By Heidi Anderson
On the 16th of August this year, my beautiful 96 year-old Nan passed away. Since then, I have rode one hell of a roller-coaster with my emotions all over the shop.
Nan and I always had a pact that if there were something on the other side, that she would come back and tell me about it.
She never believed there was anything else after you die and she would always say to me: “Once you’re dead, you’re dead. That’s it. There is nothing else.”
That is what terrifies me. The thought of “that’s it” petrifies me. I’m seriously scared of dying and for years this has given me anxiety.
I have worked with my psychologist about this fear. Dying is inevitable, but I still find it so hard to comprehend.
I’m not sure any of the sessions have helped, I still think about it a lot.
People constantly say to me: “Why stress about something you have no control of?”
Or, “You won’t know when you’re dead that you’re dead, so chill out.”
Believe me, if I could switch it off I would but that’s easier said than done. It’s not the thought of how I die that bothers or upsets me, it’s the thought of the unknown. Not knowing what’s next.
This consumes my thoughts far too often and it’s something that I have tried to come to terms with over the past few years with no such luck.
When my Mum told me that Nan was dying and she wouldn’t recover from her fall, I flew straight to her bedside, along with all the family.
Saying goodbye to my Nan was the hardest thing I have ever had to do in my life.
Once Nan knew herself that she was dying and had accepted her fate, she called me into her room to speak. At this stage, she didn’t have much energy but she was putting all her fight into saying goodbye to people individually.
“Heidi, we all die. That’s life,” she said to me. “That’s the one thing are guaranteed in life. We’re born to die.”
Looking back, I think Nan was speaking to herself, as she too was always so afraid of death.
Over the next few days, Nan went downhill and eventually she stopped speaking and just slept.
Family came and went and said their goodbyes, but I stayed around.
I wanted to be with Nan as she exited this world. I wanted to hold her hand as she took her last breath.
Looking back, I think I also wanted to confront my fear of death. If I saw what actually happens, maybe I wouldn’t be so scared.
So I hung around the hospital like a bad smell, rarely leaving Nan’s bedside.
I played her music, told her stories and relived all our good times.
Unfortunately, by that stage she was no longer talking, but she would twitch her lips or flicker her eyes.
I swear she could hear everything, she just couldn’t respond.
In the end, I flew home to Perth. She was holding on and I felt Nan just didn’t want to die in front of any of her grandkids.
12 hours after I got home, Nan took her last breath with her three daughters at her side.
The nurses at the hospital said it was very common for people, when they’re dying, to choose who is with them.
Although I wanted so desperately to be with Nan, I felt she knew it was best that I wasn’t there.
When I arrived home in Bathurst for her funeral, I still felt that I wanted to confront my fear of death and see Nan.
Mum took me to the funeral home the morning of her farewell and I saw Nan for the first time since she passed away.
She was dead and she even looked it. No amount of makeup was hiding the fact that she was gone.
It hit me like a ton of bricks. Nan was dead and she was never coming back.
Thoughts started flooding my brain.
“Where is she? Is there something else out there? Is she with Pop? What happens? Where has she gone?”
Her body was there but that wasn’t my Nan.
My friends asked later if she looked peaceful and I found that hard to explain. She looked like she was gone and that is something I won’t ever really understand.
I’m not sure seeing my Nan in her coffin has helped my fear of dying, but it definitely gave me some kind of closure.
I am still waiting for Nan’s spirit to visit me and let me know if there is anything else out there.
I have had a couple of dreams about her and I talk to her all the time but I am yet to feel her or hear if there is life after death.
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