Redefining the Dictionary

The last several days have been hard, harder than the months before.  I don’t know why.  I just know that my mind is racing constantly with what should be, what I want to be, and with overwhelming pain.   When I realized that in a couple of months it will be 2 years since Melinda’s death, I nearly lost my mind.   How is that fucking possible??!!!!   How can my child be dead for almost 2 years and the world keep turning?

For nearly 2 years I have been trying to redefine myself and my life with little success.  Last week I realized I have to redefine so much more.   All our lives are categorized into “before” and “after.”  This categorization helps us sort out the chronology of life.  It helps us plan for a future, and it helps us define ourselves.  We all have many “before and after” scenarios.  After we finish school/university there is the hope of a fulfilling career, money earned, and accomplishments achieved.  Before we get married, we learn to explore our potential and define ourselves.  After we get married holds the promise of happily ever after, of companionship, of love.   After we have children holds a future filled with family trips, memories, and celebrations.   After the kids move out brings with it the opportunity to rediscover our partners and ourselves in a new and exciting way.  The many “afters” in life come with hope, come with promise, come with something better on the horizon.  This is NOT the case after the loss of a loved one who was so deeply embedded in our hearts and in daily life.

This deep of a loss requires redefining myself, my life, my hopes, my future, my relationships, and every fucking word in the English dictionary.  And this is the reason that grief can not be timed or rushed.  I literally have to redefine practically every word in the dictionary.  A chair is no longer a piece of furniture.  After loss it’s a tangible picture of  the empty space at the kitchen table.   A coat isn’t just an article of clothing;  it is something Melinda loved, bought, and still lingers in the house but no one wears.  Every food is linked to Melinda because she loved it, or didn’t, because she created treats with it, because I took extra care in preparing it, because it’s a memory of family celebrations that no longer happen.    A flower isn’t something I eagerly await in spring.  It’s what I leave a grave; it’s what I spent hours making with Melinda.  A cup doesn’t just hold my tea;  it’s the thing Melinda’s hands touched when she painted it in a ceramics shop.   After means I have to redefine everything I see, smell, touch, taste, and hear every single day for the rest of my life.   The truly difficult part is that these “after” definitions can change daily depending on how low I am at the time.

All of the “before and after” scenarios have lost their meaning.  My chronology has shifted to one single event in my life – the day my daughter died.   My life is now divided into 2 segments.  There was a time when there was hope and joy.  Now there is pain and sorrow.  Before and after.

I feel like the next couple of months are only going to get worse.  We have to face another May, more defining of “after,” more change.  I still have no idea how I do this.  Nothing is clearer or easier.  Anyone who thinks that I should be “moving on” by now, should be “doing better” by now, or should be feeling the pain “ease” should try standing in front of a mirror and saying their child’s name followed by the words “is dead.”  Say it aloud.   Even though you know it’s not true, it’s a horrible statement to make.   Now imagine standing in front of that mirror, saying the same thing and knowing that it is your life.   This after is different.

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And The Roller Coaster Dips…

For about 19 months, I have sat in a large orange chair across from a psychologist specializing in PTSD and trauma. Through the use of various therapeutic “techniques” including EMDR, she has walked along beside me on this journey.   I have had the opportunity to cry, vent, rage, and express feelings too frightening to share with others.  But even with all her experience, all her compassion, all her effort, I have not “moved on,” “gotten better,” or “learned to accept.”  Instead, after nearly 19 months, I’ve learned to go through the motions; I’ve learned to fake life more skillfully.

Since Christmas, I have been unable to fully pull myself out of a dark haze that has descended on me.   I had thought that as the days got longer, brighter, I would be able to shake at least some of the depression that has set in.   Like with everything else, there was no predicting one day to the next.  The last few days have been worse.

