When Fear Disappears

By: Lauren Thaler  |  Date: September 15th, 2011  |  Category: On Being Parentless  |  Comments: 7 comments »

When I was a kid, I remember falling asleep to the sound of my mom doing the dishes in the kitchen just down the hall from my bedroom in our apartment. It was just the two of us, and my cat, Popcorn, whose 15 lbs of cat fat and feline fur I’d hold tightly as I fell asleep. My nighttime thoughts as I drifted to sleep were mostly unmemorable childhood contemplations of friends and after-school activities; however, every now and then my mind would linger on a single thought – a childhood fear – that I returned to occasionally before I fell asleep: parentlessness.

My mother’s mortality always frightened me, but I became quite skilled at successfully pushing this dark thought into a small compartment deep in the precipices of my mind at night. And the comforting sound of my mother moving around the kitchen doing the dishes always helped.

Then of course, last year, my greatest fear was realized. The thing that had always frightened me the most in life – the potential of being parentless – happened.

And while I experienced acute grief and loneliness after my mom died, my greatest fear is now gone. My most fearful thought, the occasional nightmare, the small twinge of panic when Mom didn’t pick up the phone right away at night when I called from school – vanished. When she died, my greatest fear died too.

It’s an odd feeling to have your greatest fear disappear. I think right now I fill the space worrying about my endless to do list. But I imagine, at some point, something more important, more central to my existence, will replace it.

If your greatest fears haven’t already bubbled to the top of your mind while reading this, think hard for a second. I bet you have them. Maybe there’s something you’ve never told anyone or have been pushing aside trying not to admit even to yourself. But I bet they’re in there somewhere – in your consciousness, in your subconscious self or maybe in your dreams. And I bet the majority of them have to do with loss.

I think it’s important that we have these deepest, darkest fears of loss. Not only do they force us to take stock of what we have and what we’re thankful for, but they remind us to live in the present. To not put off an I Love You. To release the anxiety of little things weighing us down. To focus on what makes us happy and fulfilled. And to make ourselves fulfilled and not depend on anyone or anything to do the job for us.

Because think about it: You really can’t have a true fear of loss unless you have something so valuable, so sacred that it would be devastating to have to go without. In some ways, true fear of loss is the purest form of gratefulness.

And this is perhaps why I occasionally think of the sound of my mom doing the dishes before I fall asleep at night. I no longer have to push a fear to the back of my mind. Instead, I am grateful. I am grateful for being able to hear that sound for so many years.

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7 Reader Comments

  1. Danielle

    I never knew true fear until I had my son. When he had an accident while I was at work (he was just fine eventually, thank God)and I got that phone call, the terror that washed over me was indescribable.

    I worry about him every day, but like you, I push that fear to the back of my mind. I think that all mother’s have the same fear for their children, or the fear that they will die and leave their children too soon. How fortunate for your Mom that she got to see you grow into an adult! Even though death always comes too soon whenever it happens.

  2. Dan Laheru

    Lauren- wow- that was a great story- I called my mom this am after reading this so thank you again as your words and your experience help so many people focus on the things that really should matter most

  3. Amy

    This is beautiful!

  4. Susan Lavine-Perry

    I identify with your story as I had the same fear…a feeling that I would lose my father early. Thank you for reminding me to let go of life’s pressures and to try to enjoy the rat race and to appreciate the people we love now. Love you!

  5. Julia Cohen

    This might be the best one yet. Amazing!

  6. Judith Sobol

    so beautiful lauren – to feel gratitude even with a loss of that magnitude is something special – and it takes someone special to experience that. xoxo

  7. Ellen

    So true….so bittersweet… you are wise beyond your years…

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