I love a good time travel story.
I sometimes wonder what it would be like to explain to a future culture that at one time (now) people stared at a black-screened box (television) for so many hours a day we got fat doing so. How do you explain the complexity of the experiences offered by things like stereos, computers and TV sets once offered if power is unavailable?
In thousands of years, perhaps curious humans will dig up our “Mount Trashmore” hills of sour, old garbage to find interesting things like my old Nokia brick phone, forgotten computers, and old television sets. These things, once a part of a working culture that used electricity, might even have all of the required parts to work, but no longer will without electricity. Without the “magic” of electricity, they simply won’t function.
I wonder – in future archeological digs, will people understand that the cords attached to everything electronic served as a tether to the power source? Dying is the same way. Like humans, when the life is gone, the machine remains – useless and inexplicably ready to go, equipment-wise. Yet something is still missing – the power. The plug no longer connects to the source.
Do we each have a soul?
Religion can be a lot of things. Meditation, incantations, traditions – or to some, irritation, to name a few. I don’t need to tell you the reasons we get into it or stay away from it. Those reasons, or lack of reasons, are as individual as we are. They are things that can only be answered by each, individual person.
I have always felt that it was smart to determine a faith because – as I have explained to my kids – that no one gets out of life alive. Many things may twist and turn in the great adventures that await us in life, but only one thing is truly certain: death. Call me a planner, but I have always figured we should start with the finish line in mind, then have as much fun and adventure as possible once the end is figured out.
These are the discussions I’m having with grieving children who will lose a man who was both mother and father to them. While we are all one group, five children are mourning a wonderful, loving stepfather, and five children are mourning their lifelong, sweet dad. We are all learning to cope and look forward, to keep on going. Losing him will be different for each of us. Sometimes it’s very hard not to dwell on the unfairness of the whole thing, so I try to remind everyone we can’t indulge it for too long.
As for me, the pursuit of the spiritual real deal has brought me to a mosque, temple, Eastern thought, many varities of protestant churches, and finally my home – Catholicism. Maybe not a great fit for everyone, but a good fit for me. Do we really exist after death? There’s no way to research death when flat-lining people is the only research method.
During a crisis of faith some years ago and tiring of rhetoric from pulpits, I decided it would be smart to go to as close to the real source as possible – I began reading about people who had a near death experience (NDE), even as old as Plato’s Republic:
“..the tale of a warrior bold, Er, the son of Armenious, by race a Pamphylian. He once upon a time was slain in battle, and when the corpses were taken up on the tenth day already decayed, he was found intact, and having been brought home, at the moment of his funeral, on the twelfth day as he lay upon the pyre, revived, and after coming to life related what, he said, he had seen in the world beyond. He said that when his soul went forth from his body he journeyed with a great company and that they came to a mysterious region where there were two openings side by side in the Earth, and above and over against them in the heaven two others, and that judges were sitting between these, and that after every judgment they bade the righteous journey to the right and upward through the heaven with tokens attached to them in front of the judgment passed upon them, and the unjust to take the road to the left and downward, they too wearing behind signs of all that had befallen them, and that when he himself drew near they told him that he must be the messenger to humanity to tell them of that other world, and they charged him to give ear and to observe everything in the place.” (Rep. X,614 b,c,d)
From the other tunnels came souls preparing for reincarnation on Earth. From above came souls happily reporting “delights and visions of a beauty beyond words.” From below came souls lamenting and wailing over a thousand years of dreadful sufferings, where people were repaid manifold for any earthly suffering they had caused. Journeying on, the newcomers saw:
“..extended from above throughout the heaven and the Earth, a straight light like a pillar, most nearly resembling the rainbow, but brighter and purer … and they saw there at the middle of the light the extremities of its fastenings stretched from heaven, for this light was the girdle of the heavens like the undergirders of triremes, holding together in like manner the entire revolving vault.” (Rep. X, 616 b,c)
Then I started interviewing a near death researcher or two. Then I talked to family members. To my surprise, an uncle, grandmother and great grandmother all had out of body or actual near death experiences. These were sane people I knew, people who weren’t all about writing a memoir about it. The super-interesting thing is that while many experiences are similar, many are quite different. Like people can only experience a certain amount before coming back. Most experience a recognizable, consuming love.