Although not as frequent, the depth of the grief waves that have been coming is growing.  Those feelings of losing my mind and my head feeling like it’s about to explode have intensified again.   I’m used to the bodily sensations that overcome: the shaking, the nausea, the inability to breathe.   These are all a part of daily life.  I’m used to feeling exhausted all the time, ALL THE TIME.  I’m used to aches in my neck, shoulders, and back as my muscles tighten with stress.  My bodily ailments are only noticeable now on the rare days they don’t appear.   Feeling “ok” is not the normal but rather the unique.   What I’m not used to is the emotional wave that overtakes takes me and forces me to gasp for breath.   The moments that become triggers when only days ago they went unnoticed are the moments I can’t get used to.   They not only stop me in the middle of whatever I’m doing, they induce a panic attack, and worst of all, they make me realize that every second, every inch of my life has changed and that I’m incapable of performing the most simple of tasks on most days.  From the outside looking in, I seem to be “better,” and I am able to do more than I was a year ago.  What hasn’t changed is what goes on inside me.  I may look as though I’m moving along this journey; it may look like I’m participating in parts of life again, but in reality, that’s a pretend.   I’m going through the motions because I have no other choice.  We have to eat; we need clean clothes; we have bills to pay, but all of those are mere motions, actions I preform.

Last week I met with a new therapist.  I will be seeing her weekly for a scheduled session of 12 weeks which will be a more structured approach to making me give a shit about life again.   I hold out no hope, have no expectations, but I will go through the motions, attend each session.   I can’t and don’t believe my life will be any different than it is now other than I will learn to fake going through more motions the outside world expects of me.

When I met last with my regular therapist, she asked me if I ever just let loose what was inside me when the feelings arose.  No.  I told her that wasn’t possible.  I couldn’t fall to the true depths of my misery and pain in front of others because I don’t want to hurt or scare them.   I can’t do that to those who have stood by me and who also already hurt so much.   When she asked why I didn’t “let loose” when I’m alone, I was hesitant to answer.   I knew the reason immediately, but putting it into words and making it more tangible is a whole other thing.  I was finally able to tell her that succumbing to the despair alone wasn’t possible because I can’t be sure where it would end.  It is still my preference to NOT be here, and I fear letting myself fully feel the grief that swirls around me.   Now I can pull myself out of the waves with a great deal of work and focus, but to simply let it envelope me is frightening.

In what are now my normal days, I can stave off acting on the most horrible of thoughts, but I have now assurance in myself that I can make that same choice when I am fully submerged in pain.  And that is the purpose of the new therapy treatment.  It is designed to help me “realign” my thoughts.  It’s a therapy that is supposed to help me reassess my beliefs and values and adjust my thinking accordingly.  Like I said, I have no expectations because one belief I am certain of is that my depth of grief and pain is directly in correlation with the depth of my love for Melinda.   I don’t want that to change.  I hurt this much because I love this much, and that I won’t let go of, move forward from, reassess, or get over.

I suppose we all wonder if and when things might change for us.   I’ve been told I just need time.  The trick of course is to be able to endure the time until then.

I love you Melinda, and the hole in my heart remains.

Life’s Riddle

I’ve never been much for logic riddles, but I heard one yesterday courtesy of another episode of Joan of Arcadia, that frustrated me.  The riddle poses:  If a man weighing 190 pounds and carrying 3 boxes each weighing 5 pounds must cross a bridge which can sustain only 200 pounds, how does he do it?  With his own weight and that of the boxes totaling 205 pounds, more than the bridge’s limit, he must be clever and diligent in his solution.

The answer:  He juggles the boxes so that he never holds more than 2 at a time and therefore never carries more than the bridge can hold resulting in his safe arrival at the other end.

The metaphor:  The bridge represents the life we travel and the boxes are our emotions, stresses, joys, problems, and so on.  The idea is that we just need to keep juggling while we travel the bridge of life to reach the other side.   It’s a good riddle and maybe even a decent metaphor until another box is thrown in: grief.

Some will say that grief is a part of that journey over the bridge, part of life, and normally I would agree.   But I’ve spoken with far too many people who’ve lost children and siblings to say that this type of loss is a “normal” part of life.   We expect loss of loved ones who are old; we know it’s coming.  We may even expect loss of younger souls because of prolonged illness, but when someone dies “out of turn” with what’s expected, there’s a fourth box added to the juggling and because of it, the bridge changes substantially.

This new box isn’t another 5 pounds; it’s another 10 because it easily outweighs any other pain, stress, problem that’s contained in the first 3 boxes.  All of a sudden you are still forced to cross a bridge that sustains 200 pounds, but now you have to juggle 4 boxes weighing more than you ever imagined possible.

