In almost every support group or group therapy I’ve been a part of on my road to recovery, there always seems to be a few people who are preoccupied with dying. Despite the fact we’re there to talk about pornography addiction, they can’t stop quoting the Bible or babbling on about the afterlife. I guess that’s good, because it encouraged me to address what I think happens when we die, and if we really have souls at all.
The day after you die, the sun is going to rise, just as it did the day before you were born. People will go to their jobs, have their lunch, watch TV and go to bed. Somewhere around 99.9999% percent of the humans on the earth had no idea you were here when you were alive. Of those who did know you, very few will be significantly impacted over a long span of time by your demise, much like very few people’s death have significantly impacted you – despite what you may want others to believe and they want you to believe about them. People’s deaths are sad for a while, but few are truly impactful.
On that happy note, I think my lack of aversion to dying is a big part of the reason I never grasped onto the religion presented by parents as a child, nor a lot of the spirituality others found in alternatives when I was a young adult. I would have like a detailed breakdown of how the Universe operates, but I wasn’t going to go to church every Sunday nor harness the power of crystals to get me there.
When I looked around at church, I just saw a lot of people who were afraid of dying. I’m guessing it’s because they worried they’d go to Hell, but something in me never was willing to believe in Hell. I don’t think I ever really believed in Heaven. I just believed in “After”.
I never believed “After” was the place where all your friends are waiting for you and every pet you ever had is there to greet you. Even from a young age, it seemed like a story designed to make people feel better about dying.
I do believe in a spirit, and probably unsurprisingly to you, I was able to come to that acceptance having it explained to me scientifically. I was told that all of the body’s cells regenerate every 7-to-10 years. This isn’t exactly accurate, but the moral of the story is that we physically change and evolve constantly. There isn’t anything about your body that is the exact same as it was 10 years ago, and again 10 years ago before that. In the case of most cells, it’s a much shorter time span.
So, if somebody who is 50 years old has every cell in their body die and replaced many times in their life, how are they still essentially the same person? You can’t tear down a house, rebuild it with new supplies and say it’s the same house. It’s because houses don’t have souls or a spirit. I think that there is something in us that can’t currently be measured by science happening much deeper than a cellular level. How else are you the same person? There’s some sort of glue, some body energy, something that binds us through our changes.
Forensic scientists can tell you that we’re clinically dead when certain organs cease to function, but that things like skin cells and blood cells can remain alive long after your heart stopped beating. Your physical body does not die all at once. I think believing your soul or spiritual body dies in an instant is probably also wrong.
I don’t think our soul goes anywhere otherworldly. I think it stays here and dissipates over time like a dimming lightbulb…and that’s OK with me.
I also think that part of your spirit while you are alive is your influence. It’s your legacy. It’s the impact you’ve made on others. If not for my parents, I wouldn’t be here. If not for being raised by those two specific people, I wouldn’t be the specific person I am today. When they die, I’m still here with all of the traits, both inherited and learned, they provided. Their influence is slightly less in my children, and will be slightly less in my grandchildren. I don’t know what influence my great-great-great grandfather has in me, because he long dead before I got here, but I’m sure there’s a little something there. His spirit…his essence…lives on that way.
And yes, eventually, like the dimming lightbulb, after more generations arrive, his spirit will probably not be a part of family members any longer…and that’s OK with me.
For people who are afraid of dying, I guess the fear is that Hell will just suck forever. For those that don’t believe in Hell, I don’t know what the problem is. Maybe it’s the fear of the process of dying, like it will hurt, or a narcissistic belief their absence on earth will be felt much harder and deeper than it actually will. The people you know, even those close to you, will be able to go on without you.
I think part of the problem is that people associate some sort of consciousness to the state of being dead when it is the exact opposite. The total lack of consciousness is too scary, so we say things like “Doesn’t he look peaceful?” or “He would have liked this” to make ourselves feel better at a wake. Saying “He looks like he’s in agony” is just as accurate as the peaceful statement, but won’t play as well to the crowd around you. They need to believe that the transition into whatever is next isn’t fraught with peril, because they still have to make the journey. The only evidence they have to draw upon is the body in front of them at a wake. Interpreting it as peaceful is more for them than the person in the pine box.
I would love to believe that there is a state of conscious bliss after we leave this world. I really would. I think, like the family gathered around the casket, it would make me appear more peaceful. But I just can’t believe that. There has never been a shred of scientific support that we “go somewhere” when we die. Until there is, I’ll assume our soul stays here…and that’s OK with me.
I have a feeling the day after you die is a lot like the day before you were born. Find peace in knowing the sun will rise, people will eat their lunch, watch TV and go to bed. Be OK with that.