Musings on death

posted in: Other | 5
picture of Death as a skeleton with a scythe

Death. It’s something that everyone reading this post must face at some time. At my age, many people I have known and loved have passed the final portal. Some deaths were expected, and indeed, were a relief to the dying and to those left behind. Others died suddenly, brutally, and far too young. Yet others took their own lives.

Just recently another person I cared about succumbed far too young to cancer. I knew that, unlike me, this woman had believed in God and I suppose that’s the reason I’ve written this.

If you ask me, I’ll tell you I’m an atheist, that I do not believe that anything but the strange and arbitrary forces that operate in the universe ‘created’ us. But actually, if pressed, I would have to say that I’m an agnostic. Just as the religious among us cannot prove there is a God, those of us who don’t believe in the imaginary father figure in the sky (or whatever) cannot prove there is no such thing as ‘god’.

So what happens as we face death? My anticipation of what will happen is as certain as anyone else’s. I believe my body will cease to function. I will go to sleep and I will never wake up. The cells that together made up my being will be swept up into a new creation. My ashes will help something else grow and thrive. It fascinates me to think that every cell in my body – indeed, on this planet – was created from elements once spewed out into the universe from the death throes of a giant star. It’s only right that those building blocks will be passed on, in some way, to something new.

Those with a religious bent believe there’s more to life than the corporeal, that we have something else, call it a soul if you will, that ‘lives’ on independently of the body. What happens next can vary, according to tradition. You might be reincarnated as a new entity. You might go to heaven or hell. You might be entertained forever by virgins, or have the Valkyrie sweep you away to feast in the halls of your fathers. Or whatever.

Terry Pratchett has the most wonderful way of dealing with the mythology surrounding death. In his Discworld books Death is real, an anthropomorphism of an idea. Over the centuries death has often been pictured as a skeleton with a scythe, an image which Pratchett uses in his books. He adds bright blue, distant lights in the eye sockets of the skull, which always makes me think of those stellar super giants whose fiery deaths are an act of creation. Death has a cameo appearance in almost every Discworld novel and has a major supporting role in Reaper man, Mort and Hogfather. And he likes cats. In the best traditions of witchcraft, witches and cats can see him while they’re still alive.

Just about every time an important character dies, Death appears, speaking in sepulchral tones (all caps) never dictating what will happen next. If the recently deceased asks if there will be dancing girls, he says, “Do you want there to be?” Perhaps that’s the best thing you can wish the family of someone who has just died, that their beloved is now at peace/in heaven/carousing with the Valkyries/about to be reincarnated as a cat.

Sorry about the morbid navel-gazing. We will now return to normal programming.

5 Responses

  1. susan curnow

    I believed in the nothing part until Richard passed. Of course when you lose a child you desperately *want* there to be so much more. That it isn’t the end for them as much as reassurance for yourself. And I still don’t know for absolute certain, except for the strange things which happened after his death. You try to justify them ‘scientifically’ and you can’t. Silly things like whenever anything in my life is going on right now I trip over pennies and dimes. Many would say coincidence, but it has happened way too often for coincidence. His picture which leapt off a perfectly safe sideboard. The vision overlaying his army picture. I could go on. I sometimes feel these things are ‘echoes’. meaning echoes of their existence that replays on this plane. Others would call it spirit or soul. There is something for sure, but a pretty unquantifiable something, which is why I guess people struggle with it so much. I no longer believe there is ‘nothing’ but that like radio waves their spirits bounce off the ether to remind us of who they were, and if only we knew how to listen we would hear them much more clearly. I never believed in angels either, but when they shout in your ear you kinda have to. I say that lightly but it isn’t light to me. I do know that I am not half so worried about dying as I used to be and that is not an age thing, it is all I have learned.

    • Greta

      And to that I say if it is a comfort to you, that’s wonderful. Perhaps you’re correct. I do not have the right, or the facts, to judge. I’ll add, though, that I don’t dismiss ‘paranormal’ events. Many things happen that we don’t understand, because we have no way of understanding.

      • susan curnow

        It’s a funny conundrum. Because you so want to believe, you actually go all out to prove the opposite, if that makes sense. You’ve been hurt enough by the death, you don’t need to be hurt by some false hope. And while, yes, I’ve tried psychics and whatnot, there are not many I have believed. *I* know when my son is around. I just do and it is very weird. And I did dismiss so much in the beginning as the product of an overwrought and grieving imagination, but I don’t any more. *shrugs* very hard to explain.

  2. Julia Barrett

    Well… Hmmm. I wrote a book about death. Feel free to read it. I’ll send you a copy if you like. My father is an atheist, my mother an agnostic. My father taught us kids this – When you die, there is nothing. However I died at the age of 16 and there was not nothing. And that’s about all I’ll say. 🙂

    • Greta

      I’d be interested in your take on it. I don’t rule anything out, you see.

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