The result:   It’s almost impossible to keep 2 boxes in the air while you hold 2 during your juggling.   And even if you can sustain the motion, inevitably you will end up holding the 10 pound box and a 5 pound box simultaneously which is more than the bridge can hold.  With each step a piece of that bridge crumbles, a piece of life’s journey crumbles away at your feet.  But you can’t stop it because you are desperately juggling and all your energy is needed for that.   Instead, you watch bits of your life, your relationships, your self worth, your judgement, your existence fall off the bridge in chunks, and you wonder if any of it can be rebuilt now that it’s fallen away.  As the days pass, a bit more erodes from the bridge.

No days are actually good.  How can any day be deemed as good when a portion of it is always spent crying, hurting, and longing?  But some days are better than others, like the days when you’re able to juggle faster than you thought. But even with those “better” days there is always the knowledge that the grief box is only hovering above your head for seconds before it crashes into your hand and the bridge under you crumbles a little bit more from the weight.

I have no idea how long my bridge is, no idea how long it will take me to get to the other side, but I do know that I doubt on many days that I will be able to reach it before the bridge completely collapses beneath my feet.  As time passes since Melinda’s death, the faster I seem to have to juggle.  I’m tired of juggling; I’m tired of being off balance each time the weight of that grief box lands, and I’m tired of trying to figure out what each day and each tomorrow should look like.  In over 20 months, I haven’t felt the pain soften.  I haven’t stopped asking why.  I haven’t stopped screaming out Melinda’s name trying to call her back to me, and I haven’t figured out what I’m supposed to do now, but I keep juggling.

When I think about how much I hurt and multiply it by just the number of people I’ve met with the same pain, I don’t know how the world doesn’t simply collapse on itself.  When I think about the many others whom I’ll never meet who suffer as I do, I don’t understand how the world even revolves from the weight of the grief.

The riddle frustrated me because it was just too simple of an answer.  Just juggle.

The Most Painful State of Being…..

One of the most difficult aspects of grieving the loss of a child is facing the loss of what would have, should have, been.  As we move along this path, the pain becomes less raw because we’ve learned to absorb it into our selves and have it be part of who we are.   There is really no choice in this.  The depth of our pain is a direct correlation to the depth of our love. We can’t change what happened so we get up each day; we get dressed; we breathe; we do what everyone else does…because we have to.   But in all of this “normal” of daily life, the knowledge that our futures have been lost is ever present.

Like others, I had visions of what my life would look like as it went along.  I’d achieved much of what I’d wanted in my life, and I was looking forward to watching it all unfold.  We worked hard to “do the right things” and to prepare a good life for us and our children.   I wasn’t expecting a “reward” for being a good parent or wife or person.  I was expecting to live my life intact and with gratitude as I’d done for much of it already….before Melinda’s accident.  On May 18, 2013 I lost my daughter and a huge part of the future I had envisioned.  No matter how I learn to “absorb” the pain and make it part of my daily life, I will never understand how to redefine a future I’d planned for decades and now can’t have.

Philosopher and theologian Soren Kierkegaard said, “the most painful state of being is remembering a future, particularly the one you’ll never have.” He was right!   I miss Melinda with every breath of every day, but I also miss the possibility of holding her children, of sharing in her achievements, of shared laughs and secrets, of so many many things.  No matter how far along this path I journey, no matter how well I learn to absorb the pain, no matter how “healed” I manage to become, I’ll never forget and never stop suffering the loss of a future I can’t have.  I’ve searched for answers, just like every other grieving parent or sibling I’ve met, but none have presented themselves as of yet.  I still want to know why!   I still want to know if I’m being punished!  I still want to know the many “what if” parts that are unanswerable.  I guess I still haven’t reached the Acceptance step, and I doubt I ever will, mostly because I have no idea what that even means.

About a week ago, my oldest daughter brought home the DVD set for the show Joan of Arcadia.   We used to watch it as a family long ago…before.   We enjoyed it as a family too.  For those of you who don’t know it, consider this a spoiler alert.

The show is about 16 year old Joan Girardi who has recently moved to Arcadia with her family after her oldest brother’s accident.  The family deals with typical stresses and then some.  Joan and her two brothers must adjust to a new school, find new friends, and generally learn to fit in while their father tries to clean up a corrupt police department as the new chief of police.  In the middle of all of this is grief.  The oldest son’s accident has left him unable to use his legs and bound to a wheelchair.  They all grieve the young man who once was, and the family they once were.  To make things even more interesting, Joan is visited regularly by God who presents himself in various characters she encounters through the day.  He’s there to give Joan “missions” in the hope that God’s work will be done.

