Define Death

What is death?

I can only imagine the vast majority who walked the trails of Earth have asked this question at least once in their life. Yet there seems to be no real answer found.

Should we greet death with open arms or run from it as fast as our feet will carry us? Should we fear it or rejoice? People throughout the centuries have done all these and more.

But what is death?

Is it simply the death of the host body we call Earthling? Or does something more tragic happen? Do our souls die, cease to exist and do our screens go black?

More than a dozen years ago, my sister and I were driving on the highway. She mentioned that she feared death because there was nothing there. It all just ended in nothing. I asked her, “How do you know it ends and there is nothing there but nothing?”

She explained that when she went under for an operation, there was only nothing. She couldn’t see, hear or feel. Those moments were blank.

Cup editedI asked her, “How did you remember there was nothing?”

“Because I woke up.”

“Exactly,” I said. “And you will know you passed through the nothing after death when you resume consciousness in your next life form.”

When I went under for the first and only time a few years ago, I prepared for the nothing. Everyone I talked to said there was only nothing to remember. They were wrong. Not only did I remember where I had gone during that time, I was still living it when the nurse forced me to wake in the recovery room. Apparently I was taking too long to wake, so they encouraged me.

Sadly, it didn’t feel like encouragement. It felt like a violent rip from the place where I stood on the mountainside. I had been with familiar people, and they needed my help. The waking overwhelmed and upset me. The nurse grew concerned and asked why I cried.

“I was dreaming,” I said, not willing to impart the true reason.

No one dreams while they are under, I am told. Or is it they simply don’t remember that they dreamt?

And is death like that? A dream in another place, another time? Or are we dreaming now? Are we off to a better place or something worse? I do not believe in Heaven or Hell, the opposite extremes of black and white created only to entertain and give hope and fear. I do believe in reincarnation or the afterlife or something after our host bodies expire.

But what is death to those left behind?

Do we rejoice for having been lucky enough to have known the person who passed, or do we mourn for having to live the rest of our days without them? Death is an oxymoron in one word.

My first memory of death comes from my grandmother. She was 92 and I was 12. I recall hearing the news, my parents attending the funeral and the empty rocking chair in her livingroom. But she didn’t live with us or near us. She lived three hours down the highway where we spent much of our summer vacation. She died in the winter, and we had six months for life to return to normal before I visited again.

Ali Boutilier (left) and my dad, Stephen Tibert (right)
Ali Boutilier (left) and my dad, Stephen Tibert (right)

My father’s death was the complete opposite. We knew it was coming; it crept in the house for almost a year before claiming him. He was 67 and I was 21. And now I have lived more years without him than with him. I remember turning 42 and thinking that. On one hand, I was lucky; some people lost a parent long before the age of 21. But on the other, I felt robbed; many people are lucky enough to have their parents alive when they are in their forties.

My father and I shared many similar interests, and when I faltered, he was there to help me fix whatever needed fixing. I was a tomboy, and although Mom might help me bake a cake, she couldn’t fix the brakes on my truck or help me patch the hole in my boat. Dad could and did. When he left, a void was created that still exists because after all these decades I have never found anyone I could depend on to work as a partner to ready the fishing gear, paint the boat, do an oil change in the truck and enjoy the outdoors life that makes me feel alive.

line water

I wrote the above piece when my cousin’s husband passed away in April. I knew him all my life, and his death was unexpected even though he was having surgery for an illness. Today I read what I’d written from a different angle. All morning, the only thing I can think about is death.

A horrible accident occurred in the wee hours of the morning in our neighbouring community. Two young girls—ages 17 and 18—were taken from this world tragically. My two oldest children have known the 17-year-old for twelve years. They met when she was in grade one. The other young woman was an international exchange student my kids didn’t know.

The mood at the local high school is surreal. The accident is unfathomable. It didn’t need to happen. It doesn’t make any sense. The exchange student graduated in January, the other should have been walking on stage to get her diploma with my daughter in two weeks. I keep thinking it’s a rumour and the girls will show up at school; it was all a prank.

But the news keeps telling me otherwise. I can picture the guitar the 17-year-old painted for the local art show a few years ago. I remember admiring it, thinking, she’s talented.

The reports of police and grief councillors at the school, the police still at the scene of the accident and at the girl’s home, keeps pounding in the facts: it did happen, and two young women who were just getting started in life won’t be going home to their families.

Death makes no sense. Maybe it’s not supposed to.

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9 thoughts on “Define Death

  1. A very powerful post and leaving me with lots to reflect on. Experiencing death of those around us can be so very different. I’m sorry to hear that your Father passed so early in life. The tragedy of the young people just heart ripping.

  2. Thanks for sharing this, Diane. How tragic for the families and the whole community. It is surreal and senseless and the questions about what happens beyond the door of death make it all the more mysterious. The possibilities can be comforting, but the not-knowing is hard. I’m comfortable with the unknowable, but it’s taken time to get here. And I’m an avid believer in the cliche: Better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all. My thoughts are with you and your community and all those who have commented here on how death has affected their lives.

