Courtesy Megan Zander

My Fear Of Death Has Seriously Stunted My Parenting

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When my twin boys turned 4 years old a few weeks ago, I cried. I know that's not an uncommon thing for a parent to do — to shed a tear for the fact that her once tiny, little babies are getting too big to sit in her lap — but that wasn't what had me curled into a ball on the floor of my bathroom sobbing at dawn on their birthday. I woke up thinking about how fast the past four years had gone, then thought of how fast the next four years would go. Suddenly my thoughts spiraled out to encompass the reality that at some point my sons will have a birthday without me, and then eventually they'll die and not have any more birthdays at all. Even just typing that out makes my heart pound again.

I have a phobia of death. Not so much in that I'm a scaredy cat and always worried I'm going to get hurt, although there's a little bit of that too. It's more that I work myself into a screaming panic attack whenever I let the reality of the inevitability of my fate really sink into my brain. And unlike my fear of spiders or bridges, it's not something I can work on getting over. My therapist tells me my fear of death is a valid one, but one I can only accept, not conquer. This makes it harder to me to handle because there's no cure, no way around it. And as a parent, that's crippling.

Courtesy Megan Zander

Mostly I control my fear of death by simple avoidance, just trying not to think about it. On a good day I'll have a passing thought or two about death that I can dispel with a few deep breaths and by listening to a happy song to take my mind off the subject. Sometimes I'll have a bad episode, where the thoughts build up and I'm suddenly screaming and pounding my fists on any available surface as my brain tries to comprehend what it'll be like to no longer think, feel, or be. But mostly the fear lies in the back of my mind, a coiled snake just waiting to pounce at unpredictable moments.

Sometimes I lay awake at night shaking because I know that by bringing them into this world, I've also sentenced them to die one day. I lack the conviction of faith some people have to make me believe there's an afterlife where we'll all be together, and I worry that one day they'll share the same fears I do.

When I decided I wanted to have children, I was in a good place with my fear of death. I wasn't having a lot of panic attacks or bad episodes, and I was so excited about the idea of having a family that I didn't think about the fact that we'd all die one day. I had some unexplained infertility issues that made getting pregnant a bit of a struggle, but the entire time I never considered that bringing children into this world was a bad thing. Now that my boys are here, sometimes I'm not so sure.

I love them, obviously, and my life would be much more boring without them. They give me a reason to be a better person and I like to believe I'm raising them well and giving them a good life. After all, they've been to Disney World nine times already, and they're not even in Kindergarten yet. But when my fear of death seeps into my thoughts, I start to worry that I'm selfish for having kids and that perhaps I made a mistake.

Courtesy Megan Zander

Sometimes I lay awake at night shaking because I know that by bringing them into this world, I've also sentenced them to die one day. I lack the conviction of faith some people have to make me believe there's an afterlife where we'll all be together, and I worry that one day they'll share the same fears I do. It's one thing for me to be terrified and sad, but I don't want that for them. I'm mad at myself for even allowing it to be an option by having them in the first place.

Recently, they had a 100 Day of School celebration where they got to dress up as though they were 100 years old. For the sake of fitting in I put them in little bowties and spray painted their hair grey, but I faked my smile and blinked back panicked tears all during the school assembly and class photos. Chances are they'll never live to be 100. And if they do, I won't be there to see it.

I struggle to enjoy what should be happy moments in parenting — their first steps, first words, their first holiday pageant — because I know every milestone they hit is one step closer towards their gravestone. Recently, they had a 100 Day of School celebration where they got to dress up as though they were 100 years old. For the sake of fitting in I put them in little bowties and spray painted their hair grey, but I faked my smile and blinked back panicked tears all during the school assembly and class photos. Chances are they'll never live to be 100. And if they do, I won't be there to see it.

I find myself dragging my feet on teaching them more mature tasks just because I'm in denial of the fact that they're growing older and closer to death. I know they're old enough now to put on their own shoes and dress themselves, but I struggle to give them that independence. It's not healthy, and it's not good parenting. Every day I try to work towards doing what's best for them while trying be gentle with myself and not trigger the thoughts that are so hard for me to face.

Courtesy Megan Zander

This past summer, Remy had an accident while we were on vacation. One minute we were changing out of our swimsuits and deciding if we wanted ice cream or cupcakes to eat while we watched fireworks that night. The next minute I was in an emergency room being told that my three-year-old needed to have emergency surgery in order to try and save his finger. The incident would have been stressful for any parent but it left me permanently scarred.

I'm trying to live in the now, to soak up every moment I have with my boys, and to focus on giving them tools to be good people so that if or when they have to live without me, they can make me proud. But it's not easy.

The accident only reinforced my fears that life is fragile and can be taken from us when we least expect it. Ever since the infamous door incident, I'm more hyper vigilant than ever when it comes to my kids. I worry that they won't grow up to have a healthy sense of adventure because of the fact that I'm always on them to be careful. How bad am I, you ask? If they see a cartoon character running they'll yell at the screen, "Stop, you might fall and get hurt!"

I'm trying to live in the now, to soak up every moment I have with my boys, and to focus on giving them tools to be good people so that if or when they have to live without me, they can make me proud. But it's not easy. I hope they find the comfort in faith I lack so that they don't have the same feelings of despair I do when it comes to the idea of death. And when the day comes that they ask me what happens when we die, I hope I can answer them without having a panic attack.