As in real life, there are no clear answers in the show.  God does not provide explanations and reasons.  We watched the show when the girls were younger because it was well done, “taught” good values without being patronizing, and was both entertaining and thought provoking.  It holds an entirely new meaning now.  I’ve seen the episodes before, but this time they hold deeper meanings.  Now, when Joan’s father does all the “right” things to clean up the department and still ends up losing his job, it rings loudly that being “good” guarantees nothing.  Now, when Joan’s mother confronts a priest in the parking lot about “why” her son and he responds with Kierkegaard’s quotation, the confusion resonates much closer to home.

Watching the series is difficult because it is so close to home.  It’s difficult as each episode’s subject matter is painful because it addresses suicide, loss, death, and more. I don’t know why, but watching the show now has brought moments of comfort.  Maybe it comes from knowing that even the most skilled creators of fictional life can’t provide the answers I desperately seek.   There are no easy solutions.  Even a God who’s created by man can’t explain, can’t justify, can’t just make it easy.  I don’t have the answer, but I do know that there is something in each episode that touches me, like Kierkegaard’s quotation, and I’ll take it because so very little touches me anymore.   I’m still too numb.

I breathe because I believe Melinda was spared a hellish life on earth, but that is still not enough.  I wake each morning and talk to her, and she is the last person I converse with every night.  In between I look for answers and whatever little peace I can find.  Joan of Arcadia offers moments of that…for now.

Wishing you all peace and grace whenever possible.

A Bit Closer or Farther Away?

It’s New Year’s Eve; the start of another year without Melinda.   I’d like to say this one will be easier than last year, but I know that’s not true.  If anything, it will be more difficult, just like our second Christmas without her was.

The loneliness and emptiness have fully set in now. We are more acutely aware that our lives are forever different.  It’s palpable on our tongues as we speak because words hold different meanings now.  Our body aches have become “normal” to us, and we’re unable to fight off the cloud that hovers over even the happiest of moments now.  Those moments are changed by grief, tainted with pain, and diminished by an inability to just purely enjoy.

I have mixed feelings about the coming year.   On the one hand, I don’t look forward to it because I can’t imagine another year without Melinda’s smile, her voice, her hugs, or her joy.   I anticipate that waves of grief will continue as always.  Some days they will be knee deep and I will feel stuck, and other days they will loom over my head and come crashing down on me, and I will feel I’m drowning….again.  On the other hand, one more year passing means I’m one more year closer to Melinda, to the other side, to being done with this pain.   Those thoughts about being with Melinda never subside, and I can’t imagine they ever will.

I’ve heard people say they look in the mirror after losing a child and don’t recognize the person before them.  They see a shell of a person, a different person, an aged person.  I haven’t had that experience.  I stand before a mirror and I see the same physical person I always was but without the light in her eyes or the smile on her face.   I don’t think I look any more worn or tired than I did before.   I don’t think I look different, but I know I feel different, and that’s far worse.  My doctor has given a clean bill of health, telling me I’m actually (on paper) healthier than I’ve ever been.   I’ve even had my psoriasis disappear, completely, about a month after Melinda’s accident.  No more creams, no more pills, and no more struggles with covering up.  I look the same, I think, but nothing about what’s inside me is the same, and that’s the hard part.

The person I was is muted now.  The open joy that surrounded me is stilled and hard to find.   The smile that beamed is merely a grin now.   The creativity that allowed me my passion is now a distraction, something to do so that I’m not spiraling into despair.   The small pleasures of life – a shared home cooked meal, a clean house, a bit of dessert, a beautiful piece of art, a good joke, and so much more – are now chores, too much work not worth the effort, or outright pointless.    The parts of me I had once refused to allow surface in me are now there regularly.  I’m angry, impatient, and intolerant of what used to be insignificant.   I’ve learned to rage, to hate, to wish horrible things on others.  I’ve learned to close myself off for fear of being hurt.  I’ve learned to see the ugly that is around me.

I’ve tried desperately to find a “lesson” in all of this.  What am I supposed to learn from all of this?  But no answers are coming.   My oldest daughter believes that maybe I’m supposed to learn to overcome all those things that have now surfaced in me, but if that’s the case, then I’m failing miserably.

