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.