Amen, Amen, Amen

An exploration of how obsessive-compulsive disorder can be a gift

With Eyes Wide Open

Giving birth and thinking about death.

I am watching my newborn son squirm and wiggle. Shuffle through his rolodex of new emotions and facial expressions. He burps and stretches his chubby arms to the sky, then winks involuntarily.

I am watching my newborn son, and thinking about my dead best friend.

She was beautiful. Warm brown eyes, a small dusting of freckles across her nose. She laughed with her whole body.

It’s so clear though, as she inched towards death, her body looked like my newborn’s. All kinds of emotions crashing together in her eyes. Stretching, reaching, searching. Everything about her death was involuntary. This was how my mom looked as I watched her die too. Which I find so crazily confusing, somewhat hopeful, and most of all, miraculous.

At first, I felt guilty that I was thinking about death while cuddling my new son. It started with very vivid dreams about my best friend’s last days. I woke up to breastfeed and got scared my nightmares might leach into my milk. Then again, they weren’t nightmares so much as visits. I was stunned by how close she felt. I wanted to ask her how she was, where she was.

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I doubt we’ll ever get “proof” that souls continue after our bodies are gone. Or word back from our loved ones who’ve shuffled off this mortal coil. And I’m grateful for the mystery.

These last two months, as my son begins to hold his head up more and smile, I see him coming into being. Filling out his nose and eyelashes. Wrapping his fingers around my thumb. Embodying himself.

At the same time, my best friend is fading from the physical world. Almost as if they are exchanging places. I can’t pretend to understand. I just watch.  

Abby Sher is a writer and performer in Brooklyn, New York, and the author of Amen, Amen, Amen: Memoir of a Girl Who Couldn't Stop Praying.

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