  3. I too woke up from surgery talking in a completely different accent but asking for my wife, Becca. I was very annoyed with the nurse for waking me. I was brought up by my Aunt and Uncle, my Mum was really ill and my Dad was in no position to look after me. I stayed with Aunt and Uncle so in reality they were my parents, my birth parents visited. Anyway, back on track. I was 20 when I lost my Aunt to cancer, for ten years I was on auto pilot, then my uncle went away and two years later he died. The next one to go was my birth Dad, again cancer, then my birth Mum died, cancer again, 10 years later. But, I saw my Dad, accept his fate with grace and the certainty that this wasn`t the end for him. They all believed in the after life and I do too, but it still doesn`t fill the void that they have left, even when I receive messages from them. I miss them like crazy and my life will always have a hole in it that death created.

  4. Powerful post Di. I have to believe there is something after this life. How do we hear about people having past lives if there is no other life? Yet, we fear death. It’s natural because we don’t have an affirmative answer from those who have passed.
    I’ve had too much experience with death in my younger life, losing many loved ones, and each one felt different to me. My father in particular left one of the biggest voids in me, not so different than you, I was 31, he was 55.
    I cannot define death, but as much as I fear it myself, I have to believe there is something after. 🙂

  5. Hi Diane,

    Thanks so much for sharing your intimate thoughts. I have to say we are having similar thoughts as my brother in law is losing his battle with cancer. He is very spiritual and believes God is calling him and that God is stronger than his will to stay here with his wife (my sister) children and grandchildren. He believes hell is on earth and feels comfort in knowing he is going to a better place.

    There are many that have experienced the other side during surgeries. I recently went to the movies and saw Miracles from Heaven an phenomenal movie of a little girl with an illness a true story which also made believers of many who didn’t believe.

    But yes I too was thinking of these girls when I heard it this morning and was reminded of when my brothers son died of suicide in 2007 Adam Cashen after jumping from the MacDonald bridge. It was very difficult to think that he had done it and I remember being at work when I received the call early in the morning at 6:30am and then my family coming to pick me up and go to DND to be with the family while they retrieve the body.

    It is still strikes me as odd not seeing him at family gatherings etc. he was a such a fine young man only 20 yrs. ready to begin his legal studies with his brother at St. Mary’s University in Sept. his parents knew nothing of his thoughts the night before while they were BBQ and he was mowing the lawn and being so funny, as always, kind, lovable, extremely kind to strangers, always a high achiever; hockey receiving several awards. I still find it difficult. It is surreal and I had even thought that he would be found in the water and survive. Not to be!

    We did wonder why; but if you could call it luck… he left a note and he explained how he was suffering and then we knew he had been planning to do it someday as he saw no other way. He suffered in silence from bipolar. His mother a nurse struggled with it for years but when they become of age you have no control over when and if they are still taking their medication or visits with their doctor.

    Adam had lost a girlfriend in a car accident in Jan. of the same year and he died July 26, 2007 he should have received help then but we didn’t know how bad he was suffering. The ones remaining such as his peers and classmates had a terrible struggle with his death and yes a few did commit suicide later during over the next two years. Out of that graduating class their have been nine deaths, not from the same cause but one died in Korea accidentally, one at O’Reagan’s of a work related death etc.

    When there is death among young adults it is a good idea to keep a close eye on the friends and acquaintances surrounding the school and neighbourhood. Our thoughts are with those families and how difficult this will be for the parents of the exchange student to hear.

    Didn’t mean to ramble on so long. Irene

    >

    • Thank you for sharing, Irene.

      I didn’t experience the other side when I was in surgery; I visited a place I’ve been visiting in my dreams since I was young. I knew the people–no one from this world–because I met them decades ago. I always believed this place was the other plane of existence, another world to visit while sleeping. I dream all the time. I always have.

      Suicide would add a different feeling to the tragedy in Lantz, but it appears to be just an accident. Still, classmates are finding it difficult to understand. And I know, try as they may, they will never understand because there is no understanding to it. They were on the tracks and didn’t get off in time. Another ten minutes, and they may have been safely off the tracks and on their way home.

      There’s been several discussions with my kids about this, and we will keep it going for as long as they want to talk about it. I’ve always been able to talk with my kids, so this leaves them free to discuss what they want. Prom and graduation ceremonies will bring new challenges for them. It is certainly a horrible way to remember your last year in high school.

      Your story about your nephew reminds me of learning about one of my former classmates who took his life on the same bridge. We had met in junior high. From grades seven to nine, we had a friendly competition with our marks (we were both top of the class). Sometimes he would get the award, and other times I would. He was a friendly, outgoing, intelligent person with a bright future, and one night when he was in his early 20s, walked to bridge and jumped. When I learned of the news many years later, I was shocked to know he could do that. It was beyond reason, beyond understanding.

  6. I was lucky to have my dad until I was 58 but I still feel the void he left. The tough one was losing my 19-year-old brother in an industrial accident 41 years ago. That one still doesn’t make sense and never will. My heart goes out to the parents of those two young women.

    • Thank you for sharing, Darlene. Death is tough under almost every circumstance. Certainly when young, healthy people are killed in accidents, it’s the hardest to understand.

      When my niece died in 2002, I actually felt relief. She was only twelve, but for most of her life she had suffered, was confined to bed and could do nothing for herself. I always felt she was trapped in her body, so when she died, I believe she was set free.

      With cancer victims like my father, we knew he was suffering terribly, we knew he would die. In a way, it was a relief for him to let go though his absence left the void.

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