• Shawna Baca

The Fear of Mortality


When I was a child, I used to think that I was immortal. I had no concept whatsoever about humans and their journeys or that we trudged through life, only to one day meet our fate with death. I had no idea that we weren’t like our superhero counterparts and that if we were hurt or in an accident, that we only had one life in us. I know it is an ultra-naïve perspective to have, but it is one that many of us share until we wake up one day to the fact that death is inevitable.


I was someone who by the age of seventeen had three fathers die; my biological one at seven months old, my stepfather at six-years old, and another stepfather when I was seventeen. Although, I had experienced death at a young age, I thought that only happened to men and more precisely, fathers. Such a strange revelation that I would feel exempt to this experience but when I saw my life in the future, I always saw myself dying when I was really old. So old, that I couldn’t really place a number on it.


Although, I had overdosed at fourteen and again at nineteen, I still didn’t think that death would happen to me. That is the thing about the youth, we often overlook the bigger picture of life. I often questioned myself, “what is the purpose for our existence?” Not just what we want to be when we grow up, but a bigger sense of the human experience. As humans, we are born and we experience living our lives on this human journey and then we die, but why?


“Why are we here?” Some people will say our purpose as humans is to come here and experience love, to become the best versions of ourselves, or to discover the power of God. Some others argue that we come here to find happiness. I have lost many people in my life, so much so, that it made me not want to get close to people for decades. I not only built walls around me, I built forts. There was a time I guarded myself from being close to people on so many levels because I just couldn’t keep going through heartache after heartache of losing and missing more loved ones. Their deaths became a constant reminder of my own mortality. Then, I realized that I was going to die one day, too. One day, that naïve girl inside me died and I woke up as an adult and the fairytale of the world dissipated and became bleak. I recall freaking out about this at first, wondering about how death would happen to me and I kept thinking and wondering if death would be painful? How am I going to die? Will I be young? Will it be an accident, or in my sleep, or worse, some excruciating disease? I tried to reassure myself about it, but every time I thought about it, it gave me anxiety.


The idea of death terrifies many people. Over the years, I have lost friends who couldn’t show up for me or be around me when I was grieving. I thought they were horrible friends for a long time, but now I have a better understanding that some people can’t show up for you when you are grieving because they just don’t know how, or they are afraid of death and the idea of being around it makes them face their own reality that one day it’s going to happen to them.


If I dissect death down to the basics, I guess what I really feared is the unknown. No one really knows what stands on the other side of death. It’s easy to fear what we don’t know or what we have never experienced.


One thing I can say is that since I was a little girl, I always had this self-belief, a sort of inner knowing. I would stare up at the sun and I knew that it was the giver of life. I knew instinctually that it was the reason I existed. I knew that is where I came from and would one day return to it, when I could no longer live in this body. Later in my adult life, I discovered that the Ancient Egyptian believed that the God of Creation, Akun, lived inside the sun and that he was the giver of life. I don’t worship the sun, but I do know that without it, life on Earth as we live it now couldn’t exist. Whether you are spiritual, religious, an atheist, or agnostic, we can all agree that everything is energy and matter, which means us humans are made of energy and matter and we know that we cannot live without the energy from the sun.


Many cultures and spiritual beliefs teach us to honor death because they believe the afterlife is a paradise, one that is much sweeter than we could possibly imagine. Ultimately, I learned to accept death as a part of life. At that point, I looked back at my life, digressing into that dark place in my 20s, where I suffered from mental illness and I feared the world of the living. I remember feeling that the world was a place where bad things happen to people. People who suffer from some sort of mental illness like I did, often feel that the world they live becomes too hard of a place for them to live in. We lose trust and belief that we can find our way out of it, and that we can find happiness.


It really does take a village to get us out of that rabbit hole and turn that perception around. I had taken my not so pleasant experiences of life and turned them into a monster that trapped me inside myself and took over my identity and thoughts. With the help of Medicine People, therapists, and light workers, I had to learn how to retrain the way I looked at things, and mostly to not internalize them or take them as personal attacks on me. I had to teach myself to trust the world and trust myself in the world. I had to retrain my brain to believe that good things can happen to me and it became a daily practice. It was hard, really hard, until it wasn’t! It didn’t happen overnight. Some thing’s took months, others took years. I battled one at a time, until I ultimately changed my perceptions of the world, I lived in.


Today, I no longer fear death and I no longer fear living in this world. I have learned to be okay with stepping into the unknown and out of my comfort zone, to live life in the moment. Mostly, I had to learn to trust that the world I live in is a safe place and that, although, I don't understand the bigger picture, I know that the journey may be much sweeter than I can possibly imagine.


For everyone I lost, I still carry a piece of them with me. Somehow like that little girl who used to gaze at the sun and be grateful that it gave me life, I know… just know that I will see them again one day. For now, the memories that I have of the past, the memories that I create with all my loved ones around me, are the elixir of life that keeps this engine running.

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About the Author

SHAWNA BACA

Shawna Baca is the author of the transformational memoir, "FEAR LESS: Conquering the Demons of Mental Purgatory," and an award winning writer, director, and producer. She was selected by Steven Spielberg and Mark Burnett from more than 20,000 filmmakers to be part of the 2007 FOX television show, On The Lot.  She received a “Mujeres Destacadas” award by La Opinion newspaper and the City of Los Angeles and was honored at the Latina Symposium in Washington D.C. in recognition of her positive portrayal of Latinos and Hispanics in the media. Shawna has been creating New Media content for corporate clients ever since and has produced a feature documentary. She is currently developing the coming of age feature drama, "Space for Raven," which was a second rounder in the 2020 Austin Film Festival Screenplay Competition, a 2020 WeScreenplay Diverse Voices - Semi-finalist, and a 2020 Script Pipeline Feature Screenplay - Quarter-finalist. 

She was born in Los Angeles where she currently resides, and is Apache, Yaqui, Spanish and French. 

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