Don’t Fear the Reaper

*Spoiler Alert*

We’re all going to die.

I confess to an obsession about death. I think it comes from being autistic and needing to understand everything that’s happening or will happen to me. I am going die one day so I need to know what to expect.

You have an obsession with death but you’ve had health anxiety? I’m confused.

I don’t have a problem with death, it’s a natural process, after all. It’s the bit before and more importantly me leaving this planet before my job as a mother is done – that’s what bothers me.

Death is still a taboo subject and it’s confusing because people seemingly can’t get enough of watching death in movies but ask them if they’ve prepared for their own deaths and they hastily change the subject or tell you off for being morbid. Do they honestly think not thinking about it will keep death away?

Speaking of which, I find it helps to visualise death as a being Terry Pratchett’s Death. Or how about death as a handsome young man, like Brad Pitt in Meet Joe Black? We wouldn’t be so worried then, eh? Or what if it’s our deceased loved ones who come to take us home?

My belief that consciousness survives death took away my fear of death at an early age and on that subject there are literally hundreds of books to choose from. And why stop at books? There are movies and TV shows set in hospitals and funeral homes, like Six Feet Under.

For those who don’t know, it’s an American drama about a family of undertakers – Fisher and Son. The show begins with the death of the father, Nathaniel. Every episode begins with somebody’s death and some are peaceful while others have you squirming in your seat. We see how death affects the deceased’s families. We see the response to death. We see what happens to the body once it’s in the undertakers. We understand that death is sometimes traumatic and sometimes beautiful. There is a fantasy/paranormal vibe going on where the corpses stand by their bodies and have conversations with the undertakers. This (I think) is open to interpretation. For people who don’t believe in life after death, it can be the undertaker’s inner monologue. For those who do, it’s the spirit of the deceased. Or a mixture of both. It’s a one of it’s kind show that deals with the subject of death. Oh, and the finale is outstandingly good.

The show helps people to understand what happens to their loved ones once their bodies go to the undertakers. It’s helped me because when my mother died, I went from seeing her lifeless body on the floor to her lying in a coffin in the chapel of Rest – what happened in-between, I had no idea.

I appreciated the work that went into making her look presentable, that said, whoever made my mother up was no ‘Rico’. Rico, by the way, was a gifted restorative artist in Six Feet Under. His corpses often looked better than they did in life. I can’t say the same of my mum. Hers was a sudden but straightforward death, it’s just that they back-combed her hair (she NEVER backcombed her hair) and she was wearing way too much blusher for a corpse!

Looking at my mother, I realised that ‘she’ wasn’t in that coffin. Maybe Mum was standing beside me? If she was, I wasn’t aware of it, but then, as a parent I wouldn’t want to see my children so upset either. Come to think of it, if she had have been standing there she’d have been sorting her hair out for sure..

Spending time in the chapel of rest with a deceased loved one makes you realise how fragile life really is and how death can happen to us at any time so we really should get as much out of life while we can.

When it comes to explaining death to my autistic son, I don’t tell him that I will be here forever because that would be a lie. Autistic people are literal and he needs to know the truth in as gentle a way as I can find for his mind to handle. I tell him that I will be here for as long as I possibly can because that’s all I can realistically do. That, and allow him to reach his own conclusions as to what happens after we die.

In contrast, my first experience of death was the confusion that I couldn’t go to my grandma’s house anymore when I’d only been there the week before. My parents protected from me from her death – a loving act – but all it did was confuse me. I understand that Dad would have been very upset to lose his mother, but she was also my grandmother – a person who was very important to me and suddenly she wasn’t there. I needed to know how she died and why. Was she alone? My autistic mind didn’t cope very well with white lies, however good the intention.

I’m not scared of death and there’s no point in worrying about how I will die either because I have no control over it, but that is easier said than done.

Death can be traumatic, it can seem cruel, especially when lives are cut short but deaths can also be a gentle passing from this world to another, or whatever you believe it to be.

Personally I hope my death is like my older sons great-grandfather, Jack..

Jack’s routine was to get up early and make himself a cup of tea. His deathday was no exception. Having made the tea, he sat down in his favourite armchair and no doubt listened to the birds singing in the back garden as he waited for his daughter and her family to wake up..

Death was waiting..

I imagine Death sitting in the opposite chair allowing this hardworking man one last cup of sweet tea before gently stopping his heart. Or maybe it was his deceased wife who came to take him home?

What we do know is that when his son-in-law found him a few hours later, Jack looked like he was asleep, except that his tea-cup was still in his lap. He’d lived a long and happy life and when Death came he went willingly. There was no struggle, just a peaceful end to a long and happy life.

I hope Death is as kind to me and mine (and to you and yours) when our time comes.

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