I meet a lot of patients who are afraid of dying. They are afraid they won’t finish the work they feel they need to finish before they leave this world. They are afraid of the pain they will have to go through before they take their last breath. They are afraid of the unknown. They are afraid they aren’t good enough to get to heaven.
Recently I visited a young woman in her early twenties who was afraid of living. She has a genetic condition that makes her bones brittle. Last July she bounced off a motor scooter and broke her hip. The bone pushed into the hip socket and shattered the socket. She showed me an x-ray of her hip showing all the metal and screws that were holding her hip together. Last week she went to a medical supplies store to get some additional aids to help her in her rehab and recovery from her hip surgery. She slipped on the floor in the store and this time she broke her femur on the same side as her broken hip. She also broke her wrist. She is now facing an even longer recovery to get back to the point where she is mobile and independent again.
As she talked about this she also talked about growing up in a dysfunctional family where she was subjected to verbal and emotional and sexual abuse. She had suffered abuse also in the schools she attended by being bullied and called names and never feeling that she fit in or was valued by anyone.
She told me that she wasn’t suicidal but she looked forward to dying. She finds it difficult to believe that things are going to get better for her. She is afraid to hope that maybe things will be better if she can just get around the next corner.
I was overwhelmed by the depth and the complexity and the enormity of her suffering. I couldn’t promise her that she was on the verge of a break through. I couldn’t tell her that tomorrow things will be better. It became clear to me that she was more afraid of living than she was of dying.
And yet as she talked about all this suffering we also talked about her job working at Starbucks. She hated all those uppity customers who wanted to special order their drinks because they thought they were so special. We joked about how she should become the coffee Nazi like the soup Nazi on Seinfeld who said, “No soup for you.” She liked the idea of being able to say, “No coffee for you.”
She talked about her little niece and nephew who loved her and how she was like a mother to them because her brother was so messed up he couldn’t be a parent for them.
So we have agreed to continue to talk with each other. We are going to continue to look not only at all the pain she is facing but also all the things that help her see that her life does have meaning and purpose.
We are going to spend some time in Gethsemane and at Calvary and at the empty tomb so that she can see while life does include suffering and dying it also includes rising and living and going on. Pray for this young lady as her journey continues. Pray for me that I an be of some help to her. And join me in entering into the lives of people you know who have endured so much suffering they are afraid of living.