I lay in bed at night watching my wife sleep. As tired as I am, my mind churns over unanswerable questions. It fights the darkness of sleep that robs me of valuable time left. I could physically sleep all day, but my mind wants me awake to enjoy every minute. Dianne sleeps the sleep of the caregiver. Exhausted, afraid, worried about me and worried about what will become of her without me. We are as close as two people can be and I want to be with her every minute. I look at her all the time. Sometimes it spooks her. I wonder if I will ever see her again after I die. This is the most tangible aspect of the question of life after death for me, but the answer to that lies within the answer to the broader question.
As I've described before, I have chosen to believe that we are a part of the greater Spiritual Universe and, when we die, we rejoin it in some way. But in what way? Certainly we don't just rejoin a blob of nothing. The lights just can't go out, can they? There must be something more. In the same way that I choose not to believe we are the only intelligent species in this unknowably huge cosmos, I choose not to believe that our exceptionally short time in this physical embodiment is all there is in the infinite river of time. Like I say, I can't prove any of this, but I find it reasonable and comfortable to accept this viewpoint.
Up to now, this has been sufficient for me because my actual death was far enough away that I didn't have to worry about it as much. But now that it is uncomfortably close (even with all the uncertainties) I need to know more. I need to have some idea of what is waiting for me. I don't want to be laying on my death bed, scared senseless that the lights are going out. If they did, I wouldn't even know it, but that doesn't matter. That's rational thinking and there is no place for rational thought on the death bed. I need a belief. I need something.
Now I have already said that I can't believe in the classic view of the afterlife proposed with such certainty by the formal religions. Whether it's pearly gates and angels or twenty virgins, the certainty alone makes them suspect. I don't believe things just because they were written down many years ago by mortal men who were still alive. I have much respect for people who do believe in the literal interpretation of these texts, but I choose not to.
So what happens when we die? Whether we retain some degree of individual identity or become some part of an amorphous existence, the real question - the important question - is whether we retain any sense of our individuality and/or our former existence on earth. If we reincarnate back and forth, as some believe (including Buddhists), do we retain memories of all of our previous lives? Will I remember Dianne and my life with her or not? I realize there are many questions here, but I have no answers for any of them. I will say this, though.... if I am reincarnated, I will not worry too much about who or what I come back as. Not now. There is no possible answer to this that I would find comforting or more feasible than any other. Maybe it's just me, but I am most concerned about the moments of existence (if any) after death rather than the moments after that existence. Does this make any sense? If I were to simplify things, I suppose I just want to know that there is more than nothing when my life here is over. That's all. Is that too much to ask for? Yeah, well, I guess so.
I have already received some help in this. There are many people who have had near-death experiences (NDEs) who have related events that happened to them after they have presumably died and before they returned to life. I have met some of these people. I have read some of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross' writings on this and I have been loaned many books on the subject which I intend to read. Over the next few weeks and months, perhaps these will give me some ideas which I will share with you. In the meantime, here are some initial thoughts to kick things off.
Some people with NDEs recount an afterlife that looks exactly like the visions of heaven that are taught in the christian bible. When I hear about these, I think of dreams and how they are fictions formed by extracting memories and images stored in our brains. Anything we have "seen" in a dream, we have seen in real life, have visually imagined, or have possibly even seen on television or the movies. So someone who has been brought up with visions of heaven reinforced time and again by parents or preachers or teachers could very well have a dream-like vision in that gray area between life and real death. If every NDE was the same, I would be more likely to accept it, but that is not the case. But there does seem to be some similarity in NDEs amongst many other people, so perhaps there is something in that.
I think I will stop here for now and read some and let my mind mull over what I've heard to date. If you wish to share any of your own thoughts, you can provide a comment or you can email me directly. Just please don't be offended. We are all entitled to our own beliefs. Right?
I have not been doing that well lately. I don't think there is a time when I really feel good. If I'm not sleeping or ready to fall asleep sitting up, I feel ill and often very anxious. I'm trying some new meds to help with this, but they haven't helped much as of yet. I probably have around 5 or 6 "good" hours during the day when I'm not sleeping yet still feeling "crummy", however you want to interpret that word. I think this is mostly the cancer advancing but I don't know still how fast this will happen or how long I will have. I can only go by how I feel and I feel worse now than a month or so ago. I'll keep you posted.