I died many times as a child. It was my goal to learn to let go gracefully. I wished I could avoid the last minutes of panic and flailing, but I never got there.
How did I die? Mostly bathtub drowning, once a beating that went too far and a parent that called Emergency too soon. I left a dead 5 year old alone in an ambulance. By the time I got to the hospital I had gone through my ragged first breath again, surrounded by strangers.*
I died once as an adult. Although I have traveled purposely down that road, I crossed over the bright line between life and death only against my will.
I was very ill, alone in the house with a toddler and in mortal pain.
Kaiser asks you about your pain on a 10 scale.
On my personal 10 scale:
7 = A freshly broken bone.
8 = Blind with pain, can't stop screaming, but no sound comes out.
9 = If the pain were in your hand you would without hesitation chew off your own arm to get away from it.
10 = You are dying and relieved.
I was in the midst of 9 and heading for 10.
I had torn off my clothes and thrown myself onto the floor growling and writhing against the unrelenting pain. I knew from experience that the pain would continue to escalate, perhaps for days.
I struggled weakly, helplessly swept away by a riptide of pain dragging me under and away from everything I had ever known and loved.
During a moment of lucidity I realized that my breathing had slowed to only occasional shallow breaths and that the urge to breathe was a memory. I tried to pull in a deeper breath but the notion was ignored by my failing body. I realized that my systems were shutting down and I was in fact dying, alone on my living room floor with my daughter asleep in her room.
I struggled mightily against the weight of my fate, flailing fearfully and impotently.
Then I noticed... The pain, although it was still present and the strongest thing in the room, was one step removed.
This thought was a wavering glimmer of light constructed of memory and wishful thinking envisioned from the bottom of a dark ocean of pain.
I finally, gracefully, unclenched my hold on this body and slowly, gratefully let go.
There are no words to adequately describe what lies across that line. It was like coming home for the first time. It was the heart squeezing feeling you get when you look into your dogs eyes and know just for a second that you are the wonderful person she thinks you are... only never-ending and times a billion. Happiness lights up the sky and your sense of belonging and joy are beyond imagining.
My husband came home at that split second and with an internal sigh I sank back into the unwelcoming arms of pain.
Even the love I have for my daughter could not inject regret into that journey. It took me a long time to stop craving a return to that nameless place ,and it is still my comfort.
I have been thinking about 'touching the face of god', and in my Recovering Catholic, Buddhist, possibly Atheist way... this is as close as I have come... so far.
*When I see bumper stickers on cars that say" Abortion is the ultimate child abuse" I am infuriated and have a strong desire to have an earnest conversation with the owners. I wish I could explain to them that with abortion you only have to die once. I wish I could tell them how many years I spent as a child wishing I had been aborted. I know that it is an indication that they have no experience of real child abuse. But it slays me that they would so condemn an unwanted child.