A great concert, and I’m worrying about dying

G. and I went to see MercyMe last night. You know them, yes, you know them. “I Can Only Imagine” is iconic, and they are even better live. Here’s the rest of their playlist.

Anyway, Phil_Wickham opened for them _ another very talented man. I was enjoying the show when he started talking about how excited he was to know God and how he looks forward to being with God, and then suddenly, I just felt despair and the little tickle in my brain that means a panic attack is coming.

I have nothing against knowing God. In fact, I wish God and I could hang out. I have a lot of questions.

What upset me was that even though Phil didn’t say the d-word, he was really talking about dying, and I am deathly afraid of dying.

That’s not a pun, not even an exaggeration really. When I think about death, I feel a kind of paralyzing panic. The only time I’ve ever felt anything like it was once when I thought someone had broken into my house while I was sleeping. I could hear them moving around upstairs, and I was certain that at any moment, they would come into the basement where I was sleeping (I was in the middle of having the hard wood floors refinished), find me and kill me. I couldn’t move. I could barely think. My heart was pounding so hard that I thought I might have a heart attack and die that way before the burglar found me.

It turned out that a raccoon had gotten into the house through the doggie door. But still.

I feel the same panic when I think about death. Sometimes, it makes me cry. The other night, it made me catch my breath and jump, which woke G. up.

He asked I was alright, and I said I was having another one of my death panics.

“You should have cake,” he said. “Zucchini cake.”

“That will make it better?” I said.

“Cake makes everything better,” he said. Then he was silent for a minute. “I’m not ignoring you,” he said. “I just don’t know what to say.”

No one knows what to say. I don’t know if there is anything anyone can say.

I finally realized last winter, after nearly two decades of these panic attacks, that what I fear is not existing, not being me. I’m also afraid it will hurt to die, although I think I could push through that if I knew I would come out OK on the other side. But I don’t. Nor does anyone else. Pretty much any other experience you have in life, someone else has had already, and they can tell you what to expect. But no one can really tell you what it’s like to die. Even the people who claim to have had near-death experiences have only been near death. They haven’t gone all the way.

And so I wonder: Is there heaven? Is there hell? Would God actually send me to hell? I’m not that bad, am I? If there is a heaven, is it spacial? Do we have bodies? When people say we have heavenly bodies, what would those look like? Will I have a consciousness? Will I be aware of being me? Will I remember my life on earth? Will I be with the people I love? Will I see my father?

And then it goes on . . . What if there is no heaven? What if I’m reincarnated? Will I actually be me, because right now I am me in part because I remember what has happened to me in this life. But if I have already been reincarnated, I don’t remember previous lives, so am I really the same person I was before? My life now is pretty good. Does that mean I was a good person in a previous life? How am I doing in this life? I hope I haven’t screwed up so much that I come back in a worse situation.

And then, eventually, I get to the worst thought: What if there is no heaven and no reincarnation? What if I just don’t exist anymore? And that is when I start to cry.

G. does not ask these questions. He says he believes he will go to heaven because, really, what is the alternative? There’s not much he can do about it. I wish I had that kind of unquestioning faith. I think it would be easier.

I expressed this to a friend of mine and she said, “Well, that’s really not your nature.” Her take on it was that journalists who have doctorates shouldn’t be surprised when the analytical thinking they’ve been taught spills over into their spiritual life. In other words, if I wasn’t so privileged in terms of my education, I probably wouldn’t be worrying about this,  so you know, suck it up.

Another friend of mine, who is a psychologist, said she thought most people fear death some and I shouldn’t be concerned as long as I could still function in my daily life. If I get too scared to go to work, then it’s time to worry.

I also ran the issue by one of the ministers at my former church in Milwaukee. She said she didn’t know what happened after death either, and she could see why I’d be scared.

And then recently I’ve started talking to a friend who is  a minister, although not at a church I go to. I sent her an email today, telling her about Phil’s comments at the concert. She replied, “I would like to gently offer the possibility that we don’t have to die to be with God.”

Good point. But if God were here right now, I would ask Him: “Will I exist after I die?”

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3 responses to “A great concert, and I’m worrying about dying

  1. Good post. I am with the psychologist, though I feel people generally go to either Heaven or Hell, I do worry about dying, but for some reason take it for granted that that date is far far away from now. Though I obviously don’t know this to be true, it makes it easier to not think so much about it, if that makes any sense.

  2. Zucchini cake was the logical choice! Hmmmmmm

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