The first time I realized that my mom would die I was in fifth grade.
The details of my dream have blurred, but the feeling of terror it brought hasn’t. I used to share a room with my sister and my parent’s room was across the hall, across the pit of darkness that’s only seen in the middle of the night. I don’t think I’ve ever woken up that quickly. I quite literally bolted upright, feeling the wetness of my eyes and the pounding of my heart with an almost detached confusion.
Turning right, I could just barely see the outline of my sister’s body, sleeping peacefully. I relaxed fractionally, relieved at the fact that my nightmare had been just a figment of my imagination and nothing else. However, my fear hadn’t been for my sister. It had been for my mom.
Reluctantly, I swung my feet of the bed and stood up, senses on high alert for the evils of the dark that every child is afraid of. Inch by inch, I crept across the wide expanse that separated my mom from me, holding my breath and freezing in place every time a floorboard so much as creaked. Finally, I reached her door. I pushed it open and padded forward so I was standing over her head. I have no doubt now that if she had woken up, she would’ve screamed bloody murder, terrifying both of us. As I watched, she took a deep breath and turned over. The pressure in my chest lifted instantly and I mimicked her deep breath.
My mom was alive.
Satisfied, I ventured back to my room and slipped under the covers, a smile on my face.
The next morning, I awoke as usual to the sound of dishes clinking and my mom talking gaily. My throat constricted and I rushed out of my room, tripping over my feet in my haste to get downstairs. Spotting her by the sink, I flung my arms around her waist and refused to let go until she forcibly pried me off. “Well, good morning” she said, eyes crinkled in both amusement and irritation. “What’s gotten into you?”
I took a step back and looked at her solemnly. “I dreamt you’d died.” I said and broke down crying.
Before this point in life, my only interaction with death had been in Harry Potter. Death was something I related to fiction, a thing I’d heard of but could never fathom affecting my own life. After my nightmare I was shocked.
My mom would die someday? I would have to live in a world without her?
We as humans are uncomfortable with the notion of death, the idea that one day we’re here and the next, we might not be. Since we fear death we choose to disconnect from it, seeing it as something that can happen to other people but never to us. Unfortunately, this means that when death does touch us, we’re completely unprepared on how to cope.
We take life for granted, never really appreciating the time we have or the people we share it with.
Sitting upright in bed that night, a cold sweat shivering down my back and tears still falling for a reason I couldn’t remember, I realized death couldn’t be removed from my life. Rather than push it away and refuse to accept its existence, I had to learn how to live with it. So I began to tell my mom I loved her more often, to let my brother pick what we watched on tv, to let my sister have the last cookie.
The thinking behind these actions was simple; who knew how much time any of us had left? Rather than take the people in my life for granted, I started trying to appreciate them, to really feel thankful for them. I told my friends I cared, complemented people in the hallways, and made an effort not to let a quick temper get the best of me.
I’ve tried to carry these efforts out over the years. Every now and then I’ll slack, and then I’ll remember the nightmare. “Mom?” I’ll say. “I love you.” She’ll smile back. “I love you too.” That nightmare hasn’t haunted my dreams since, and I sleep peacefully at night knowing that death is not coming for me.