I woke up from a dream this morning in which I was visited by a young woman and her family to talk about the death of her husband and to plan a memorial service for him. The woman primarily needed someone to listen to her as she worked through her emotions surrounding his death and what had happened to him afterwards. She wanted some reassurance that whatever it was that happened after death, that he would not be in pain.
This got me thinking this morning on my walk to work about how I envision whatever happens after our deaths. Blame it on all the reading I am doing for my death doula training…
I have to admit upfront that we do not and cannot intellectually and logically know what happens to us after death. Knowing what happens after is not the same as knowing that the capital of Iowa is Des Moines. Not everyone agrees. It is not a fact that you can point to and say, “This is how it is and I know because I have been there and remember.” Well, there are plenty who could say that. But I think we can safely say there is no verifiable proof one way or the other. While I do not know, I can imagine and envision what may happen. And I imagine quite a bit.
I imagine that when my physical body dies that the part of me that is spirit and aware will continue to exist. I imagine that I will get to sleep for a while and then awake refreshed and ready to decide to either meld my spirit with flesh again or become one of the Ancestors. I imagine that I may feel totally detached from humankind and decide to explore the universe from a vastly different perspective. I imagine that when my spirit separates from my dead body that it will be simply reabsorbed into a great energetic ocean that enlivens the entire universe.
Sometimes I imagine that the thinking, feeling, perceiving part of me is intrinsic to the flesh, and that when the body dies, what we like to think of as spirit ceases to exist. This is not as horrifying to me as it used to be. In this case, I will not feel the pain and anxiety nor the happiness and joy I feel now. But I can take comfort in the fact that I can arrange to have my body disposed in such a way that it is more easily reabsorbed as part of the world around me. I don’t have to be the end of the food chain. I also take comfort in the fact that I will be remembered and that I have done things in my life that, hopefully, have made a difference to others.
Faith occurs in holding the paradox. I don’t know, but I can imagine. I can imagine different scenarios, and I am okay holding what seems like paradox. Both/and rather than either/or. None of these imaginings are any more true than any of the others, or than any of those that humans have imagined in the past and called “truth.” And I do not fear any of them.
I do have a fear, and that is the possibility that my body will die and my awareness will continue to exist, but in isolation, being trapped inside itself and having no reference to anything else. To spend eternity in the darkness, without touch, without sight, without any way to make connection with anyone or anything else. To be utterly alone and alienated. To me, that would be Hell. Without a body, physical torture means nothing. Without a body and no one to accompany and nothing to perceive, I can imagine that but not without shuddering deep inside.
This may be why death is so feared. At the bottom line, at our most naked, we face the great unknown, the mystery, and come away awestruck but still not knowing until this body, this human that we are, dies. What an adventure!