Death has been defined in the medical community as the termination of all biological functions that sustain a living organism. It is the cessation of the connection between the mind and body, however even with this scientific classification, death is still shunned with fearful apprehension by many if not most of our modern society. We desire immortality.
Death is considered a sad and unpleasant experience due to the severing of social and familial bonds between the deceased and those whom are left behind living with the absence of their beloved, continually reminded of their own inescapable demise. Society may have developed vaccines to protect them from disease, mighty war machines to defend against aggressors, and government programs to fight poverty but death is the one adversary we have no defense against. It lurks just beyond the horizon to the West patiently waiting for each of us. All living things die; it is the inevitability of life. It is the one fact that unifies all living beings.
The question of the nature of death brings with it the profound implication about the nature of the universe. Throughout history humanity’s awareness of its own mortality is and has been the focus of theology, philosophy, mythology, and spiritual thought. Each has attempted to explain in its own way the mystery of death; resurrection, reincarnation, afterlife, eternal torment, the permanent cessation of consciousness, are just some of the suggested theories given for possible consideration and contemplation. Humanity has crafted rituals and ceremonies that have become the hallmark in every culture around the globe regardless of race, religion, geographical area, or time period relating to death and the deceased, but in truth death and dying are shrouded in dark inscrutable mystery.
Perhaps there is not just one truth or one answer to the enigma of death. Perhaps there are many answers revealed and experienced by each living being that dies; perhaps their answer reflects their personal philosophy and spiritual or religious beliefs about the nature of life and the universe. Perhaps death is just an illusion and doesn’t exist at all.
Since as far back as I can remember I have always been fascinated with the concept of death. Perhaps it was due to the circumstances of my own bloody birth, perhaps it is due to something else entirely that I have not yet considered, but the inquisitiveness has always been with me. While my peers were scared and repulsed by dead things found in the road, I’ve been curious and drawn to them. I desired to know why and how death occurred. What transpired the moments prior to the cessation of life? Did death cause physical pain or suffering? And what happened when the heart ceased to provide necessary blood flow? I sought answers to my questions while my peers looked the other way, distracted by life and focused on living.
I never understood why adults encouraged the disconnection between life and death. Why was there a need to shelter children from viewing the dead or from witnessing the dying? Death is a natural process of life. Everything that lives will eventually experience corporeal death and to pretend that it does not or will not occur creates a false belief and expectation of physical immortality which will inevitably leave a child unprepared when faced with death and profound loss.
When I was around five years old Grandmother died from complications of lung cancer. She had smoked menthol cigarettes most of her adult life so her death was not unexpected. Everything that came from her house was imbued with the scent of her cigarette smoke. The quilt she made for Mother years ago still possessed the lingering aroma no matter how many times it went through the washer so I surrendered to thoughts of her each night as I drifted to sleep. My parents provided lame excuses as to why Grandmother wasn’t present at family gatherings and never allowed Daniel or I to visit her when she was in the hospital. I am certain that Mother didn’t want us at her wake or funeral, but for whatever reason we went with them though we were separated from the rest of the adult family members and kept secluded in an adjacent room to the viewing parlor where Grandmother was being shown. An older distant cousin, Ashley, was charged with caring for us, keeping us distracted and entertained with numerous toys and snacks so that the adults could say their last farewells without interruption from the children. However I, being the precocious child that I was, adamantly demanded my desire to see Grandmother. Daniel, understanding my incessant need, eventually aided me in evading Ashley and snuck me into the viewing parlor. From the doorway I caught glimpses of Grandmother with her head resting on a beige satin pillow, her silver gray hair neatly styled and her eyes closed. I slowly approached the open casket listening to the hushed voices and soft weeping of the adults surrounding me each engaged in their mourning. The soft sound of organ music beckoned me towards the front of the room as the scent of roses and lilies perfumed the air stifling me and causing me to feel dizzy.
My parents along with Aunt Brenda, Mother’s older sister were huddled with other family members exchanging embraces and handshakes so that they never saw me approach the casket where Grandmother lay forever silently still. I gazed at her face so calm and tranquil. The pain and sadness so clearly noticeable while she was living was absent now; replaced with serenity. She looked more beautiful than I had ever seen her, but it wasn’t due to the lipstick or eye shadow that had been applied to her face. It was due to something more indescribable. Grandmother seemed to be sleeping, resting though I instinctively knew that was not what she was doing. I was aware that she would not reopen her closed eyes or utter words from her lips again. Grandmother no longer inhabited the body I was viewing. Her ballad was over; her music would no longer be heard by the family members gathered in the room with me that night.
As I was pulled away from the casket and dragged down the aisle towards the doorway in the back of the viewing parlor I saw standing at the head of the casket a translucent light, a shimmer of a shadow that held the characteristics of Grandmother. She whispered to me and though she was a distance away I heard her voice for the first time. I heard her whisper.
“Angie, baby, you’re a special girl; beware The Blood Omen.”
– Sheri Breault Kreitner