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.
“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.
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.
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.