I don’t know if I’m closer to anything or farther from it.  I’m unable to imagine a time that I will ever again feel so happy that I will be brought to tears of joy, not in this lifetime.  I know I feel farther away from Melinda because of time, yet I feel closer to her because she is constantly on my mind.   I know that I feel farther away from her because I can’t hold her or hear her voice, but I know I feel closer to her because I’m certain, without question that she was spared a hurtful life.   We have learned, beyond a doubt, that the life she wanted, had planned for herself, could never have happened because who she was planning it with, is not the person she thought he was.   Knowing this has given me the strength to suffer agony so that she doesn’t have to.

I know in my heart there is no “end” to this grief and this pain, so I know I’m no closer to that.  I know those waves of grief that we all wish would come with instructions are closer than even I realize and that the farther I move along this path, the more inconsistent they are likely to become, making them even more dangerous as time goes on.  I used to be able to predict what would likely trigger a meltdown because everything was a trigger.  Now I’ve absorbed those things and made them part of my life, but I still have no control over when a meltdown is about to erupt, and that makes them harder to ride through, for me and those around me.   I still cry every day, at least once, usually more often.   Sometimes the tears are because I miss Melinda; other times they come because of everything else we’ve also lost, and we’ve lost so much.

I hold on to whatever I can to help me get up in the morning, function during the day, and then fall asleep in the dark.   I act the way I have to act in order to get through the day and function in life, but that does not mean I’m any closer to being over my grief or that I’m getting any better at dealing with it.

I had coffee with my daughter’s boyfriend’s mother a couple of weeks ago and she said something that has stuck with me.   As we visited, which we hadn’t done in almost a year, she asked how the young man Melinda was engaged to was doing.  She hadn’t heard.  I told her he was married now and about all the hurt he’d intentionally caused us in the months after Melinda’s accident.  I told her he had criminal charges hanging over him now.  I told her about the many, many lies he told us and he continues to tell, and I told her he was never the person we thought he was.   In her shock, her eyes teared up and her next words to me rang out like a bell, sharp and clear.  She said,  “Oh Mira, how God must have loved her so much to have caused you this pain in order to save her from that.”   That is what I hold on to.  That is what brings me closer to Melinda.  That is what helps me endure this pain.

I’m not looking forward to 2015, but I’m also not fighting it.   My Melinda, my giving, beautiful girl is always with me in my heart and my memories.

Wishing you all peaceful days.

Good from Grief

Tomorrow marks 19 months since Melinda’s accident.  It is 19 months of hell, agony, anger, confusion, fear, and pain.  It is 19 months of a huge emptiness, of depression, of turmoil and guilt, of unanswered questions, of strained and destroyed relationships, and of physical and emotional pains like I could never have imagined.   It has been and continues to be a daily struggle to find a way to breathe, to function, to want to live, and some days it’s seemed impossible to move at all or feel anything.  The numbness is constant and, I suppose, still necessary to shield me from the depth of pain that is my life.

In all of this we have done our best to honour Melinda and to share her beautiful spirit with others.  She was not perfect, but she was wonderful, joyous, forgiving, and loving, and that is how she is remembered.  In her name, we have reached out to help others less fortunate because that is what she did.   She made people smile; she helped when she could, and she never hesitated to share herself and her joy with others.  The foundation we started in her memory has been busy since its incorporation several months ago, and now that we are a fully registered Canadian charity, we hope to accomplish so much more.  People have told me I have been an inspiration to them.  It’s difficult to believe when I think of all the meltdowns, bursts of rage, and tears.  They don’t seem at all inspirational, but if I have helped even one person, then I will take some comfort in knowing that I have not been so consumed by grief that I have lost my humanity because that would be easy to do.

We have been fortunate to have had media interest in our work.  Two weeks ago I did an interview with the main newspaper in our city.  The reporter was working on a piece about families who suffer loss and turn it into a vehicle to help others.   The article appeared in the paper and online last Saturday.  Please take a few minutes to read the article and view the video.

http://www.edmontonjournal.com/news/insight/index.html

 

Time on My Mind

Today marks 18 months without Melinda at my side.  It marks 18 months of anguish, frustration, mistrust, confusion, anger, and so much more.  Although I’ve stopped counting the days, weeks, months aloud, I have a subconscious internal clock that sets an alarm for the 18th of every month.  Today that alarm was deafening when I awoke this morning.  The days leading up to today have been difficult and full of sadness.  This has only added weight to the grief that already comes each month on the 18th day.

