Death … and then what?

This seems to be a topic most people don’t want to think about..

I love talking about death and the afterlife. I find it the most inspiring and uplifting topic, but there are not many people who are open to discussing it. There are several reasons for this I think. One, it is confronting; until we are forced to acknowledge our own mortality, often through a serious illness, most of us try not to remember that we are going to die. Two, there are so many differing opinions as to what happens after we die, that it can be overwhelming. There are those who believe death is the end – oblivion afterwards, those who believe you sleep until the judgment day, those who believe in reincarnation…. I have spent the last 13 years reading about the afterlife, and I am sharing here what I have come to believe. Take it or leave it… but at least read this with an open mind….

I remember going to the funeral of a family friend, an older man who had died in his sleep (way to go!). It was stormy that night and I recall trying to shut images of him lying in a coffin in the cold ground from my mind. It didn’t bear thinking of. I was probably about 14 at the time.

The church I belonged to was very hazy about what happened after you died. I got the impression you “slept” until a judgment day which occurred sometime during eternity. They were very clear however about what happened after the judgment day. If you were counted worthy, you went to heaven with Jesus. If not, you went to hell with Satan and were tortured for eternity. I don’t think anyone was ever quite sure they had done enough to be worthy.

Thirteen years ago in the midst of the collapse of my life after leaving the church, I decided I wanted to “make friends” with death. I was afraid of death. Also, at that point, I was afraid of life. Making friends with death may actually have seemed the easier option to begin with. In fact it was – making friends, real friends with life took me much longer. I hadn’t really had much to do with people dying – three of my grandparents had died by the time I was in my mid-teens, but I had not been present when they died, so I was quite removed from the reality of it. I was also rather uncomfortable with sick people, but I decided to get a job in the local hospital.

I thought the job was as a Patient Care Assistant. Turned out it was as a cleaner. Now, I hate cleaning toilets – the universe has a sense of humour – and I ended up cleaning 15 toilets a day. The first day I was rostered to clean the rooms up in the Palliative Care Unit (I really didn’t want to work in there – it scared me), I walked into a room where an emaciated little man was lying on the bed presumably asleep. But his eyes were half open. I was really freaked out. I thought he had died. Then he opened his eyes fully and looked at me. I felt an enormous surge of love flow through me, and in that moment, I decided I was going to train to work as a Patient Care Assistant in Palliative Care. I did, and I loved it. It was such a privilege to share the dying journey with people and help in a little way to make them more comfortable.

Five years later, the emaciated man in the bed was my partner, and I held him as the life-force left his body. His face relaxed and all the lines of pain that scored his face dissipated as he quietly left. I couple of faltering breaths and he was gone. It was beautiful. Before we were together, the soul connection was so strong, we “felt” the connection as a tangible thing. When we were together, his illness, two ego’s, and the busyness of life tended to make the soul connection less real, but before I had even left the hospital after he died, I remember feeling it so strongly again and saying to myself “Aah he’s back”. You see, he was a gentle soul, but a sensitive man who had become hard to protect himself – they were two very different identities.

The first patient in palliative care whose body I helped a nurse to wash was an elderly gentleman I had grown fond of. He had died during the night and I was on shift the following morning. I was filled with trepidation at the thought of washing his body and preparing it for the morgue as I had never seen a dead body before, and I was worried I might faint or freak out. As I walked into his room, I had the sense of a soul liberated from a cumbersome human body that had been bedridden. It felt joyful. The body was so still – the life-force had left, and it was so apparent it was simply a vessel, a vehicle to carry life for a while, and then when the time is right, discarded. It was beautiful to respectfully wash and honour the body that had carried a precious soul on its journey through life.

For thirteen years now, I have read copiously and widely on the many ideas about what happens after we die. I have read accounts of people who had near death experiences, or out of body death experiences, I have read the Tibetan book of Living and Dying, books by mediums who can communicate with the dead, psychiatrists who practice past life regressions and hypnosis to access the super conscious mind, I have read what Yogananda has to say on the subject, and various other enlightened people. I have read the Bible.

