Because We Were Afraid

I knew Easter Sunday would be challenging, but I didn’t anticipate how deeply every part of this morning’s 8:30 am service would affect me. Everything from the prayer to the closing hymn brought on the tears… it was tough. However, the part of worship that moved me the most was the sermon. Using Matthew 28:1-10 and more specifically the phrase “do not be afraid,” our pastor tied in an episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and the notion that we’re not to be afraid now, even in a world that constantly bombards us with situations that cause fear and trepidation.

I’ve been filled with so much fear and doubt lately, and the more I listened this morning, the more those fears and aprehensions bubbled up inside me. Of course, this is far from the first time I’ve been afraid. In fact, fear is something Emily and I both battled throughout our lives.

Fear of Judgement

One of the first challenges Emily and I faced when we started dating was our own fear of judgement. Emily hadn’t come out to many people, and she worried what her family, friends, and other people in her life would say about her dating a woman. She worried about it so much that it took her over six months to officially tell her parents about our relationship, despite the fact that I went home with her multiple times during those first six months. When we started attending church together about four months into our relationship, she worried about how the pastors and the congregation at large would respond to our unique family given the United Methodist Church’s stance on homosexuality. She had a therapist she never officially told and eventually terminated service with because the therapist said she could not see a client in the LGBTQ+ community, and she had a friend she never officially told about our relationship because she feared that friend’s conservative views would lead to a lot of negativity.

Usually, I used the barometer of how Emily introduced me to other people as a gauge on how to act. I also tried my hardest to not push the issue because I knew that she needed time to work through her fear and rushing that process wouldn’t help her at all.

Meanwhile, I carried my own fears. I worried that the opinions of others would push Emily away. I wondered at times if she’d ever be able to open up enough to people for us to actually get married. I knew that religion was an important aspect of Emily’s identity, and I worried that if our church wasn’t accepting what that would mean for us going forward. And, of course, I was afraid that my desire to be my authentic self would be “too much” and force Emily into uncomfortable situations before she was ready to face them.

But, as I often told Emily, our relationship was always enough for me to face those fears. And, like I also told Emily, no matter what happened, we’d figure out how to handle it together. In the end, I didn’t think we needed to be truly afraid, because I knew that the love we shared was bigger than any challenges we would face because of the fact we’re both women.

Fears About The Future

I know this probably sounds crazy to most people, but I knew the moment after our first kiss that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with Emily. I think the kiss just solidified how important she was to me, and it made me realize that our connection went far beyond an emotional bond. And, the longer we dated, the more I knew that the relationship we shared was special.

However, we aren’t perfect people, and I know we both carried some serious fears about the future.

Emily worried a lot about her career. I think her self-esteem issues prevented her from seeing how good she was at her job. Also, the fact that she’d been burned a few times with peer support roles (which were far below her true skill set) didn’t help. At least once a week, we’d go through the same conversation about how she was going to lose her job, she’d never be a good social worker, and I’d leave her because of it.

Meanwhile, my fears revolved around our age difference. Would someone in their mid-20s really want to marry someone nearly a decade older than her? I knew I came with a lot of baggage, and the fact that I already had kids made me far less able to just pick up and move. I worried I’d hold Emily back from reaching her full potential, both professionally and personally.

Then, of course, we both shared some of the same fears about the future. Would we ever be able to buy a house? Could we have a child together? What if the country decided to change the laws about same-sex marriage? What if it became unsafe to live in Tennessee or the US as a whole as a same-sex couple? Were we both healthy enough to live as long as we wanted? Would we be able to care for each other when our health failed?

Sometimes we’d be able to reassure each other that everything was going to be alright. Other times, we’d just agree to drink and watch television to distract ourselves from our fears. But, regardless of how we faced these concerns, we did so together and, because of Emily, we often did so with God.

Fearful of the End

Although the time that has passed since Emily’s death has mostly felt like a blur, I can quickly place myself back in those final 48 hours of her life if I simply close my eyes and focus on it for a moment. Recalling the final few hours is especially easy, albeit painful, because there’s such a strong emotional tie to the time.

After Emily crashed the first time, we were both afraid. It was the elephant in the room neither of us wanted to address, even though we both could feel it suffocating us. As the minutes ticked by and she crashed a second time, that overwhelming fear only grew larger.

It’s funny, because through that entire period, from the first “episode” to that final moment we shared together, Emily never once said she was afraid of death. In fact, she never mentioned any concerns about that day being the end. But, then again, I never expressed that fear either because I didn’t want to say something that would make her worry even more.

Looking back, there’s a lot I would have probably done differently had I known then what I know now. I actually talked to my therapist about this very thing on Friday because those final few hours had been on my mind a lot this past week.

I’m glad I woke up when everything started beeping the first time she crashed. I’m glad I was there to hold the puke bucket and talk to her. And I’m glad I made sure to say I love you at various points that night.

But, as I told my therapist, I wish I’d said something much more profound when she said, “I think it’s happening again,” that final time. But, I was afraid, and the only words that came to mind were simple reassurances. “Just breathe, babe. It’s going to be okay. They’re going to figure this out.”

I was afraid the entire time I sat alone in the ICU waiting area. And, no matter how many breathing exercises I tried and how many times I prayed, that fear was all-consuming.

Ultimately, I knew that Emily would be cared for regardless of the outcome. I selfishly hoped the doctors would find a solution to buy us some time and eventually she’d be fine. Yet, at the same time, I knew that if it was her time, she’d be in good hands because of her faith.

Unfortunately, knowing things to be true doesn’t always make the situation any better in the moment. And that was definitely true in those midnight hours, because I was so afraid.

I’m Still Afraid

I miss Emily every single day. I wish I could have more time with her, even if was just long enough to make sure she knows just how much I love her. However, I know exactly where she is, and I’m sure it’s more incredible than I can even imagine.

But, knowing that Emily is safe and sound in Heaven is just one piece of puzzle, especially since I’m still here on Earth. And, when I say that, I don’t just mean my concerns about how she died and whether or not I could have saved her (although that’s definitely a frequent worry). I mean my fears about life going forward.

When people ask me what my biggest fear is, I have always said two things: being alone and dying.

If I’m really honest, that second one mostly scares me not because of death itself, but because of the unknown in what comes after. There are so many pieces of me that have been condemned over the years because they don’t fit into the neat little box of what many people believe makes a person “worthy” of the gift that is eternal life.

I know that none of us know when our time is up. I also know that it’s not up to anyone here on Earth to decide where we go in the afterlife. But, there’s also so much I don’t know — and that’s what terrifies me.

At the same time, sitting and worrying about it isn’t going to do much besides raise my blood pressure. So for now, I guess I’ll listen to the words I heard repeatedly today because of Emily: “Do not be afraid.”


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