I died in 2010. October 5 to be exact. I went in for an relatively safe procedure, which went well. But, unfortunately, the hospital staff left me alone in my room after without telemetry, and I went into respiratory depression and died. A nurse not my own walked past my door on her way to lunch, peeked in, saw that I was blue and purple, and a code was called immediately.
Two doses of Narcan later, I awoke, just as they were getting ready to intubate. I had stopped breathing for several minutes.
When friends hear of this, they are rapt. “What did you see? Did you see the light? Did you see Jesus?” The answer to all of those questions, which I answer truthfully, is no. There was nothing. Absolutely nothing. Even that light sense you have of yourself when you are sleeping? Gone. I was utterly devoid of any sensation whatsoever. The only thing I do remember was that when I was being brought around, it was utter quiet and dark to complete and total chaos. I had panic attacks when hearing lots of noise, tearing paper, beeps, and anything associated with the 16 people who had suddenly appeared in my hospital room when, as far as I knew, I dozed off watching Oprah.
But here’s what I realized because of that experience. When I die, I won’t be sad. I won’t miss loved ones. I won’t be in pain (or eternal Hellfire), I won’t be floating, I won’t be seeing loved ones gone before. The light that was me will go out, and that will be it.
Growing up in a religious household, I learned to look forward, if I were good enough, to an eternity of great things; visiting with my beloved grandmother, seeing all my old pets again, eating whatever I pleased without getting fat, taking up the harp. Then I got older, and I started to think. What if I did take up the harp? And became a virtuoso? Then the same for piano, cello, clarinet, flute, guitar, AND the thermion? Then, what if I memorized all of Shakespeare? Then Thoreau? Poe (if he were allowed)? What if I then took up cooking and became a gourmet chef? Then, I would cross stitch every pattern I could find. Then learn shuttle tatting, crochet, knitting and watercolors. Even though I have no talent for much of this, I could become a master, because I’d have an eternity to study. After that, I could take on every other subject under the sun, and once I was done with all of them, I would still have an eternity.
And that’s when it hit me: Heaven, eventually, given enough time, would be Hell. And that’s why, when I did die, and found it to be the total absence of anything: cold, heat, pain, joy, suffering, bliss, it was actually reassuring to me.
So, since then, when I start to go down that depressing mental tunnel of “if I died tomorrow, I would miss the kids’ weddings and graduations and my grandchildren and…” I stop. I am not going to taint the gift of today with the sadness I won’t feel once I am separated by death from my loved ones. I have changed the way I look at life. At the beginning, we’re each given a ticket. Some of us get an E (I’m using outdated Disneyland terminology here, so bear with me). Some are not so lucky, and get an A. Most get something in between. You get your ticket. And when your ride’s over, it’s over. Some of us have a measure of control over when that will be, i.e. avoiding certain behaviors, staying fit. But in the final analysis, each and every one of us will reach the end of our personal ride. Since I can’t say how much longer humanity will exist on this fragile planet, I try to leave a legacy in other ways. I am an avid scrapbooker. I want to leave behind, page by page, snippets of how life was during my time. I pass on stories from relatives no longer with us. I try to raise good children, try to reduce my carbon footprint, rescue animals. I prepare, every day, for the day my ride ends, and, like a candle, I am snuffed out.
But we don’t want it that way. We want more. Finite isn’t good enough. We want MORE. It is in our nature. But that doesn’t mean that we’ll get it. Or even that, if we did, we’d end up being happy with that outcome.
So when I am asked what I saw on the “other side,” and I answer, and see their faces fall, I at least add, “But it was perfect.” And, in the grand scheme of our place, as individuals, in this world, in this universe, it is.