Death is fascinating to me. I don’t mean the act of dying physically. I mean what happens the moment the heart stops beating, when soul leaves body. It’s fascinating that one second a person occupies their body, and the next? What’s left is just that. A body. A body that looks like the person…kind of, but kind of not, because their spark is gone. Elvis has left the building.
For me, it’s not a question of whether the person’s soul evaporates or lives on. It’s not a question even of where the soul goes (a place I label neither heaven nor hell). It goes to a place, on the other side, where they can still access us – their buddies with bodies.
My dad died while Mark and I were dating. Fast forward a year and a half, two weeks after our wedding, and Dad appeared to me in a dream:
I was at a friend’s house when I looked up, and there was Dad, waiting for me. He was wearing his usual work attire – a white cotton t-shirt and carpenter jeans. We stepped outside, and he handed me a gift. A wedding gift. He apologized for the delay; he’d been working on the other side and got to me as quickly as he could.
The interaction was as real as every day life. I remember thinking, So there’s work to be done on the other side.
My dad’s death came with no warning. There was no health decline or heads up. Just a driving error. And then a car crash. The end.
It was surprising, to say the least, for all of us. And here’s the twist: It was surprising for him too.
I’ve come to believe that people who die unexpectedly are just as shocked by their deaths as we are.
Multiple times in the days and weeks that followed the accident, Dad came to me in dreams, trying to get to us: Returning to our childhood home after going away to “Florida”, or catching up with us on a family vacation. He was doing his best to reach us. To say, Hey, I’m still right here!!!
I’ve since had that same feeling from other people who’ve died unexpectedly. Our finance guy, for instance, dropped of a heart attack several Christmases ago. In the week after he died, I kept feeling his presence, as if he was saying to his family, I’m here, I’m here, I’m still here! I wasn’t able to say goodbye either.
Isn’t it possible that when souls leave their physical bodies, they stick around to be with us for a little bit longer? I like to think so.
Years ago, I attended a Sabbath service, during which, the Rabbi announced different stages of mourning. Those observing any of the respective stages raised their hands. I was so fascinated by the process that I researched it.
One of Judaism’s five stages of mourning, Shiva (meaning seven), refers to the first week following a person’s death. During this time, the bereaved’s responsibility is funeral and burial only. The synagogue community pays visits to the home, offering food and company.
It is said that just as creation took seven days to complete, so does it take seven days to reverse – for the soul to return to its source. I love this concept, especially that it acknowledges both sides of life’s veil.
As time goes on, “visits” from our loved ones become less frequent. Maybe, as Dad said in my wedding dream, it’s because they really are working.
Last weekend Mark and I played in a charity golf outing. Our friends, Dale and Rita, lost their son, Kyle, unexpectedly four years ago to an undiagnosed cardiac condition. Since then, the family has created a non-profit – Stone Thrown Forward – that supplies cardiac screenings for young athletes. (So far, nearly 300 youth in our county have been screened, 40 have been sent on for EKGs, and a few more referred on to pediatric cardiologists.)
I was talking with Rita following the outing. She told of other deaths in the area due to cardiac events. Of other moms who had wanted to set up similar causes but had been unsuccessful. For whatever reason, doors were opened this time around. Except I’m convinced “whatever reason” is the cumulative help from the other side.
As Rita spoke, I could feel Kyle right there. I welled up from this powerful presence; he wasn’t alone. A whole crew was with him, all of those who’d had similar departures. They’d been hard at work. And together, they helped bring this foundation, this cause, to life.
Can I prove it? No. But this isn’t a blog of scientific debate. It’s one of possibility and positivity and – say it with me – finding the ode even in commode-like happenings.
Death is a big ole commode.
A few weeks ago I attended a visitation back home. The funeral program included a beautiful poem that looks to be originally penned by the Rev. Luther F. Beecher:
I am standing upon the seashore.
A ship at my side spreads his white sails to the morning breeze and starts for the blue ocean.
He is an object of beauty and strength.
I stand and watch him until at length he hangs like a speck of white cloud just where
the sea and sky come to mingle with each other.
Then someone at my side says: “There, he is gone!”
Gone from my sight. That is all.
He is just as large in mast and hull and spar as he was when he left my side
and he is just as able to bear the load of living freight to his destined port.
His diminished size is in me – not in him.
And just at the moment when someone at my side says:
“There, he is gone!”
there are other eyes watching him coming,
and other voices ready to take up the glad shout:
“Here he comes!”
“Here he comes!” shouts the other side.
But to you, still here in the physical world, perhaps experiencing grief, yes, he has departed.
And yet, he’s still right here.