My Father’s Birthday, Death Day, and a Possibility

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Today is my father’s birthday. He would have been ninety years old. He died three years ago at the age of eighty-seven. He died consciously, albeit full of oxycodone. He died with his eyes open, searching the ceiling, but he couldn’t tell us what he was looking at. His mouth drew down into a frown of awe,  or fear, maybe, or even a great new emotion he had never felt before in his life. I could not read his face at that moment, except that his eyes focused intently on something above, something on or through the ceiling.

The day before, he had lapsed into unresponsiveness, except for an occasional foray into the world of the family surrounding his bedside. My sister had been sitting beside him, when suddenly he looked into her eyes, called her by the nickname only he ever used, and said, “People upstairs are waiting for me.” Then he slid back into his journey.

My sister said, “Yes, Grandma and Grandpa are waiting for you, and Aunt Mary and Aunt Rose.” She named his brothers and sisters who had died ahead of him. I don’t know how she did that, how she sat there and talked to him normally, but she did. She knew that “upstairs” referred to Heaven. That’s how our father always referred to Heaven— Upstairs.

Recently, I’ve been watching a program on cable TV about Near-Death Experiences, which have been documented often enough now to reveal a pattern. The sick or injured people recognize the moment they slip out of their bodies. They feel peace, euphoria, and indifference to whatever  brought them to the point of death. They see or feel white light, a tunnel, sometimes, and the presence of God. They might hear beautiful music, or see gorgeous panoramas of flowers or amorphous colors,  and relatives who had preceded them in death. The spirits of the dead ones always stand waiting.

This is the point that connects the documented  Near-Death experiences with what my father said just before he died. He “saw” his loved ones who had already died, waiting for him.

This phenomenon of seeing dead relatives is also well-documented by hospice workers who sit with people who actually die. Atheists would have us believe that the brain is fooling us, that at the critical moment, it fulfills our dearest wishes, which are to be reunited with dead loved ones. I don’t know; no one knows, and we cannot know, so discussing the phenomenon with respect to learning the truth is pointless.

However, what seems important is that all these stories of near-death experiences have much in common, regardless of whatever religion the person believed before they arrived at the point of death. This fact suggests that the dying process is more or less universal for human beings. It raises the possibility that whatever happens afterwards may also be universal. Whatever occurs to the spirit after the body completes the death process may well be marked by universal qualities, regardless of what a person believed in life.

Adherents of this or that religion will be with me so far, but will say that only their version of the afterlife will apply from that point onwards, and that it will apply to everyone. There’s something inherently wrong with that concept, but I’m not sure what.

What if the dying experience, and what occurs afterwards, has nothing to do with anyone’s concept of God, Heaven, Hell or how one should conduct one’s earthly life? What if no one religious concept of life after death really applies? What if our actual death experience, with its own, unique sequelae, occur pretty much the same for everyone, and that religious matters lose all relevance? The evidence of the Near-Death Experience, coupled with the reports of actual death experiences, suggest that this possibility cannot be overlooked.

Think about your own struggles with religion, if you’ve had them. Think about the conflicts between you and your family or friends who believe differently with respect to religious systems? Could all of that be meaningless? Could none of it come to bear upon our ultimate experience of death and the persistence (or lack thereof) of consciousness? Could our spirits actually unite in the joy so often related to us by survivors of the Near-Death Experience?

What if all our religious dissension, wars, murders, torture and annihilation of entire populations have no ultimate meaning whatsoever?

About Marahm

At first glance, I may appear to be a middle-aged American woman with kids, grandkids, retired from a job in a hospital, gratefully relieved from the responsibilities that come with all of that. Behind the image, which is true enough, I am fairly unhinged from much of American mainstream living, having spent twelve years in Saudi Arabia, years that sprung me from societal and familial impositions, and narrow bands of truth. I have learned to embrace my identity as a seeker, an artist, and a writer. I study Arabic and Italian language, because I love them, and I love their people. I still dream of spending more time in the Middle East and Italy, though the dreaming now seems more real than the possibilities. I am a photographer. I write, and sometimes publish, flash memoir, and now a blog or two.
This entry was posted in Family, Life, Memoir, Religion, war and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to My Father’s Birthday, Death Day, and a Possibility

  1. unsettledsoul says:

    They would still have no meaning even if there was a religious way that was “more correct” than others. It still would never necessitate killing, so ultimately hate and destruction is pointless and has no meaning regardless.

    I have watched interviews from people with near death experiences and it always gives me chills. I agree that it doesn’t really matter why we have the experience, but that it is seemingly a universal feeling at the end. It gives me comfort, I will say that. Even if it is true that it is simply our brain tricking us, so what?! I would rather be tricked pleasantly 🙂 lol

    Thank you for sharing a personal piece of your memory.

  2. Issam says:

    Sister Marahm

    First of all I am sorry for your loss of your father, rest in peace.

    I do believe that in the afterlife the good will be rewarded and the evil will be punished. We believe in a Just God and this is what justice entails.

    We cannot say that what occurs afterwards has nothing to do with anyone’s concept of God, Heaven, Hell or how one should conduct one’s earthly life. There has to be something. There has to be justice. And justice entails that the good be rewarded and the evil be punished. The good and the evil cannot be treated in the same way. That is injustice.

    I think a great deal of your struggle has to do with the possibility of your loved ones not going to Paradise. Do not worry sister, if your loved ones are indeed good people, then you will enjoy seeing them in Paradise.


  3. Issam says:

    And I agree with unsettledsoul. Nothing in the whole world warrants killing, hate and destruction.


  4. djd says:

    I believe there is some kind of depth or core that is shared by all. In it we find love.

    The images used by various faiths when speaking about the hereafter cannot convey the reality of it, they are only images or metaphors, attempting to explain the inexplicable.

    The most important is to do and be good. That will change the present world which will then lead to the dawning of His Day. Even if one does not believe in anything, changing this world for the better would be appreciable.

    I believe we will find the Creator to be much more merciful than we are.

  5. Marahm says:

    Wise responses, my friends. Thank you.

  6. WM says:

    I agree that God is merciful but add that we hold too-high opinions of ourselves.

  7. Marahm says:

    “…we hold too-high opinions of ourselves.”
    Very succinct, WM!

  8. djd says:

    Yes, WM, we are easy on ourselves but hard on others when it should be the other way around. All within measure.

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