Had an intense conversation with a child specialist at the hospital grieving her friend, a nurse on the floor who died that morning. Cancer. She was reeling from her friend’s death, and we talked through her feelings and regrets—the sadness, numbness, disbelief, inability to imagine that she’d never see her again. The regret that she didn’t reach out more, even though she knew the nurse would only minimize everything, refuse any help. Caught between should-haves and respecting an intense need for privacy in her friend.
Then almost incidentally, she said losing her friend had intensified her fear of death. That she’s always been afraid of death, but today was off the charts. She said it almost casually, the way we’d say we don’t like broccoli or baseball. A simple, known fact of her life that she’d come to accept. My ears went into overdrive. I asked why she feared death so intensely, but she couldn’t tell me, just has as long as she could remember. Was it a fear of hell or judgment in a religious sense? No, more just the thought of not being here anymore. Being anywhere. She was vaguely Christian, believed in God, but was no longer sure there was anything after this. Not being. With her family, here, in life.
She hadn’t heard of contemplative prayer. I told her it was a stepping away from all thoughts, words, feelings, everything you imagine you are, to experience a deeper self that still remains. At peak moments in her life—the birth of her sons, a first kiss, a sunset—she had experienced moments so intense they blew out her thoughts like a candle. We never feel more alive than at such moments, more fulfilled, connected, loved.
To step out of our minds is to step into the reality of love.
Why do we assume death is any different? Irony is, we live for the moments we step out of our minds, yet fear the moment we step completely out of ourselves. But if we’re present enough, life and prayer can teach us there is connection that can’t be contained in our minds, but is always waiting for the moment we step out of ourselves. Our minds can’t know what that will be like. Our deepest selves know already.