Night Terror

Just the thought of dying keeps me up at night

The other night, I woke up in a panic. I’d had a terrible nightmare, one that has plagued me — and probably a lot of other people — for almost 40 years. I dreamt that I had ceased to exist, as in — I DIED.

Now I can sometimes ponder death like a semi-rational person, but that sometimes is never four in the morning. They don’t call it the dead of night for nothing, and I just sort of freaked out. When it fully hits me that I will no longer be here and won’t live anymore, I become so terrified that I can hardly breathe.

I was 13 the first time that thought occurred to me. It was at my grandfather’s funeral when I realized that I’d never see him again, that he was gone into nothingness. Because we were raised as atheists, I had no hope of him watching over me from heaven.

And the only reason why I even toyed with the idea of purgatory was because I’d just seen Bruce Jay Friedman’s play, “Steambath,” in which various recently deceased souls (not all whom are fully aware of this fact) are together in said steam bath, continuing to obsess about the same petty concerns that preoccupied them when they were alive. It was comforting to think that Grandpa Lew was still worrying about the dry cleaning store he’d long since abandoned.

Now I know that by not believing in God, I couldn’t lay claim to other religious comforts like the afterlife, and back then, if I couldn’t see it or hold it in my hands, I tended to discount the legitimacy of such beliefs.

Over the years, no one religion has ever captured my fancy. And despite all the books by Deepak Chopra and my many forays into mystic Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism and even neo-paganism, I remained unconvinced, dammit (notice that there was no "god" before the “dammit").

Which isn’t to say that I’d sooooo like to be comforted by the belief that there’s something else out there. The older we get, the less time we have here, and the more there’s a need to hold on to and believe in something. I think that’s why that nightmare chills me to the bone. What’s more terrifying than staring into the abyss?

Sometimes I think reincarnation sounds kind of cool. I mean, what else could bind Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs, Rosicrucians, Theosophists, and Wiccans together? Also, if you believe in reincarnation, you automatically gain an afterlife — and a beforelife. But then I’d have to believe in karma, which I always thought was just a bitch.

But, man oh man, the other night really shook me up. I thought of waking my husband to tell him that we were going to die, and he’d probably go sooner as he ate too much white flour and sweets. But then I thought that he’s pretty much made peace with what happens at the end of life and prefers not to think about it. I envied that.

I tried to play the “la, la, la, I’m not listening” game with myself, but the death thoughts wouldn’t take no for an answer. I know I should also try to make peace with it, gracefully accept it as a part of life and concentrate on living in the moment.

I guess it’s also not too late to find religion. The Bhagavad Gita, an important Hindu scripture, talks extensively about the afterlife. In fact, the lord Krishna says that just as a man discards his old clothes for new ones, the soul can pretty much find a new home to call its own. In that case, I’d like to put my order in now for Audrey Hepburn’s body.

Tags: aging

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