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Fiction

"So tell me, why are you here? You're quite unexpected."

I stood confused. "Who are you?" I asked. "Where am I?"

"I'm Death.” He replied, answering both questions at once.

He wasn't at all what I expected. He was dressed quite ordinary, if not somewhat anachronistic. He wore a brown tweed sports jacket, faded blue jeans and tan desert boots. He looked more like an English professor than the grim reaper. "Really?" I was skeptical.

"Yes." He declared definitively.

A smile slipped across my face and I confessed, "I've tried so many times and have never gotten this close. All my life, I've always wanted to embrace you. Feel your arms around me. I'm not sure why. It's not like I've had a hard life. In fact, by all counts, it's been a fortunate one.

"The single biggest disappointment, and believe me, I realize that this is extremely minor in the grand scheme of things, was Cinderella's castle. It was the symbol of everything Disney. It was at the beginning of all the best movies when I was a kid and was featured every Sunday night on the Wonderful World of Disney. You could even see its majesty from the front gate. I remember how my heart was pounding at the vision of the roof line as we waited to buy our park tickets.

"I was seven years old, the Disney demographic, full of excitement and anticipation. I turned down every ride and attraction so I could see the castle first. All the "cast members" smiled and were dedicated to that magical moment. There's a great big beautiful tomorrow shining at the end of every day. But the closer we got, the smaller it seemed, until finally, I discovered it was not a castle at all. It was more of a fancy tunnel with a restaurant attached, and to make matters worse, you needed reservations to eat there, and my parents had not made any. I walked through the tunnel and then looked back, hoping I had missed something. I walked through one more time, and the magic was completely dispelled. Don't get me wrong. I've been back there on subsequent occasions as a child and a parent. Disney is not the root of my suicidal destiny. Mickey Mouse is not to blame."

"And yet here you are face to face with me. Why?" He seemed genuinely interested. "If that is your worst disappointment, you've clearly lived a wonderful life."

I thought if there was anyone who would understand, it would be him. "It's not what I've lived, it's what I've constantly endured. I just want it to end, the noise in my head that never stops. It constantly criticizes me, throwing past failures in my face, shredding my future, shattering my hopes. I'm so tired. I can't keep picking myself up. I can't keep hiding how I feel, wearing a mask saying I'm alright for everyone around me."

"I still don't understand why you want to embrace death. Don't get me wrong," he replied. "Death isn't intrinsically evil, and it can sometimes offer relief. It's just that life is so much better. To be honest, I'm jealous. There're so many wonderful things to experience. In death, there is contentment, but in life, there is joy."

I sighed, frustrated at his response. It was the same old trope offered by family and friends, by psychiatrists and therapists. "I know you mean well," I said, "but I have heard it all before. Telling me of "wonderful things" or saying, "It's not that bad." or "Look on the bright side." don't treat my condition. Your words and thoughts are banal, and their simplicity undermines my struggle. If it were that easy don't you think I would have tried by now? "Don't worry. Be happy" is just a catchy song.

"And before you go any further," I added, "don't bother with "Count your blessings", "You've so much to live for.", "Other people have it so much worse.", "Don't be so dramatic.", "You're being selfish." "Think of your kids." All of these invalidate what I am going through. I know my thoughts are distorted. I've told you I'm not well."

"I can see you've struggled for some time." He spoke calmly. "But I'm not sure I really understand."

I appreciated his effort. I'm not sure I have ever had someone want to understand what I was going through. He gave me permission to drop my mask and reveal my true self. "It's the noise. It doesn't stop, constantly undermining me. You don't hear it." I replied, "The thoughts are relentless. I'm in a decaying orbit around a black hole. I've been on this trajectory since the day I was born. There's no escape, just delay. I'm tired. I'm not a bad person, not cruel or selfish. I just have these constant thoughts that won't go away: All I've ever known is this war, this endless battle. There's nothing wrong with wanting it to end. To wish that it didn't is cruel."

"Do you want to die or just have the noise stop?" He asked.

I paused. No one had ever asked me that.

"Look, death is not difficult." he continued, "When you're ready, hold my hand. It won't take long. Your ears will rush, then fall silent. Your thoughts will scatter, then disappear. Your mind will clench, and the impulse to stop will take hold. This can be a challenge, but with determination, you can push through, and in that very last moment, you'll see your story end. And that's it.

"But I wonder if that is what you really want. From what I have seen over the millennia, thoughts of suicide are not about life or death but rather hope or hopelessness. They rush into the vacuum that despair leaves behind, giving you purpose when all reason is gone. Why do you feel your life is hopeless?"

I considered his words for a moment they replied directly, "They've tried to fix me," I replied. They gave me drugs, but the chemical optimism only stopped me from crying. It did nothing for the tsunami flooding my brain. What needs to happen must happen. It's the inevitable consequence of my life. As you said, Death isn't bad. It can be beautiful. Think of the autumn trees when they have changed to sunset orange. On the branches, the leaves crackle; on the ground, they crunch underfoot, dead."

"That's a nice metaphor. I'll have to write that one down." Death took out a pen and a small notebook from his inside jacket pocket.

I was confused. What was happening? Was I really debating Death?

He finished writing and then put his pen and notebook away. "Looking back over your life, I can see that you were patient, compassionate, thoughtful and creative. Those are very admirable qualities. And you did so with these constant black thoughts hollowing out your mind. I'm impressed."

His compliment washed over me like a warm shower. No one had ever complimented me on how I managed my condition. He recognized who I truly was.

He continued, “When depression settles on your thoughts, try to recognize it as a fog obscuring reality. Understand you’re not seeing clearly and so you must find an alternative point of view. Instead of using your eyes to perceive what is in front of you, use your hands, your ears and nose in order to fill in what the fog is preventing you from seeing.”

"So I'm distracted?" I crossed my arms and dismissed his advice. "I have already been told how to box breath. It doesn't work."

"No, not at all. Be aware of your other senses, metaphorically of course. Recognize your dark thoughts as common routine so that your brain can begin to filter them out. Did you know that your eye can see all the blood vessels in your retina but your brain filters out that information as unnecessary? Try to look through your depression. It will always be there, but you don't need to give it all your attention."

"Why do you care? Just let me die. Isn't that your job?" I challenged him. What he suggested seemed like a lot of work, and I lacked stamina.

“You’re important to me."

His words again stopped my thoughts. They weren't a plea or a platitude; they weren't solicited or purchased in a get-well card. They were a statement meant only for me.

"Thank you." I replied. My tears began to well at his empathy.

Death continued, "Living is not about creating the future or fixing the past. It's about opening yourself up to the possibilities of the moment. Remember, you have a disease. It's not you. It's separate from you. You have fought so hard over your life, and each day has been a win. You're still alive.

"Recovery is not a destination; it's a choice made over and over again. It's not always easy. There are distractions and disappointments but don't worry; you never have to start over; just continue making the right choice again. Don't try to eliminate the noise; acknowledge it and recognize what you have done despite it, no matter how small of an accomplishment you may think it is. You are always more than your disease."

His words floated down like Christmas snow. Then a soft breeze brushed across my cheek. I had thought I was dead - I should have been dead - but no, I felt hope's caress. I slowly opened my eyes, and death was gone. I smiled and took a deep breath.

September 16, 2022 18:34

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2 comments

Karen McDermott
06:52 Sep 19, 2022

This story should be left in therapy waiting rooms. It might save people booking in a bunch of other sessions.

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Lambie Dithery
20:58 Sep 16, 2022

A truly inspired work. The raw truth. How brave you are to share such intimate insights. You have given Death a voice and a voice that has some very powerful directions and hope. You are important to me.

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