A Child’s Fear of Death and Dying and the Confusion of Reality

I’ve always had a difficult time with my spiritual life.
As a young girl, my parents taught me that God was watching over me and that I should say my prayers to Him each night.  It wasn’t an overly suggested notion, just something my parents nonchalantly told me- I’m sure they wanted me to believe in God but, because I was a toddler, they didn’t think pushing it would be a good idea or the least bit productive.
When I got a bit older I started asking the typical questions- Why? Who? How?  I don’t remember asking my father many of these, or my mother, for that matter, but I’m sure they answered a few.  I do remember asking my grandfather, whom was a devout Catholic, about death and dying.  Naturally, I didn’t care for the idea. (Who does?)  I asked him what happens when we die and he said “We wake in Heaven.”
I immediately perked up at this idea.  Oh, we die, but we get to wake up again? I implored further and he told me “We wake up with God in Heaven and our family will be there.”
I remember being confused at this, but liked the idea.  So I clung to it, if not briefly.  (Judging by memory, I think I must have been between 5 and 7.)  Then just the slightest doubt entered my mind, which scared me.  It scared me to think of death and dying, what death meant, and to think about death as something undesirable.  Remember the Catholic roots thing? I was terrified I’d burn in hell.  When I wasn’t terrified about burning in hell with all the brimstone and sulfur and whatnot, I was terrified Heaven wouldn’t be what I’d like it to be.  I took the pictures of what people described Heaven as: puffy white clouds, sun glories- and I thought “…OK…”

Google “heaven” and most images look like:

Listen for the chorus singing "Ahhhhh!"

Now, keep in mind I wasn’t really buying into all of this.  Even at 5 I was a skeptical little kid.
Now- remember all those kids stories that start with the Mommy or Daddy reading aloud a book to the kid? Any will do.  Quite a few of them ended with the Mommy and Daddy saying “The End” and then talking to their kid about the story, right?

That’s what I thought what was going on for the longest time.  I wondered if my life was just some story that some adult figure was reading to another person.  I wondered what they thought about me, and I had a very specific image in my head- above me (literally), beyond the sky, there would be a child, leaning on his/her elbows, peering over the big book that his/her Mom was reading to him/her.  I’m dying to know what Freud would have thought of this…

It’s a weird kind of dissociation, I suppose, especially when you consider that this is what a child was thinking reality was- that reality wasn’t really real- and I suppose it gets weirder when you consider that I didn’t much appreciate these fuckers peering in on me. Like, mind your own business!

This got worse years on.  I remember rushing outside, often, usually after a really good, in-depth daydream, and staring at the sky.  I felt suffocated by all the open space.  This is real, this is really happening. I am here, right now. I still get that unsettling feeling sometimes, but it’s not as acute.  You know that feeling you get when you’re really focused on a movie and you forget you’re watching one? Then those few moments of “oh yeah, I’m watching a movie, I’m sitting here, in a chair?”
I did- and still do- get that sensation when something I’ve been anticipating happens.  When I lost my first tooth, I was so excited.  I couldn’t believe it had actually happened.  I ran to the back of the house where my sister was watching TV and told her “Lorraine! I lost my tooth! I can’t believe it! At first I didn’t believe I was real but I lost a tooth!”

I didn’t believe I was real.

Hmmm… I remember that for a lot of reasons.  I remember that because it was when I lost my first tooth.  I also remember it because it was the first time I had truly articulated how I felt about what I thought about reality.  Mostly, though, I remember it because of the look my sister gave me.  She looked at me as if I’d lost all of my teeth, not just one- a shocked, dubious “my little sister is crazy” look.

I don’t blame my sister, but I think that moment was when I realized that I didn’t like telling people my ideas about…that.  All of a sudden I felt very alone, desperately, despairingly alone.

What started out as those strange, disoriented moments just after a daydream evolved into something worse.  My anxiety over what everything was and would become morphed into a paralyzing fear of death.
I remember the first night I became truly terrified, horrified- inconsolably paralyzed with the fear of what death would be.  I was a little older- I think 8 or 9, it was third grade- and I was laying in bed.  Mom always kissed me goodnight after tucking me in and would leave my room after telling me “Say your prayers.”  At that point I understood that it was bad to not believe in God.  That people who don’t go to hell.  I remember wishing I hadn’t thought this thought- I wished, immediately upon thinking about it, saying it to myself, even if only in my mind, that I wanted to take it back- but I let it slip: What if there isn’t a God?

