So I was wondering, what happens after we die?
I was 7 years old, wondering this. It gave me a bellyache.
Because I was told: heaven or hell. Forever.
Even heaven forever gave me a bellyache.
It was the forever part. I couldn’t contain it. Bellyache.
What do you think happens after we die?
Do we just go blank and gone?
Dissolve to nothing?
Are we more than this physical body?
In 1977 when I was a student nurse, the first dead person I saw convinced me she wasn’t dead.
On a Tuesday I was assigned to take care of a woman with end-stage liver disease. This petite elderly lady had bright yellow leathery skin and long grey hair. The whites of her eyes were bile-yellow too. She was tired and weak, but sitting up smiling, because her daughter stayed at her bedside all day. The three of us enjoyed chatting about everything under the sun.
Early Thursday morning, my next clinical day, my instructor sailed into the cigarette-smoky report room, eyeballing the five of us students.
She said, “Who hasn’t seen a dead person yet? Diane, you haven’t.”
Before I could hide, she grabbed my hand and led me down the hall, straight to the bedside of the elderly lady with liver disease. Dang, did it have to be her? My heart shrank.
She wasn’t sitting up. Her body lay on its right side; her grey hair wafted across the pillow.
Nothing there. She wasn’t there. This was obvious. Tears burned my eyes. I blinked them back.
She was gone. Her empty body was here, but she herself was elsewhere.
Her larger self, who had chatted with me, her animated self, had moved on.
This I knew in my bones. The complete person she was, her life force, could not dissolve. Was not extinguished.
This truth sank into me.
I stood in awe: for the lady I had befriended, for the lady who went Somewhere.
“So this is what it looks like,” said my instructor, flipping the covers off the lady’s legs. “See? Her legs are mottled. This happens very soon after death. Touch them. This is mottling.” She poked the splotchy dark patches on the lady’s yellow calves.
“Rigor mortis won’t happen for some hours yet.” My instructor took my hand and pushed it against the mottled skin.
I couldn’t believe her coarseness in this sacred moment.
I put my hand back in my pocket.
Oddly, the lady’s death left me feeling lighter the next few days.
It was proof of Somewhere Else.
I won’t debate how I knew this lady went Somewhere. It was a visceral knowing.
I felt the same with every patient who died in my 37 years of hospital nursing.
So what do you think?
What do you feel?