My uncle remembers vividly seeing his own body given CPR. He said, “I was at the top of the ceiling, looking down, feeling sorry for the poor fellow. Then the nurse jumped on to beat his chest, until I realized it was me, then I don’t remember anything else.”
P.M.H Atwater, a field researcher of near death experiencers has interviewed over 4,000 people about their experiences. Thanks to modern medicine, people are frequently revived after clinically dying, and live to tell their stories. Most doctors will tell you a dying brain creates these illusions due to hypoxia (oxygen deprivation), medications, or just something the brain does when it’s dying. But according to P.M.H.’s research, surprisingly most patients who have NDEs don’t suffer oxygen loss or are on anesthesia.
Medical professionals who blame the brain should at least read Eben Alexander’s book – he was a neurosurgeon. He was also an atheist and knew very well the right temporal lobe could produce out of body sensations. When he developed a deadly brain infection he knew the grey matter which would produce positive experiences was simply gone in his own brain. Yet he had extremely vivid experiences.
How does this work? As if this wasn’t enough, he was escorted through heaven by a nice young woman. Later he identified the young woman he saw as a sibling he never knew he had (he was adopted and his sister had died many years prior – he wasn’t aware he had a biological sister).
Our bodies rarely do anything that is unnecessary. The pleasure of food helps nourish our bodies. The pleasure of attractiveness leads to mating, friends or groups. The pleasure of sex helps us procreate. What then is the biological purpose of a pleasant heavenly vision during death? If it’s just a bizarre phenomenon that simply happens due to extra chemicals spilling out, then why don’t other pleasureable things happen randomly happen with other chemicals – like a sweet taste in your mouth, or last-minute, super-great vision? What’s with the hyper-real spiritual visions which features heavenly beings? Why would the body – when its designed to make survival its main mission – do things to make death sweeter? There’s simply no purpose in it. Producing sensations, visions and different realities to make someone crave dying is counter to survival. Fear, for example, would be a more logical response, to encourage survival. Not elation or inspiration which encourage the acceptance of dying.
What if dying is spiritual? What if we really do survive? What if religion is more than poetry and stained glass windows, and really offers a leap to a new, different experience as a human?
Perhaps it’s true – maybe we survive death.
My grandfather, who was blind in old age, missed my grandmother so much. Out of curiosity, one night I asked him if he ever dreamed of her. He said, “You know, it’s funny you should ask. I haven’t had a single dream since I was a teenager – all of these years. But in the last few weeks I’ve been seeing your grandmother. I can see her very clearly, and up close, like she’s really there! We look out over the orchard from the attic, kitchen and basement, just as we used to do in the house. And we also dance!” He said the visions were hyper-realistic, or as you commonly hear, “more real than real”. I told him these were really her, and to enjoy these visits.
I hope Kevin visits me in my dreams!
Much of Kevin is already gone. Like removing a bandaid when I was a kid, I suppose the gentle pulling is less painful to all of us than a sudden one. His is a considerate, gentle passing – suitable for such a sensitive, gentle person.
He laughs at joke sometimes (although it hurts his stomach). But he can no longer converse. Answers are limited to yes or no questions. With the exception of brief waking moments, he sleeps all day and all night. While he can stand if helped by two of us, he is too weak to walk without risking another serious fall. He can no longer move his entire right arm. He is no longer hungry and rarely thirsty. He is not in pain.
The speed at which melanoma works is mind boggling. Only a week ago we were shopping in Walmart, as he slowly (and stubbornly) pushed a shopping cart with me hollering from behind nagging him to ride on the scooter instead. He wouldn’t do it. Each day he loses something.
Wednesday, which seems like months ago, he woke with tears running down his face. He told me his mother had touched his stomach. It had been hurting earlier that day, so I gave him meds. He said she leaned down to touch him and the pain left. He said, “she was really here”. I asked if he had seen her, and he said not with his eyes, but that he actually felt her, and knew it was her. “I’ve really missed her” he said. I said, “I bet it was awesome to sense her with you again after so long,” and he just nodded.