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And So It Is, Beating Fear with a Stick

Like Forgetting. By Jen Pastiloff.

May 28, 2013

Like Forgetting. Jen Pastiloff.


Were you afraid?

I was. At first.


Because I knew I was dying and I wasn’t finished.

With what?


Then why did you let yourself die?

I didn’t know I had a choice.

Did it hurt?

Not in a way you will understand. 

Well, what did it feel like then?

It felt like forgetting. Like my life was slowly pouring out of me as I lay there grasping at it with invisible fingers. I watched it fall out of me as if it had never happened. It was that fast, the undoing. And, just like that, it was gone. I was undone. I saw you at age 38, my same age, and I understood your own forgetting and how difficult it was to keep a life going when there was no body anymore.

I understood my body was going. My arms numb, my head heavy, my eyelids caked shut. I understood my body was disappearing and I was afraid for what that meant.

I was afraid of who I’d be without my body. And how would my grandchildren know the sound of my voice and Oh my God, they wouldn’t. 

So what did it feel like? It felt like forgetting. Letting go of the body is an effortless thing unless you fight for it and that’s what I did. I fought. I fought to bring my body back. But I was too tired. I gave up fighting when I understood.

What did you understand?

That you might forget small details but that you’d carry my legacy on. And that you and Mommy and your sister would know that I loved you and did the best I could. And that maybe I was finished? How can anyone really know anyway?

Did you? Do the best you could?

I don’t know. Yes. Maybe. No.

Why is it so hard to do our best? 

Because we forget.

*   *    *   *   *    *   **

I started to imagine this conversation between my father and I as if he was having a glass of wine here with me, after my friend said “ I don’t care about dying” when she stopped by yesterday. My great big regret in life is that my father and I never got to be adults together. We never got to watch a rerun on the sofa with some wine. He never sent me a text message. He never saw me with laugh lines.

My friend and I had been talking about death and she blurted that out nonchalantly. I don’t care about dying.

“What do you mean, you don’t care about death?” I asked back. “Do you mean that you aren’t afraid to die?”

She said that she wasn’t.

I am. I am very much afraid to die.

I think about my father’s death a lot. Was he scared? Did he know it was happening? Did he know before it happened, as many people have suggested? He gave away his prized possessions. His signed hockey stick from the Philadelphia Flyers. He made jokes that he was about to die. Did he know? Did he too say to someone on a sofa somewhere I don’t care about death as he loosened his tie?

My friend said she lives her life in such a way, that were she to die tomorrow, her affairs would be in order. Would there be anything left unsaid? Anything left undone? She said she checks herself daily. She lives as if, were she to die the next day, nothing would be unfinished.

*    *    *   *    *    *

Were you afraid?

I was. At first.


Because I knew I was dying and I wasn’t finished. 

*     *    *    *    *

My friend gets things done. She writes books. I talk about writing books.

(Maybe it’s because I am scared of dying and she isn’t?)

Her candor on the subject sent me spinning into my brain and its big questions looming there next to the mundane thoughts about when Homeland was coming back on and how I didn’t know what to eat for dinner.

How can such things live in close proximity?

Life and death are like that though, aren’t they? So close to one another.

Here you are living one minute and then here you are saying goodbye to your 8 year old daughter for the last time. The time span is so short between the two events that it feels impossible, a scientific impossibility! And yet, it’s not. How can this be? you shout at anyone who will listen and anyone shouts back How can what be? How can death live in such close proximity to life? How can someone die that you love just as you were getting to know them? How can babies die and mothers and people that you love? Is that what you mean? And you nod yes yes and anyone says back It was always going to be this way.

We live in these glass bubbles and every so often they pop and the rest of the world rushes in at us and we realize it was always that way. That the glass was an illusion. It just takes some of us longer to break the glass.

My friend thinks people make too much of a big deal about death.

I know I do.

Look, I get that the person’s spirit and memory and all that resides in my soul or wherever, but, truth be told, I would rather be able to rest my hand on their arm, to sit and look them in the eye, to be able to have a glass of cabernet with them. I would. Maybe I am too sensory or maybe I am just honest? Maybe it’s all of it?

I don’t understand it and I don’t know what comes after but my God, when someone is ripped from your life, how do you go on making the bed and the breakfast as if it’s just another Monday?

I don’t know, but we do. We do again and again and again. That doesn’t mean we wouldn’t trade the breakfasts and the bedspreads to have the father back, the beloveds back.

I’m scared to even write this piece. Typing the word out.  D-E-A-T-H. What if some hocus pocus superstition states that if you talk about it that it will happen to you.

Well, it will. Eventually. All of us. Every single one. No one escapes alive.

So why are some of us so afraid of it? How is my friend not afraid? How am I so afraid? What stuff is she made of? What am I not made of?

Last week I became obsessed with the story of Zach Sobiech. He had a rare bone cancer and at 17 found out he had one year to live. There was a short documentary on him (he passed away a week ago) which I watched three or four times, each time riveted. His message You don’t have to find out your dying to start living haunted me all week as his song played on repeat in my head. He wrote a song called “Clouds” for his girlfriend about the fact that he was dying and it went viral on YouTube. The day after he died it was number one on iTunes.

I can’t stop singing the lines of the song “It won’t be long now. It won’t be long now.”

I am not obsessed with death or anything macabre like that. I want to not be afraid.

I want to write the books and not just talk about writing the books. I want to do my best. I want to not forget. I want to ask myself If I died tomorrow would my affairs be in order? Anything left unsaid? Anyone I didn’t say I love you to that I should have?

To all the people I love: I love you.

