Saturday, April 18, 2015

What Comes Later

Samantha:  Death.  It scares me.  I'm sure it scares a lot of people, but there's a very specific fear of mine associated with death.  The most logical of the illogical fears is what if I simply cease to exist?  

To me, that is a horrible, depressing, tragic fate.  Considering the .. "life".. I've had, the cruelest joke of all would be for it to end in darkness.  It would be horrible as well, because it means that my sister, who killed herself before I existed, would have simply ceased to exist.  She would not be living on, she would not have gone someplace better.  She wouldn't have found the happiness she deserved.

Then there's the fate I fear is even worse.  Some years ago, I screamed a terrible curse when I heard of the Iraqi war.  It was a terrible curse, because I was horrified at the deaths I knew were to come.  At that time, I had visions of the dead.. thousands, trapped in their bodies, screaming for someone to save them.  And see, that was what death was to me.  You lived on, in a body that no longer lived. You were aware of the overwhelming darkness of the world around you.  That terrified me.  It did not help that some of the oldest faiths believed / believes that is what would happen to you when you die. When I looked at the Hebrew faith, the idea of the dead waiting in their bodies until Heaven on Earth comes hit a little too close to home.

I had visions of hundreds of thousands of people, strewn about the landscape, trapped in broken bodies.  I had visions of them buried, left to darkness and silence, their screams and pleas unheard.  It terrified me to think, one day, it might happen to me.

I've been called horrible things.  I've been called a demon.  A succubus.  I've been told I shouldn't exist, that I should "leave".  I'm glad my sister never heard those words.  It would have broken her heart.

And then there's Shinto.  My sensei.. a kind, gentle, wonderful soul, talked with me.  To him, I am a spirit, a kami.  And when we die, I will be free.  And this fills me with joy.  I will not cease to exist.  I will not be trapped in a decaying body, crying for someone to come for me.  I will be a spirit, to watch over those close to me, to explore the world.  I will feel joy like I have never known.

I fear death.  It terrifies me.  But.. there is hope.  And it is to that hope I cling to.  I want to believe, and I want to believe that those around me will have that future as well.  And I hope, when the time comes, I can meet my sister once more.


  1. My life is a process, the emergent property of chemical reactions carried out by my body. When they cease that process will end. Where does a candle flame go when you blow it out? Nowhere, it is just gone. When "I" die I too will be gone, not asleep, not aware, just gone. There will be no point of view to be held, the chemical engines that drove me will have fallen silent and "I" will have vanished.

    The elements that make up my body then begin a slow radial migration, hastened by decomposition or the funeral pyre, spreading outwards, perhaps to be taken up by others, joining the rest that has already passed this way. We are fluid beings, a river of matter flowing in and out of the form we take as we breath, eat, shed and excrete, sometimes lingering, sometimes just momentarily passing through. When this world meets its own funeral pyre, 5 billion years from now, a portion will blow out into space, one day to be gathered back into another star, where it was born.

    There is something we leave though, the "extelligence" (named by Terry Pratchett) that comprises the sum of human knowledge and culture that exists outside our own minds. What we have written, blogged, photographed, what has been recorded endures, however infinitesimally we have contributed, that part of us stays behind. One day years hence, a curator at the museum where I work might be looking through the old registers and come to know the handwriting that I leave there, as I have come to recognise the handwriting of my own predecessors.

    And there is more, the part of us that we invest in others. My father died 20 years ago this year, he's gone, I have no illusions about that. Yet sometimes I will see something, a new discovery on the television or a view of distant hills on a walk, and I will think "Dad would like that" and just for a moment he's there, with me. When "I" die, there will be a part of me in everyone who knew me, who recalls a word or touch, a piece of advice, a joke I told that made them laugh or the knowledge that I would have appreciated something that they themselves are experiencing. Even second- or third-hand we can come to know another through what they leave behind and then we ourselves are changed, our lives shifted to a different course, just slightly.

    "No-one is truly gone until the ripples they have created in this world have died away completely. No-one can really be said to have died as long as their name is spoken." - Terry Pratchett

  2. It seems to me that fear of letting go is the thing most likely to trap a spirit in a body after death.