I have come to the following conclusion. I will not know for sure what is true about the afterlife until I die myself, and therefore the most sensible thing to do is to choose a belief that uplifts, comforts and inspires me and takes away any fear of death. Which is what I have done. Having said that, I want to say I haven”t just blindly grabbed a belief and decided that will do. I like science, and I like experience. Some of the most compelling stories of the afterlife for me were from those who were trained in the medical sciences, and who came to their own beliefs about the afterlife reluctantly initially because it went against everything they had been trained to believe. Dr Eban Alexander, Dr Brian Weiss and Michael Newton PhD are among these. I will list their books among others, at the end of the blog. Although many of the accounts given by people who had near death experiences are remarkably similar, they are also individual – just like life – we experience life and death uniquely while sharing common events.

From all my reading and research, and my own experience of my partner communicating with me after he died, I have developed some very strong beliefs that seem to me to be perfectly feasible. These beliefs allow me to face my own imminent death with complete peace – even, to be truthful, a sense of joy at returning home. I have owned a copy of Michael Newtons book Destiny of Souls for about 8 years, and it resonates so deeply with me, it seems as though my soul lights up and says Yes!!, that’s home, let’s go!!. I have found the pull so strong that I have to ration reading the book.

All my beliefs are based on the assumption of our Creator being unconditional love. If you believe that, and logically follow that thought through… you cannot believe in everlasting hell. An unconditionally loving God and hell are not compatible. Unless of course you choose to believe in a Creator that is only unconditionally loving to a few who live how He(She), wants them to… which still means conditions to the love, so it isn’t unconditional.

I believe:

  • we are spiritual beings having a human experience. Spirit is our natural state.
  • my body and personality are vehicles to experience life on this earth. They are not “me”
  • “me” is an eternal spirit (soul) that cannot die
  • my physical body dies when my soul has finished what it came here to experience
  • my body dies at exactly the right time
  • my soul knows exactly what to do when my body dies – it has done it many times before
  • when my body dies, sometimes a little before, my soul leaves the body and ascends – most people who die and are revived, talk about looking down on their body, and, along with many others, Anita Moorjani – in her beautiful book “Dying to be me”, describes how she heard and saw conversations between her doctors and her family held away from her room as she lay in a coma.
  • my soul, after death, with all its consciousness, goes wherever thought goes. ie, I think of a family member and I am instantly there with them.
  • my soul may stay around the earthly realm for a while – especially to comfort those who are grieving me.
  • at some point I will be drawn into the spiritual realm – many people speak of a bright light, and travelling at speed. Always there is a feeling of unconditional love and total acceptance of who I am.
  • I will be met by my spirit guide – who is with me while in human body and in the spirit realm, and also some of my soul family – those souls who I have incarnated with over lifetimes in a human body. These reunions are joyful. I am home.
  • The spirit world is even more beautiful than the most beautiful places on earth. Sounds and colours are more beautiful. Everything on earth is dulled compared to the spirit world.
  • What I experience is based on my spirit – if, for example, on this earth I have loved hurting people and causing pain, I will go to the same level of vibration in the spiritual realm – ie with other souls who are the same. Hence the notion of hell, except there are always loving beings working with you to help you change.
  • in spirit, I either appear as light – with a unique vibration instantly recognisable as me, or I can project to others the human form and face they recognise.
  • each life in a human body is a tiny blip in the eternal life of my soul. Life begins, and continues forever in the spirit world.
  • we are in eternity all the time – both in human body and in spirit, death of the body is just part of a continuous flow of life.
  • my soul evolves spiritually over eternity – including many lives on earth – until it is so purified it melds into complete oneness and bliss with the Divine Creator.
  • at some point, after death of the physical body, I will sit with a council of elders to have a review of the life I have just left. This is not in the spirit of criticism or judgment, but lovingly and with the purpose of learning from mistakes and victories.
  • at all times, I am held in love.

This is only a portion of what I believe, I could probably write a book on it, but hopefully you can get a sense of it. I have held most of what I read against what Yogananda has written about the afterlife in his books to see if it holds up. Yogananda was an enlightened being with a lot of spiritual credibility, so therefore is a good yardstick. We should all learn to trust our intuition about what we read…. we have the ability to know truth from nonsense, so if it resonates and feels right, take it on board. If it doesn’t let it go. Know also that the truth you know today, may not be your truth tomorrow as you learn and go deeper into connecting with your spirit.