To my father whom I said “I hate you” to right before he died: I love you.

To myself: I love you.

I suppose if we lived as if it won’t be long now, we’d really get shit done. We’d love harder. We’d write the books. We’d show up.

Why is it so easy to forget what it means to be alive? Why is it so easy to be afraid?


When I was little we belonged to this swim club in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. There was this giant pool and snack bar and chaise lounges (this was back when people still drowned themselves in oil and baked in the sun.) There was a pair of diving boards over in the deep end. You had to have a band to show you were ready to be in the deep end. The red band. You had to take a test for it and everything. It was some serious business. I remember after I finally got my red band how I climbed up to the high dive. My father waited down below, waving at me to go go go. Jump. Go. I saw the red band on my ankle and remember thinking What if I hit my head on the board and die? What if I drown? What if I


And then nothing but quiet. There must have been a moment when I decided to jump. There must have been a moment while I glided through the air a million miles above my father who weeks away from dying. There must have been a moment before my head shattered the water but I don’t remember any of it. I just remember breaking through into the air gasping I did it! And then climbing the ladder again to do it one more time. There was no memory of the fear until I got to the top again and my stomach came into my throat. But I did it again and again and each time the fear dissipated until it was a forgotten thing and it was as if I had always been a world class diver. I was an Olympic medalist that day.

It’s okay to be afraid.

But at some point we crack the water and swim, despite that fear, and it’s glorious. It’s quiet under there, a quiet that is comforting, like a companion you don’t have to say anything to while driving.

At some point you just dive in and eventually you forget that you were ever scared of the plunge.

Letting go of the body is an effortless thing.

So you just climb up there in your little one piece bathing suit and jump. Letting go of the body. You float in the water without a body for a few moments or a million years and realize that it won’t be long now.

Except often, the moment we come up for air we forget again.

We forget what it felt like to be unafraid of floating. Of letting go.

*    *   *   *   *   *   *  *    *   *

Well, what did it feel like then?

It felt like forgetting.





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She has been featured on Good Morning America, NY Magazine, Oprah.com. Her writing has been featured on The Rumpus, The Nervous Breakdown, Jezebel, Salon, and more. Jen leads her signature Manifestation Retreats & Workshops all over the world. The next retreat is to Ojai, Calif over Labor Day/New Years. She is also leading a Writing + The Body Retreat with Lidia Yuknavitch Jan 30-Feb 1 in Ojai (4 spots left.) Check out jenniferpastiloff.com for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Next up: Seattle, Atlanta, South Dakota, NYC, Dallas, Miami, Tucson & The Berkshires (guest speaker Canyon Ranch.) She tweets/instagrams at @jenpastiloff.

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No Comments

  • Reply barbarapotter May 28, 2013 at 8:47 am

    This is so beautiful it made me cry.

  • Reply knititwrite123 May 28, 2013 at 9:04 am

    I loved this piece. I used to be afraid. But then, my husband got sick, and we promised that whoever went first would contact the other. He died a week after we made that promise, and has made me know, in ways large and small, that the end is no end, and that the veil between where he is and where I am is thinner than could ever be imagined. I am so grateful for the gift of knowing this! Thank you for your piece!

  • Reply knititwrite123 May 28, 2013 at 9:06 am

    I loved this piece. I was afraid too, until my husband and I made a

  • Reply wellcallmecrazy May 28, 2013 at 9:54 am

    There is a practice called “Dying unto Death” that, once you go through it, completely transforms your outlook on life, living, and death. The key is to stay present, in the moment, and bring your conscious awareness to everything you do as much as possible for you. Keep on going.

  • Reply Karen Telschow Johnson May 28, 2013 at 11:17 am

    You wrote about it like you knew it. Like you knew what it was like to be dying. You wrote exactly how I felt almost a year ago now. It was a post op complication and I was home alone. Friends came over and took me to their home. Only a few short hours later, my body was shutting down. When we got to the hospital, in the moment before all went black, it was peaceful. My body was done, but I did not feel it anymore. Then I realized, somehow, that my ex husband would raise my kids. That pissed me off. Not only had I got myself in this position because I realized too late that my strong will could not overcome a failing body, but the thought of my kids, well, I asked. I’ll listen to my body in the future, get me through this. Please. Darkness lifted. I felt crappy, but I felt. Your writing was the first that has reminded me of that time. It did feel like forgetting. That’s exactly how it felt. Glad we are both here and thank you for laying your soul out for all to read and experience. Oh, and your book already exists. Your posts, put them together. Different chapters, but it’s there Jen, it’s there already.

  • Reply iwritedeb June 18, 2014 at 8:31 am

    Brave and beautiful. Like remembering.

  • Reply Janine Canty June 18, 2014 at 8:36 am

    It’s no secret I love your writing. Love. It. Crave. It. Need. It. But the pieces you write about your Dad…… They are my favorites. Sometimes it’s good to have favorites. You were a young child when you lost your Dad. I was a middle aged woman when I lost my Dad. But I felt like a young child again. In a bad way. It’s not a unique feeling. It’s not original to be frightened when you become half an orphan overnight. I think, and I may be wrong, but I doubt it. That I was drawn to your writing not so much by our common “Half Orphan Hood”. But by what you did with yours. You’ve made a legacy of art and love out of words for your Dad. It’s love and beauty. It’s alive. Please keep doing it. Thank You so much for all you share.

  • Reply pinkdivamamacita August 12, 2014 at 7:04 am

    Reblogged this on pinkdivamamacita and commented:
    A very beautiful and emotional read. I will hold this one close to my heart!

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