facing a fear

November 15, 2007

It was odd to discover that I still cannot bring myself to look at a dead body. For as long as I can remember, I have had this fear—rather inexplicably considering my usually abnormal lack of fear in normal fear-provoking circumstances.
Losing out first resident—in my tenure on the job—I found myself deliberately avoiding a direct look at the frail body lying on the bed. Mr. C had died rather suddenly, having been vibrant up to this point. He was known as “the screamer” thanks to his habit of shouting at the top of his lungs [literally] even if you were standing within a foot of him. His deafness coming late in life, he had never quite grasped the reality of what his own hard of hearing meant: so he did what came naturally and spoke at an all-out shout: it’s actually a wonder he could maintain the roaring decibel level he seemed to consistently manage. So I had grown accustomed to bracing myself each time I approached him, prepared to be blasted by a bellow of a request to call his brother, or to get him a cup of coffee. But Mr. C’s apparent liveliness hid from many of us the truth that he was in the latter stages of prostate cancer; so his abrupt death was no surprise to his family.
When I entered the bedroom to discuss logistics with his case worker, it caught me off guard to feel my heart beat more rapidly and my breathing become shallow. I was instantly afraid: a sudden and illogical fear of looking at his dead body.
It’s not as if I have some scarring memory of seeing death in my past; I never saw my father’s body. And when my Opa died, his expression was utterly peaceful. He wore such a normal expression that Oma had even kissed him before realizing that he was gone.
But for all the funerals I can remember, I have tried desperately to avoid the viewing parade. Granted, I also find it a rather disturbing practice in general; but I can understand how some bereaved people find it comforting. I simply am afraid of seeing death face-to-face like that, so on the occasions when I could not slip unnoticed out of the viewing line, I simply averted my eyes discreetly so that I made every semblance of going along with the flow without actually looking . . .
I suppose it should come as no great surprise to realize that it is a strange thing to be faced with our fears in life.


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