A note: I had heard of reincarnation – in jokes, but the first book I read on the subject, I felt an immediate recognition of the truth of it. it made sense to me, and provided the only rational explanation for the apparent inequity of opportunity that had quietly bothered me for many years. I would think how unfair it was that some people had the hardest of lives and awful mind conditioning from a very young age, while others were brought up in loving, spiritually open families. It didn’t seem equal. Reincarnation provided the answer for me, and everything I have experienced since has only served to reinforce the truth of this belief. For many of us in the Western World, especially those brought up in Christian homes, it is a huge stretch to consider reincarnation as truth, even though most eastern religions regard it as established fact. There are many Christian scholars who acknowledge that references to reincarnation were taken out of the New Testament of the Bible in AD 325 by the Roman emperor Constantine the Great. In 553 AD, the Second Council of Constantinople confirmed this action and declared the concept of reincarnation a heresy. They felt it would weaken the power of the church by giving people too much time to seek salvation. There are many, many meticulous studies on reincarnation by intelligent scientific people – we aren’t talking flaky New Agers who believe in unicorns. The evidence is very compelling, but don’t believe me – look for yourself. Personally, I don’t think it is intelligent to reject or malign a belief without first looking at the information available about it. Only then are we in the position to have an informed opinion about it.

In conclusion, none of us know the full truth about death (or even life). There are some very enlightened souls who have shared what they know, and many people who through personal experience have come to some strong beliefs, who also have shared what they believe. The beautiful thing about most people who experience a Near Death Experience is that all without exception, lose their fear of death. And their attitude to life changes. We are lucky to live in a world where we have access to so much information including sacred scriptures from all around the world and accounts of people’s personal experiences.

I believe that making friends with death shows us how to live more freely. Contrary to popular belief that it is a subject that is depressing and best avoided, I believe it has taught me to embrace and love life more, because I have learned to hold life lightly and lovingly. It is very difficult to get overwhelmed by experiences in life when you know you are an eternal spirit that lives forever – perspective changes so completely, even death of the physical body is regarded lovingly.

Why suffer unnecessarily? We are all going to die, it is unavoidable. It is really quite odd when you think about it, that the one experience we are all going to go through, is the one that most people are completely devoid of knowledge about.

Some wonderful reading material if you are interested:

  • Dying to be Me – Anita Moorjani (at least read this one – it is an easy read. I have loaned it to many people, and they all say it has changed their life. Many have subsequently bought their own copy).
  • Proof of Heaven – Eban Alexander MD (great for skeptics – this guy was a neurosurgeon and atheist before his Near Death Experience – he was regarded as basically brain dead and came back to a full recovery)
  • Journey of Souls – Michael Newton PhD (Initially skeptical, after a patient spontaneously entered a state of higher consciousness during clinical hypnosis where she experienced “life between life”, Dr Newton meticulously recorded many more patients experiences in the same state. Very compelling and inspiring to read).
  • Many Lives, Many Masters -Dr Brian Weiss (an eminent, highly trained psychiatrist in the US who did not believe in reincarnation until during hypnosis a client spontaneously went into a past life. An easy read)
  • Love is stronger than Death – Cynthia Bourgeault -(Written by an Episcopal priest about her intense spiritual relationship with a Trappist Monk and Hermit. Their connection continued after his death).
  • The Tibetan book of Living and Dying – Sogyal Rinpoche. (For people serious about spirituality – the Buddhist view of death).
  • My Son and the Afterlife – Elisa Medhus MD (A doctor and atheist before her son committed suicide)
  • Dying to Wake Up – Dr Rajiv Parti MD (Chief of Anaesthesiology, Dr Parti had a near death on the operating table. It changed his life. An easy read).
  • Dr Raymond Moody is a well known philosopher, psychologist, physician and author who has written many book about life after death and near death experiences. He has been studying the subject for over 50 years.
  • Paramahansa Yogananda – The Divine Romance is probably the easiest read. (This is for people who are serious about spirituality.)

Have fun!! (seriously, you will enjoy reading any of these books.)

3 Comments on “Death … and then what?

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