Mice scare me. The tinier, the more monsterous. The smallest shadow out of the corner of my eye, whether it be scurrying across my kitchen floor or in an open garden field, will put me in a tailspin. My squeals often rival those of my three-year-old. I run. I seek higher ground. And I wait. I wait for Mr. or Ms. Anyone-Else-But-Me to deliver a pint-sized evacuation notice by whatever means necessary.
My reaction to snakes is a little more nuclear. Thankfully all of these close encounters are rare, but I do know our pest control guy really, really well. His name is Ray. He is a rockstar at my house.
And I really miss my cat.
Yet my fear doesn’t stop with mice. High heights beg my inner butterflies to flutter. I have fearfully splunked eight miles into a Tennessee cave relying upon a plastic helmet, a small headlamp, and the navigation skills of a student half my age to safely lead me out alive. I was even coerced into free-falling backward out of tree stand into a dozen arms firmly planted below, not once, but twice. Great activity for group- building, they said. I said much, much worse.
And recently I survived a very shaky flight to Nashville thanks in part to a good dose of conversation with Sam the Contractor from Swansboro, NC, a Bloody Mary and a very long prayer. As my husband held one hand, I’m sure God was holding the other.
Fear gripped tightest as I was preparing to become a mom for the first time. Was he going to be healthy? Was I going to be able to handle the pain of childbirth? What if I dropped him or held him too tight? Could we afford cars and college? My fear even fed many a sleepless night spent simply watching him sleep. I counted every breath. His, not mine. As it turned out, our first born and his six siblings have all been healthy, held close, but not too tight, and our eldest is enjoying his first year of college. I still love to watch him sleep.
In her book Divergent, Veronica Roth may have said it best. “Fear doesn’t shut you down; it wakes you up.”
The greatest fear that is born in our humanness just may be the fear of death and dying. It’s inevitable no matter how hard we fight it. Sometimes death is unexpected and tragic, and sometimes it is welcomed and celebrated. But when it comes very, very close to us, it simply becomes real.
In the last few years of my father’s life, he started to prepare me. If a toilet was leaking, he would come equipped with his toolbox and talk me through the repair step-by-step. “You know I’m not always going to be around,” he would say. A clogged sink? “Get down here so you will know what to do next time. I may not be able to.” The same was said for weatherizing the tractor, changing a tire, repairing the washing machine, or cooking the perfect egg (scrambled, boiled, or my personal favorite…sunny-side up with a runny yolk.) He wouldn’t begin a project unless I was right alongside watching, listening and learning.
As his weak heart started to weaken his spirit, he would drop by the house to be gently reassured that when his time on this earth ran out, I would be steady and poised to well live a life without him. “Daddy, you have a long time left. I’ll be fine because you’ve taught me well. Just take good care of YOU!” I would reply. I made sure those visits were short on the death and dying talk and long on laughter. Surrounding him with grandkids helped a lot.
Some fear is just too painful to name or even imagine.
And as his weak heart started to weaken his bones, he would patiently wait for me to visit him to gently reassure me that when his time on this earth ran out, he would be steady and poised to well move on to his next journey without me.
On one of those visits, as I lay beside him in the bed sharing his view of the ceiling, he told me he had been visited by those who first loved him…his mama (Aunt Eddy as he affectionately called her), his daddy, his only brother, and his beloved grandpa, Boss Wade. “Maybe I was just dreaming, but I thought Aunt Eddy was right here curled up beside me last night.”
“Maybe she was, Daddy. Maybe she was.” I didn’t need convincing.
Fear doesn’t shut you down; it wakes you up.
As my dad transitioned from home, to the hospital, and finally into his Hospice room in his final days, it was hard not to see my fear scramble across the floor out of the corner of my eyes. Even in the quiet, peaceful sanctuary of that Hospice room, I at times wanted to scream, to run, and to get to higher ground. I waited for someone, anyone to make the fear go away.
In the early evening of my dad’s last wakeful night, my mother ventured home to eat, shower and gather some of her things. While Daddy was restful, I was quite restless. I turned the TV from a cable news channel to The Andy Griffith Show. Andy always reminded me of Daddy with his perfectly coifed hair and uniform. We watched Andy together, my dad and I, well at least what I could see through the tears welling-up in my eyes each time the fear began to scurry. All the while I held his hand. I had promised my mother that I wouldn’t let it go.
In the Mayberry-like quiet of the room, Daddy’s other hand motioned me closer into his view.
“Yes, Daddy?” I asked, nearing so he could see me.
He gently swept my hair across my forehead. I leaned in even closer. With a smile he sweetly whispered, “You are so beautiful.” He stilled me.
Before I could even take my next breath, his quivering finger floated just above my head as his starry eyes stared like a five-year-old seeing carnival lights for the first time. He simply smiled in wonderment.
“What is it Daddy? Do you see angels in my halo?” A question I posed more to laugh than to cry.
“Yes. Yes. Three of them. “
In his eyes, those eyes so similar to my own, I met the fear that I had refused to call by name. And in that angel-filled moment, the fear left me. I was left wide awake.
Those last few days with my dad changed me. This mom of seven recognized in the depths of her fear that birth and death are a lot alike. Both can be quite beautiful if we simply open our eyes and trust in something that we may not see at first, but will eventually enlighten and encourage us.
Yes, I am steady and poised and living well a life without him because he prepared me well.
And I still miss him every single day.