Where do you go when you die?
A week or so ago I had a dream that someone held a gun to my head, and in that moment I knew death was inevitable, so I just closed my eyes and said, Go ahead and do it. I don’t remember feeling fear so much as feeling that whatever was about to happen next was simply inevitable. After that I remember a feeling of flying out of my body and being nothing but mind, or spirit, or whatever you want to call the stuff that is you which is not physical.
I believe that dreams are a doorway into the subconscious or the soul. Somewhere deep down we know things we can’t always easily access. This dream for me is about transformation. Growth and rebirth. On some level while the transformation is happening we know it but we don’t always feel it, not right away. It’s not until one day I realize that I no longer think about that obsession that used to haunt me. Or I find that I no longer react or feel a certain way in certain situations.
Change can be terrifying. At the time it can be scary leaving the comfort of the known reality we’ve been living in, even when that reality was no longer the direction in which we needed to grow.
Often I wonder where my mom’s soul is. Where her mind is, her thoughts. Her face is so clear to me in my mind’s eye. The memory of her is so fresh, how smooth her skin was the last time she kissed me good night. I can hear her words in my head. I remember the scent of the perfume she wore when I was a child, perfume that she hadn’t worn in years. Is she now in some kind of parallel universe, what some might call Heaven, is she aware of what’s going on in this world now? Was I in some other world prior to this, and now have no memory of it? Sometimes I have random dreams about faraway places, and sometimes I dream that I am some other person, or a mere observer inside someone else’s life, and I wonder, Is that my mind making that up, or is that a memory of a previous life? Is it symbolic of not being an active participant in my life, or a scrambling of the brain to show me a story like a movie, or something else?
I’m okay with not knowing the answer, and making a choice to believe what I want about it, with the knowledge that I don’t really know. My belief is that she’s an angel, she’s always with me, and we’ll be together again one day. It’s a comforting thought that brings me serenity. Of course, there’s no way of knowing for sure, not without dying, and I appreciate my life too much to do that to myself on purpose. That will happen anyway one day; I’ll get the answer soon enough.
The last time I kissed Mom, the last time when she was still conscious, it was late, for me, and we’d stayed up watching the Olympics. We’re not a kissy-kissy family—usually we just hug, but for some reason that last time, I’d walked over to her and kissed her cheek, and she kissed mine. She’d been sitting in her chair wrapped up in her blanket and she’d looked so tired, but determined to stay up and watch the Olympics. Earlier I’d asked, How does everyone remember Usain Bolt? When everyone cheered him on, because I barely remember yesterday, let alone the Olympics four years ago, though admittedly I never watch the Olympics. She told me how he’d been a gold medal winner for the past eight years. She’s always knew what was going on, in the news, in sports, in her community. She paid attention. She paid close attention to what was going on in the news, and she read books of all kinds: books about politics, current events, historical fiction, science fiction, nonfiction, just plain old fiction. Over the year or two prior to her death I’d catch up on the news before seeing her so that I’d have a clue what she was talking about because I spent most of my life under a rock of self-absorption. The Thanksgiving before she died we all spent together, her, my sisters, and me: “The Girls.” I’d caught up on the news which I’d tried to do anyway but to me at the time it was usually either way too stressful or else just plain boring, so I got the basics and went down to my sister’s in Virginia where she and her husband and kids lived at the time. My other sister and Mom came to visit from North Carolina, and just before the meal someone decided we should each talk about something we were grateful for. Mostly we were grateful to have that time spent all of us together, since it was rare now that we live in different states. And the talk about politics began, and I stayed silent for the most part. I agree with their viewpoints, so what’s the use in preaching to the choir? Everything would be fine in the election, no way would the world—my world, anyway—ever go crazy in my lifetime, so who cares?
The next morning Mom was getting ready for the day, fixing her hair in the bathroom, and I came in to talk to her, and somehow we landed on the topic of conversation itself.
“What do you like to talk about?” she’d asked me, since she knew I wasn’t big on talking politics, or much of anything else.
The meaning of life, I would say now, without hesitation, and it was the thought that popped into my head then, but for some reason didn’t seem appropriate. It felt like the wrong answer, something she’d laugh at and say, Oh, is that all. At the time I hesitated more before speaking than I do now. Now I’m becoming more like, This is what I think and if you don’t like it, oh well. I’m not 100% there but well on my way, finally, to not worrying as much about others’ reactions. For the record, Mom would be happy to discuss the meaning of life, so why I’d hesitate has nothing to do with her and everything to do with me.
Instead I answered this: “I don’t know, just random, obscure things, like what they talk about on Radiolab,” I’d replied. Radiolab is my favorite NPR radio show similar to This American Life but better, in my opinion.
“The esoteric,” she’d replied.
I’d told her about how my ex’s brother believed humans were created by aliens and that our lives were a video game just for their entertainment, and what a fascinating belief that was to me. At the time I couldn’t articulate much beyond that why it was so fascinating to me other than to say that the brother clearly is insane, but at the same time who am I to say someone else is insane just because they believe something different from me? If everyone in our culture held that belief, or even just a percentage of us, it might not seem so odd. Don’t all religions have their own creation myths? And how can I know for sure that we weren’t created by aliens for their entertainment? I have no idea who created us or why. These are all things I would say to her now, and can still say to her, am saying to her now with these words on this screen. I choose to believe she’s reading this, or hears what’s in my head, that she’s proud of the woman I’ve become. And by the way she’d be happy to see that I’m someone who today devours the news because this shit is crazy, and I can’t wait until the movie on all this comes out, but I’m still not someone to argue with others about what’s going on, who does what, or why. I do like to think about how all this is going to end, but no one ever thinks it will be in our lifetimes, because even though we know on some level life as we know it inevitably must come to an end, we can’t really comprehend it. Most people don’t like to talk about it.
Most people don’t like to talk about death, and when I bring up my mother, if they haven’t experienced death of a close, loved one, I sense that they want me to stop talking, but I don’t. Or maybe they just don’t know what to say, like how I was before Mom died. We are afraid of death, of everything about it. To talk about it seems morbid. People who haven’t experienced it themselves seem to think maybe it’s too painful for me to discuss, or it may seem that I’m obsessed with her or death in general. But it’s not that, and I don’t feel hopeless or depressed about it. Rather, it’s my way of acknowledging Mom’s life and the impact she made on me. When I tell my classmates to watch their blood pressure or post an article on Facebook about how importance of quitting smoking, it’s not to preach or wallow in regret about how or why Mom died, but to learn from her death and try to illuminate to others on how they might live a longer, healthier life. Responses range from fear about dying, and how they might prolong their own lives, or I may get a comment about how when your time comes, it comes, and if smoking doesn’t give me cancer, something else will because we can’t live in a bubble. I agree with both, and still find both responses amusing. No, you cannot avoid death, but yes, you can make choices to limit your chances of dying a slow, painful death of suffering. Most importantly, we can make choices to feel good in a healthy way today. Because today is all you got.
I want to find some newer songs to post, and not those that are 10+ years old, but these are the ones that pop into my head… My favorite verse is this: “I want life in every word / to the extent that it’s absurd.” As a side note, I like how the person who made this video (aka 3BeStillMyHeart3) calls it another of her (or his or their) “pooey” videos simply because I like the use of the word “pooey,” though I wish this person wouldn’t be so self-deprecating. I can relate to how this person feels. Maybe she needs to join CODA. Just saying.