on it.
In college, my sister told me she hoped she’d die before me. Oh no, I’m going first! I told her. Neither of us were being selfless. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve begged/prayed, telling God I couldn’t live even one day on Earth without one of my siblings or parents. The simple thought of not having one of them in my daily routine makes my chest tighten.
Falling in love and having a baby is the best thing that has happened in my life. Without a doubt, though, it has created higher stakes. It’s more people to love, more people to worry about losing. Sometimes, they go to the grocery store and I pray they come home safely. The grocery store! I check on Mac every night before bed and pray his tiny chest is rising and falling, just like it was when I put him down. This love - so long and wide and deep - can become an all-consuming chasm of fear and worry if I let it.
I know my relationship with worry and death and loss and fear is, simply put, anxiety. I know it is a love so deep, it is manifesting itself in an unhealthy way. I know that gratitude expunges these worries, which is why, when I fall asleep each night, I outline Mac in my mind: his round head and big eyes and little ski slope nose. The way he laughs when I laugh, even though he doesn’t know why something is funny. The way he claps when I clap and is learning to high five. The way he sings da-da-da-da in his crib at night before he falls asleep.
I recall every bit of him, memorizing the here, the now, trying to stay present in gratitude and not be swept away in fear.
I like to wrap life up with a bow. I would love to tell you something sage about death and worry or about the things I’m learning in this season. I’d love to tell you’ve I’ve overcome this entirely, fully releasing my loved ones to the Lord, no longer anxious at all. But that’s not true.
Right now, I’m sometimes overcome with worry. It’s better now than it was when Mac was an itty bitty baby. I barely slept in the beginning, so worried about him in the bassinet. When we moved him to his own room, I got a little stronger. Each time we got a babysitter, I became a little more empowered. When I’d go for a run without him or leave him in childcare at the gym, I slowly and surely got a little braver.
I’m learning now it’s a combination of taking action + practicing gratitude + speaking back to the worry + getting on my knees and praying through it. So I guess the truth is, it’s a bit of all of these things that works for me. It’s not a bow. It’s not a solution. But it’s the truth. It’s a little of this and a little of that.
I’m wading through this first year of motherhood, understanding I’ll never be perfect, but I wasn’t ever aiming for perfection, anyway. I’m striving, instead, for a life of love, gratitude, honesty and wholeness.
It’s not a perfect answer or a solution or the control we sometimes yearn for. But it’s here and now. It’s nine months into McCoy’s life and I have no doubt I’ll continue to learn along the ever-changing, beautiful path we’re on.