Regardless that I was only a kid, at that moment I was convinced that, if there were a God, I was going to hell for sure- the very audacity I had to question His existence!
But then I pondered on the actual idea.  If there isn’t a God, what is there?  If there isn’t a God, there wasn’t a heaven, maybe not even a hell- but- what happens when we die?  I recoiled at the image of nothingness, of void space, my consciousness floating through it, without a body or physical existence, continuing to exist in a perpetual nothingness.  Like a coma patient or a victim of Locked-In syndrome, would I just be?

That, I understood, would be incredibly lonely. And so I was lonely.

So- through the years I have learned to cope with this issue.  Those paralyzing fears I endured with terror, drowning in them? Around 5th grade I went a few months without them- ironically, it was after the death of my grandmother.  After she passed I realized, quite happily, that I hadn’t had an episode in awhile.  I then considered them as something that I couldn’t necessarily control but with a lot of distraction, I might keep at bay.

I still suffer these at times.  Stress sometimes keeps them at bay but other times it brings them out, unexpectedly.  It’s a strange phenomenon, actually.  I got really good at seeing them coming, kind of like a diabetic can feel their blood sugar begin to drop, I began to head them off.  Every now and then, though, I’m powerless to stop them.  Usually on nights when I cannot sleep, they hit me in the stomach, and the repercussions of the impact spike up through my check and down to my legs, locking me in place.

I’m much more optimistic now, though, even if I’m not sure why that is exactly.   A fellow WordPress.com blogger, Kensho, posted an article called “The Death Delusion,” which offers a very interesting, albeit off-the-wall, point of view about what death is.  I’m not saying I believe every bit of it, but I do know that reading it comforts me in a way I haven’t been able to be comforted in quite some time.
Writer Neale Donal Walsch wrote a series of books “Conversations with God,” that, at the very least, received great scrutiny from the Christian community.  He wrote “Conversations with God for Teens” that I greatly enjoyed as a 16-year-old.  My mother gave it to me, I think in the hopes for me to become a Christian, without the knowledge that the books promote the idea that God doesn’t really care about religion but loves every one equally, despite who we are or what we do.

That I can believe.  I don’t think our lives now really have much say in any lives we may experience, as I believe something Walsch wrote about how our views of justice are really only relevant to us in the here and now, not exactly in the infinite of the universe.  Makes sense to me.  Are our values not ever transforming?  Do you feel the same way about one issue as you did ten years ago? You may, but chances are you don’t, at least, not for every topic?

I’m signing off. More later, I’m sure.


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About jsides2

I'm a beginner blogger. I love writing and hope to be involved in the writing industry professionally. View all posts by jsides2

2 responses to “A Child’s Fear of Death and Dying and the Confusion of Reality

  • Taylor Smith

    I think it’s interesting you thought you weren’t real. I had the complete opposite idea as a kid. The idea would always creep up that no one else was real but me. I could only hear my thoughts. I can’t see these people when they go somewhere far away. I could be imagining everyone right now. Or they’re all watching me and acting into my life much like “The Truman Show”.

    That idea started fading quickly – thankfully! – due to technology. My family quickly jumped on the personal computer/wave of the future/dial-up connection that introduced me to the internet and the gazzillion people that *did* exist when I couldn’t see them. (Wow!)

    I think I may have questioned others’ existence as a defense mechanism. I’m a very emotionally in-tune, empathetic person – even as a young child. So if no one else is real that means if bad things happen to them they will really be okay. Like in movies. I could cope better with that.

    Kid Jessica isn’t crazy. She’s just figuring it all out. Keep asking questions! I’m sure God appreciates it when people exercise their intellect and free will even when it comes to His existence and religion in general. 🙂

  • jsides2

    It’s funny you mention The Truman show. I watched it as well and then I was very paranoid about being watched and that everyone was in on the joke and I wasn’t. I was terrified that maybe everyone knew I had wondered what “real” was, thought me egotistical, and were judging me.
    Then again, I think everyone who has seen that movie has encountered similar experiences. Meheh.

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