Death and All His Friends

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I’m mourning. I just finished the last of the novellas featuring Dragos and Pia, Planet Dragos. The first time I read it, I was too preoccupied by the end of those characters’ arc to appreciate fully the story itself. Upon my second reading, I’ve found many aspects that made me think and even more that made me feel. In this final installment of the Pia and Dragos epic, Death, aka Azrael, appears. As you can imagine, no one is particularly happy to see Death. But, as Azrael explains, Death isn’t just about dying; he also appears for the extraordinary events of life. He is a witness to change. 

Humans struggle with transitions; they can feel like death without the hope of rebirth. Which makes it entirely appropriate for Azrael to show up as Pia and Dragos’ face a mortal enemy and subsequently rethink their entire lives. I’m wondering what it means for me when Death shows up.

I know about transitions. I’m a newly minted empty nester with a new job, a new boss—essentially a brand-new life. Talk about extraordinary events. I’ve been drinking out of a fire hose and I’m drenched. I wake up each morning and realize that I don’t have to get breakfast for the boys or shoehorn them out of bed or go to the grocery store five days a week to keep up with the calorie requirements of two teenaged males and their assorted friends. Instead, I get up at 4:15 AM to get ready for a job I love in support of a mission that gives me purpose and fulfillment. I pass out by 9:30 PM, my husband forced to watch his favorite Netflix series in ten minute increments because I can’t keep my eyes open beyond that. It makes the TV shows last, so we’ve got that going for us. Meanwhile, I have bruises all over my arms and legs from bumping into things as I maneuver around my blackened bedroom in the pre-dawn hours to get ready for my hellacious commute. My life has been transformed. 

And I’m sure Azrael is with me, observing and waiting. Amid all this change is loss and grief and fear and anxiety. I’m going out on a limb literally and figuratively. In a quarter century, I’ve never wandered so far from home, doing my own thing without worrying (too much) about my children and my spouse, my house or the rest of my life. And while the job is certainly compelling and consuming, it’s the transformation within me that has brought Death to my door, asking to be invited in. I’m hovering on a threshold. 

Should I ask Azrael to come in and turn my world upside down? In truth, I think I’ve made the choice and he’s sitting in my freaking living room, waiting for a glass of wine to take the edge off. Already, after only a couple of months of shifting from mother to employee, I’m not the same person. On the outside, I’ve had to buy a whole new wardrobe because presentation matters and function follows form, or something like that. On the inside, all hell has broken loose. 

My priorities have changed. My biological rhythms have flip flopped—I’ve gone from night owl to early bird. My thoughts are occupied by national security concerns, steep learning curves and a keen desire to do well at work. I used to think about football and lacrosse game schedules, planning dinners and strategies to keep teenagers out of trouble. Now I worry about nuclear weapons. It’s a significant adjustment that happened very quickly. I’ve had little time to reflect and less to figure out if I’m doing any of this right. 

I’m still my boys’ mother and my husband’s wife. I’m just trying to understand what that means in a world where I spend 13-16 hours a day at least five days a week focused on something entirely unrelated to them. I too have left the nest. And the truth is that my family is fucking thrilled for me. All of them, including my husband, whose life has changed even more than mine. He lives and works in a house that until very recently was filled with the chaos of humanity. These days, he’s only got the dogs to keep him company while the rest of his brood is out stretching our wings for all we are worth. But he is cheering for all of us, while missing us at the same time. Apparently, it’s possible to do both.

But I feel guilty. I was taught that wives and mothers prioritize family over everything. And, of course, if they needed me, I would be there. But my mother was as wrong about gender roles as she was about everything else. It’s about timing. My kids are at colleges 3000 miles away. My husband is a big boy who can take care of himself. In fact, as it has been pointed out to me, perhaps my recent autonomy will give him the unconscious permission he needs to explore his own independent path. We have been inexorably connected since the beginning of our relationship and it’s possible a little space will benefit us both. What was it Khalil Gibran said? “The oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.” We actually read that poem at our wedding. Maybe it’s time to live it. But how to grow – but not too far apart? How much separation leads to flourishing and how much to irreparable fissures?

I think I will offer that glass of wine to Azrael. And join him in taking the edge off the anxiety, fear and guilt that inevitably accompanies change. It’s time to embrace the uncertainties and the infinite possibilities for the future. If we are doing it right, life is a series of extraordinary events where Death is a witness to change who ushers us from one mode of being to another, making sure we welcome the adventure as we should.