Monday, July 14, 2014

fear

Last year, several weeks after my husband died, I had dinner with an old friend whose summer travels brought him past Rambling Farmhouse. At the end of the evening, as we made our farewells with a hug, I suddenly felt safe, and it was such a relief. Until that moment, I had not realized what a frightening place my world had become or the degree to which  fear was informing my decisions. Though the world was no less frightening when the hug was over, that brief solace made it possible for me to see, and seeing is the first step toward coping.

I used to say that I had lost my invincibility when I became a mother. In the moment that I realized another being depended on me for sustenance and protection, I suddenly became aware of how vulnerable human beings are, how we take risks as we live our daily lives. It was frightening at first, but life is worth the risks, and I learned to live with this new awareness.

I thought that motherhood had allowed me to see through the illusion of my own invincibility, but widowhood showed me that the illusion of invincibility, albeit in fainter form, was still with me. Part of the tenacity of the illusion comes from the way we talk about risk, I think. When we hear statistics like the risk of death in a car accident is 1 in 6,700, it's easy to disregard the one. That one will be someone else, someone distant, someone unconnected to us. But someone has to be the one.

It has been harder to learn to live with the new awareness of vulnerability this time, in large part because I don't have a partner to lean on.

Though I recognize that fear is a normal part of grief, I find that it manifests itself in unexpected ways:

Like the way my mind gets caught in a hamster wheel of worry and doubt over things that shouldn't be worry worthy.

Like the way I avoid making estate-related phone calls because I imagine they will be awful, even though they are almost always less bad than I build them up to be.

Like the way I don't send pages to my dissertation committee because I worry they will say my work is awful.

Like the way I make poor choices about how to spend my work time because finishing my degree is frightening, even though I simultaneously really want to be done.

Everything is harder when lived through the lens of fear.

I sometimes wonder if we need the illusion of invincibility, if it is that illusion that allows us to rationalize the risks that we take every day. I'm not sure, though. Perhaps it's not an illusion of invincibility that we need, but confidence in our resilience.

2 comments:

  1. I wonder if this sense of fear is (or at least can be) part of what helps us recognize the things in life that make it worth living and make those risks worth taking (and maybe the decision to take the risk more meaningful?)? Just pondering something I've been observing about myself--I remember sitting up in bed in the middle of the night with Blaise at 5 days old (because Nursing. All. Night.) looking at my entire family in my bed (because Margaret, of course, wouldn't sleep in hers) and suddenly seeing how incredibly fragile this unit was. But the recognition of that fragility made it also immeasurably more precious to me. I've tried to hang on to that awareness, but without letting the fear that my little soap-bubble-family will pop paralyze me. Which is a hard balance to achieve.

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    1. I absolutely agree that the awareness of vulnerability also brings an awareness of value and willingness to take risks. The balance between appreciative awareness and paralysis is difficult to strike, especially in this hyper-safety-conscious culture that we live in.

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