“Fear is just an illusion,” he said to me.

But when this panic attack hit, the fear sure felt real. I gripped the steering wheel tightly as I drove through rush hour traffic, trying to stay focused on not crashing. I frantically made my way to the shoulder of the highway, shaking like a leaf.

This fear certainly didn’t feel like an illusion.

That was over twenty years ago when this friend said to me that fear is just an illusion. And for over twenty years I have explored my fear.

Before our encounter I just tried to survive my fear. I would run from it if I could, negotiate with it and/or just sit in paralysis until it subsided. Fear has been with me all my life.

I made the decision over twenty years ago that it was time to face my fear and to lean into it whenever and wherever it showed up. I could no longer run or placate fear. So, I have been leaning into my fear for a long time.

Now I do not fear my fear.

The roots of that highway panic attack that blind-sided me lay deep within my fear of separation. The unraveling I experienced after Bryan’s death had left me waiting for the next one, not knowing at that time whether it would be Lydia or Matt. Who was I going to lose next?

I have ventured through every tributary of the relationship between fear, loss and separation. Not all my fear has been in the form of panic attacks. In fact, my rush hour meltdown was the last one of that intensity or nature. Most of my fear is of the more subtle kind. I have observed an underlying anxiety that seems to play in the background on many days. I liken it to having to constantly listen to elevator music on a long ride to the eighty-second floor.

On other occasions, there is a tangible cause of my fear which I can trace back to its origins. When Rachel goes out at night and tells me she’ll be home around ten, I’m fine. If ten-thirty rolls around and she hasn’t returned, I’m either looking up the number of suicide hotline or calling 911. I don’t care when she gets home. It’s her life and she is free to do whatever she wants. What sends me over the edge is where my mind goes, where loss has left one of its biggest wounds – the fear of separation.

I know it’s an irrational fear to think something is going to happen to her just because she’s late, but it is what it is. Early in our relationship we came to an understanding that if she was going to be late she would call and give me a new arrival time. That’s all I needed, but I’m very aware that that is what I needed and she has been graciously honoring my request through all these years. I’ve learned to accept my wounds unconditionally and I have to say my fear of separation is right up there at the top of the list.

What I have come to realize is that fear of separation is the root cause of all my fear. Living in loss is the ultimate separation in my experience. Death is separation. Part of me separates from me and goes with them. Part of them stays with me. But initially, that feeling of aloneness and separation was close to unbearable.

After the initial shock, the reintegration process (for me) entails finding what’s gone and what’s left. It is the journey of putting the pieces back together in a new way and finding a new way of relating to them, to the world and to me. The Afterloss is the unfolding and reuniting of everything into a new relationship in life and loss.

I have found in this reintegration process that there is no separation. Nothing lives in isolation. As I have leaned into my fear of separation I have discovered that there is no separation and the fear that once controlled my life has now been brought back into my life in a new way. I still have fears rising up at times, but instead of trying to hold them at bay I welcome them into the fold. Fear loses its power when I no longer fear it.

So, when my friend said over twenty-years ago that “Fear is just an illusion,” I understand better what he meant. However, what helps me is to experience that fear is just an illusion of separation, and there is no separation. I will always have the ones I love. I wish I could have them physically here and that will never change. But I have learned to see the difference between my sorrow and my fear.

I understand and relate differently to fear now. It’s how I relate to my aloneness and separation that either heals me or perpetuates my fear.

Fear may just an illusion of separation, but I still want Rachel to call if she’s going to be late.



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