Irvin Yalom talks about death anxiety as one of the core existential conflicts that a person can experience. We all must die, we cannot escape this fate and this reality frustrates us. how we approach death is one of the major factors that defines us.
Tomorrow I turn 33. I can honestly say I’ve been uneasily gazing forward at the horizon of my life with unease and unrest. This end is coming, I don’t want it, I can’t escape it, I am rushing hurtling falling towards it fast fast so fast.
Meanwhile I love my youth, and this is a foolish fleeting love. After this year, I can no longer pretend to still be a child. I have been too long upon the earth, learned too much, taken on too much responsibility, my ambitions are too high. I must finally accept the reality that I am a man(in the adult sense), whether or not this feels true.
My grandparents have done more to shape how my lifestyle values have fallen than almost any other factor. They do this in showing me how they age, how they relate to death, how they die and how they are remembered.
From my Lolo who is no longer in the body these past seven years, I adopted the value of keeping my body as whole as I can. This youthful and moderately attractive piece of flesh is not only the body of my sunsetting youth, but the body of my old age. The choices I make for him now, I make for my ninety-year old self. I choose to be kind to my elder self.
From my mother’s parents, I am learning many things that grieve me.
“Do you have a peace about dying, Dad?” My mother to her dad.
Without hesitation, he shook his head. “No.”
“But what about Jesus?” For she has found her hope and center in a relational faith and a faith based salvation while he has maintained a works oriented theology.
“I don’t know.” He said he knew the soteriology – the theology of salvation. “We say our prayers every day.” But he still was unsure if it was enough.
My mother nudged, ever so graciously. “But all you have to do is believe in what He did.”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
Meanwhile my grandmother flits about the house, warbling about a box she can’t find to go with the vacuum she wants to gift to my mother and oh the vexation that this vacuum is because it works well but it’s too heavy but the extensions reach well to the fans and that’s all she wanted was to clean the fans and the vacuum got the dust of the goddam fans but left the grime…and besides that have you seen how those developers are developing acres and acres and acres of land just adjacent to the neighborhood, but isn’t it a shame that they had to develop so far because now there’s not as much parking available at the historic mission.
Papa, Grandma, did I really come 1500 miles to talk about vacuum cleaners and parking with you?
And that’s when I realize they have nothing, and maybe never did. Their kids are grown. They have no money to speak of. No brilliant accomplishments, nor causes to champion. They have their religion and its rituals, but I don’t know if they have any actual community within that religion. And in their mid-eighties, rather than following their friends on social media, they follow them through the obituaries.
If my Papa’s words are any indication, they have a faith that is only as good as their works, and a hope that is only as real as the next good kitchen appliance.
I love them. I hope to God they open their hearts to a truly saving relationship with Him. But as of this day, I look at them and I am terrified to grow old. Not so afraid to die…but terrified to grow old.
Terrified to see my body shrivel and brittle. Petrified to see what happens to my peers. Afraid, so afraid, to be alone with just an old TV and sentimental reruns to keep me company.
From my mother’s parents, I learn what it is to age without hope.
I can think of no worse fate.