On Friday afternoon we received a call telling us that our friend and neighbour of over 20 years had passed away earlier in the day.  She had struggled against cancer for years, but her body just couldn’t keep up anymore.   She was only 59 years old…a mere 59 years which should have been filled with holding her only grandchild who was born 4 months ago, a month premature.   It was as if he knew, or someone did.  The news was not unexpected, but that made it no easier to hear.   I had visited with her about 3 weeks earlier when we shared an Ice Cap and talked for hours.  She was depressed and doing her best to prepare for the inevitable.  As we talked, she repeated the phrase “but you know what I mean” as she referred to the sorrow that comes with loss.  I did know.  I understood that what she wanted was the same thing I wanted – more time.  She wanted more time to watch her grandchild grow, watch her daughter become a fabulous mom, give advice as mothers do, and enjoy the results of years of work.   I understood because that’s what I want, more time.   I want more time with Melinda. I want time to tell her I love her. I want time to feel her arms around me.  I want time to watch her achieve her goals.  I just want more time.

Last Sunday marked 3 years for a friend who lost her 17 year old son in an accident.  She and I have never met, but our connection and friendship is real.  We share something that surpasses distance, economics, education, or anything else.  I remembered this day was coming for her, and, without speaking to her, I knew the anxiety building in her.  I sent a message to her late Saturday night letting her know she and her son were not forgotten and that a candle would be lit in his honour in our home.  As we “chatted” back and forth, I was overcome with tears.  I knew her pain; it took very few words to convey it. I cried regularly and often that day, but I cried for her.   I cried because I couldn’t imagine what 3 years would look like on this journey.   We are half way there, only half way there yet the destruction has been more than I’d ever imagined possible, and it still continues.  Will that change in another 18 months?  I can’t imagine that because I can’t imagine I’ll ever stop missing Melinda and that is what creates the pain.

The last few days have been hard as well as I sit and wait to hear news about the young man Melinda loved.   His world is about to be turned upside down again, but this time it’s of his own doing.  Once again time is the only master here.

In 6 days, I turn 50.  I’ve been here half a century and for almost all of it, I’ve been joyously happy, but I don’t really remember that feeling anymore.   For me, time continues.  This is supposed to be some sort of milestone, isn’t it?   I’ve survived 50 years.  But it’s not a day I anticipate with any type of excitement.  Instead it is one more fragment of time which I hope will just pass.  There it is again….time being the master.

During all of this swirling about me, we managed to go to a movie on Saturday night with friends.  It was good to be out even if it meant sitting silently in the dark.  The movie,  “Interstellar,” was good but it was the focus on time that caught my attention.  In one scene character A asks character B if he’s afraid to die.   Character B’s answer stood out like a gong had just gone off.   There it was!!!!  In one line, he succinctly qualified a struggle I’ve slowly internalized over the last year.   Character B simply replied:  “I’m not scared of death; I’m scared of time.”

Like the character in the movie, it’s not death I fear; it’s the time until it that is the problem.  I am caught between two worlds and am equally drawn to each.   I don’t worry about dying; there is no question that I’m ready for whenever it happens.  The problem is that time is the master here too.   On one hand, I want time to slip by quickly so that I can be with Melinda again.  I want to be with my daughter again as quickly as I can be.  On the other hand, I want time to move more slowly so that I can spend every minute of it with my oldest daughter here.  I want to watch her achieve her goals, watch her get married, give her unsolicited advice on raising her children, hold my grandchildren and watch them grow and achieve their dreams as well.   I want all the things my neighbour no longer has, but I envy her because her pain has ended.  Yes, it’s a different pain, but it’s an end to pain either way.

Time is both my enemy and my friend.  I suppose it’s always been that way, but the perception has now changed.   I’ve never wanted time to swiftly slip away toward an end.  Of course I’ve wanted moments to come to an end, but not all of my moments.   There’s the shift in perception.  How does one balance no fear of death and anticipation of it with wanting to live life?   “I’m not scared of death; I’m scared of time.”