19 April 2009

What do I believe?

Fellow UCFer Jeri lost her husband very suddenly a month ago, and asked for thoughts on life after death. Here are some of mine.

My father survived his death, and I saw him in the corner of the ceiling behind me when I went to visit his body. It was one of the most distressing things I've ever seen - for here was my father, in the room with me, but he wasn't in his body. His body lay before me and looked just like any other inanimate object, a piece of furniture, like it had never been alive. And he, no longer hidden beneath all those representative facades that everyone wears as they go through life in various roles, he was purely him.

I don't know that I'd call it a soul, because that word is laden with so many connotations from every religion. Maybe spirit, or (as I called it before I knew anyone else had vocabulary for the same concepts) essence. Everyone has an essence, and when they are open and being themselves, glimpses show through. Right after my father died was when I saw the whole thing, he as himself and completely true.

I was very upset, because due to a miscommunication between the hospital staff and the rest of my family, nobody warned me before I stepped into the room that he was dead. My first instinct was to grab hold of him and put him back in, but I didn't know how and also thought that might be bad. I wanted to turn around and look at him directly, but there was the nurse with me, and what would she think of me if I did? So we didn't talk to each other, and I'll always wish that i'd been better prepared so that we could.

After that, there came the dreams. He would visit me and try to talk to me. The first one, my mundane dream had taken me out into our garage, and he was standing there like he always did when he smoked, and he asked how we were doing. We talked while my own dream tried to call me back, until eventually I was distracted and pulled back in. Other times, we were in our original house, in his office area on the third floor.

But his questions almost never made any sense. Dreams are places where reality is ever-shifting, where things change around as attention shifts from moment to moment, and where communication doesn't happen in speech, but in symbols and emotion. But he kept coming back and we kept trying.

A lot of the early ones were colored with dark melancholy, and I remember them all as being tinted blue. There was one in particular where we were on a very long journey, on a flat, featureless road across an empty plain. I drove while he wallowed in despair. Our car broke down and we stopped at a tiny motel. He was blind stinking drunk, chain smoking, in a completely self-destructive mood, and absolutely did not want to go anywhere. I think he wanted to just lie there and rot away. But I knew we had to keep moving, he had to get to where he was going (which I knew in the dream, but don't remember now). Our car disappeared at some point while we were resting - while he was resting while I was scouting ahead. Forward momentum was clearly going to be totally hopeless, because the only way to continue was on foot. I accepted that with quiet resignation, because stopping wasn't actually an option. But he didn't want to go, so I had to half drag, half carry him along. Finally he turned to me and asked, why would I want to help a sad, pathetic, miserable wretch like him? couldn't I see how worthless he was? And I stopped, the journey disappeared as I turned to him and replied (and I think my voice resounded through the land), because he was my father and I loved him, what kind of stupid question was that? now come on!

I like to think that I helped him along the way to where he was going. As time went on, the blue melancholy tinting went away, and there were dreams tinted in yellow. In the next to last dream, he appeared to me outside some kind of public building (a school, maybe), and he was in good spirits. We did our usual try at talking, where he asked questions that made no sense and my answers probably made less sense, and then I thought that was the end. After that, I assumed he had moved on and all was well with him.

But several months later, he was back with the blue tinting. I didn't handle that visit well at all. What are you doing back here? You're supposed to have moved on! If that's not what really happened, leave me to my fictional belief that I helped you and that all is well now and that you're gone. And he withdrew, and I haven't seen him since. And now I'll always wonder what that last visit had been about, and wish I had been better prepared to listen.

So what do I believe, about what happens after death? I don't know. I'm standing on the wrong side of the veil, on the beach at the edge of the sea, and the ones who have departed are seeing things and doing things and concerned with things that I couldn't begin to comprehend.


Jeri said...

Ugh, I hate that Blogger reloads its comment field on me sometimes and destroys a couple lines of comment text!

Anyway, that last paragraph is a very lovely and profound statement of your view of death, of the transition, the alternate state of existence.

I'll have more intelligent commentary later - it's super late and I have to get up early - but wanted to thank you for such an insightful post.

Tom said...


mattw said...

That's pretty interesting. Maybe it's not up to you to fully understand what happened in the dream?

mattw said...

What I meant was, maybe you're not supposed to fully understand what happened in the dream.

MWT said...

Well, he looked like he was trying pretty darn hard to me. It was more the lack-of-common-language barrier.