Monday, April 18, 2011

Moments in the Company of Death

These past two weeks I feel like I've been living in a haze. A little bit lost, somewhat stunned and undoubtedly disconnected.

These past two weeks I looked at death. I realized how little I know or understand about it, beyond the fact that I have seen others taken by it. I realized I had a lot of questions and very little understanding about death and the act of dying.

When does death really take you? Is it the moment you stop breathing, or when your heart stops beating? But what about your mind? If your mind stops working properly, is it really you in there? Or is it just a shell? The shell is what they put in caskets and bury in the ground. How are your mind and soul connected? Does your soul have consciousness? If so, do you need your mind to understand what's going on, or just your soul? And how are all these elements--heart, lungs, mind, soul--connected? What does it feel like at the moment you die? Are you aware that you're dying, or are you simply aware that you are present in a new and different place?

The week of April 4 I finally got to see my grandpa after his fall and rapid decline. They put him in a care facility. Before I got there, he had been speaking to people. Not always coherent, but speaking. When I got there, he only said two things we could understand, he slept most of the time, and by all accounts, was mentally gone. He wasn't the same Grandpa I had known all my life.

It was so hard to see someone who had once been quick-witted and full of life lying in a bed, eyes glassy and unfocused, unable to interact with his loved ones. No, it was more than hard, but the words to express the feeling are absent. The feeling is a mixture of powerlessness, sadness, and understanding that you will never have that person back. They are gone.

That understanding made me question what marks the ending of life. Scientifically there is a dying point when the body ceases to be alive, I get that. But seeing Grandpa made me realize death is so much more complex than just a heart stopping. At least it was for him.

Where was he, lying in that bed in his last week of life? Where was his mind? Where was the man we had all known? The shell, his body remained but his mind was gone.

I believe the soul leaves when the body dies, but is that really correct? And if so, was Grandpa's soul aware that his mind was gone? Does the mind dictate what the soul understands? And what exactly is the soul?

I realized too, looking at Grandpa, that the barrier between life and death is so thin, like a piece of tissue paper, it can be ripped in an instant. I didn't feel so strong and invincible, watching him. I felt frail, breakable, like my last moment could be his last moment.

And I've always heard this, but it's true, life goes by so fast. You really don't have as much time as you think to do all the things you'd like. So you'd better get on with becoming who you want to become and doing what you want to do. When the veil between life and death is torn, that's the end--there is no going back.

I'm glad that Grandpa was a believer in Jesus. Knowing that I will see him again made all the difference in the world when I had to see his body lying in the casket. It didn't really lessen the pain of the loss, but it did cast a ray of hope into the haze I was drifting through.

Sometimes I think that if the person that has died was a believer, I shouldn't really feel sad. They're in heaven (or what some people call "a better place"), without pain or suffering or sadness. But the truth is, the rest of us on earth are in a place of pain, suffering and sadness. And we have to go on without the person that we love.

I have to go on without either one of my grandpas now. At moments it feels like there is a missing piece to my life. It's not tangible, but a looming void hovers within the unseen parts of my existence. Eventually we get used to the void, but it's always there. It's like that with really anyone you lose, whether they die or go away by choice.

I know I'm going to miss Grandpa for a long time. He had great stories, he was generous and laughed a lot. He loved sports and gardening and making things. He served his country through the Marines and through various political offices. He gave to anyone who had need. He loved the game of Hearts. He was an usher at his church. He meant a lot to me.

1 comment:

Floral Sense said...

I know what you mean about questioning when the mind and soul separate. With Doug's job, its something he thinks about on a daily basis. Some donors are brain dead but they body is still alive on machines. Is the soul trapped to the body even when all brain activity stops?

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...