I Sat In The Dark With A Dead Body For 8 Hours To Cure My Fear Of Death

September 21, 2018

Spoiler alert: maybe not the best idea I’ve ever had.

I was eight years old when I first realized I had a fear of death.

I was visiting my grandparents for a weekend along with my sister and my mom. My sister and I were put on a foam pullout in my grandfather’s study. The wall featured an unfinished painting of my grandmother as a sad clown. The carpet smelled like Scotch and farts. This was not a room to put two little girls with massive imaginations, but it was where we were.

The room did have its pluses: namely, a small TV. I was so excited to get into bed in my pajamas with my sister and watch a movie. Little did I know how much of my future would involve, you know, sitting in bed watching TV in my pajamas, but I digress. At eight what would eventually become commonplace was brand-spanking new and exciting.

Because the TV only got a couple of channels (we’re talking the era of bunny ears, people) we settled in to watch the second half of Field of Dreams. In the process of understanding the general concept (if you build it, they will come, etc, etc) I started to realize that much like Kevin Costner’s character’s beloved father, my father, too, would one day die and to make matters even worse: I would one day die. It was the trigger to my very first panic attack, and while the triggers have changed. (I now enjoy all of Kev’s films without thinking about my own mortality at all) my panic attacks have all looked exactly the same ever since this day.

I was about to fall asleep, the thought buzzed across my brain: Someday you’re going to die. 

Then, I gasped and sat up again.

Someday you’re going to die. 

Then, I screamed and started hitting myself in the face. Hard. Like, with enough force to leave a bruise and loosen teeth.

And things have continued that way for three decades.

Oh yes, I am very much a pleasure to know. I am lucky enough that my anxiety (as it was later diagnosed) responds really well to meds and talk therapy, but I’m not, you know, cured. Anxiety is a tricky beast and it looks for anyway inside that it can get (that’s also what she said).

As successful as my treatments have been, it took a long time for me to stop trying to “fix” the problem.

One of the most memorable attempts to fix my anxiety was the time I sat in a dark room with a dead body for eight hours in the hopes of “fixing” myself once and for all.

I was working at a convent at the time. This is less strange than it sounds. You see, I went to a Catholic school attached to a convent. When I was old enough to get a part-time job, it was natural I would pick up a gig answering the phones and managing the reception area next door at the convent.

Sometimes I worked after school but mostly I worked an eight-hour shift on Saturdays. As you can imagine it wasn’t exactly a hopping place. The reception area was across the hall from the recreational room, which was designed for the nuns to enjoy time reading books, meeting guests, and I don’t know, watching movies and stuff.

It was also the room where they left the dead nuns out for viewings in their caskets. The nuns died less often than you might think. In my four years there I only saw one dead nun.

The dead nun’s funeral was scheduled for Monday morning, and Saturday and Sunday were relegated to visiting hours for her friends and family members.

It became pretty clear once I started my shift that no one was going to be visiting this dead nun. From my desk, I could see just the tip of her dead nose in profile.

Someday you’re going to die. 

I was up on my feet, my headset for the phones still on and I was working hard to keep my hands away from my face. But the panic was mounting.

Someday you’re going to die. 

Not sure what to do with all this pent-up energy, I marched away from my desk to the recreation room where the dead nun was laid out. In the room, I decided it would be less conspicuous if I sat in front of the coffin. That way I could answer calls and people passing by would think I was just paying my respects.

I spent my entire shift in front of that coffin, answering calls and staring at the dead nun. She looked tired. She looked … absent of her personhood.

I tried to dredge up some terror but the most I could muster was a vague disgust at the idea of being buried with a full face of makeup picked by someone else.

I didn’t panic again. I didn’t hit myself. I did, however, get a talking to from my supervisor who heard I spent the day staring at the dead nun. “It’s a little morbid, Rebecca.” She wasn’t wrong.

Sitting in front of the nun all day didn’t cure me of my fear of death.

It didn’t give me any revelations really other than the fact that death seems very, very boring. Confronting my fear of death by looking death in the face underlined something pretty important for me to understand: it isn’t a “fear of death” that I fight; it’s generalized anxiety, and I can’t change that fact any more than I can change the fact that I’m a mortal being with a limited amount of time on Earth.

Was staring at the dead body of a nun I never knew a weird thing to do? Oh, very much so. But was it also something I needed to do in order to get a better sense of my own brain and how it works? Yep.

Image and media via tumblr.com and youtube.com.


This article has been republished from Your Tango with full permission. You can view the original article here.

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