Surviving Death


My body had always been a disappointment to me, so its death early in 1997 should have come as no surprise. It did, though. It was only then that I fully understood a saying which had puzzled me throughout my life: the dead are always the last to know. Another thing you hear said about death is you cannot explain it, and this also is true. Death is very much like a bridge party, where cliches and tedious old sayings are as close as we get to the truth. You can't explain death.

You may think--for instance, I was talking to Larry about this, in a session years before we died--how can something change so much so fast? I was right to wonder. Death is wonderful. It is certainly more absolute than birth. For instance, before birth you have a body. After death, you don't. At least I don't. I'm not certain that this is universally true of the dead. I see no bodies, but since, as far as I can tell, I have none myself, and that would include eyes, I am for all intents and purposes blind. So if other dead did have their bodies, I'd be the last to know.

There are many things said about death, though, that are not true, and the main one is that the dead are dead. I know I'm not, and although I'm blind and have therefore seen no corroborating evidence, I can't believe an exception of that magnitude would be made in my case solely. Immortality may well not be universal, but it must be fairly common, unless I was somehow overlooked in some big sweep, but even so, when you think of how much life there has been throughout history, how likely is it that this would never have happened before?

I used to think: death will be all right, I won't know I'm dead. I was completely wrong. I do know I'm dead. But I was right, too. It is all right. Tedious, though.

I don't sleep, or eat, but I rest. I rest most of the time. It is hard to do anything else. And by the way, if you were thinking of killing yourself because life is hard, don't bother. Life is even harder when you're dead, though you have no expenses whatever and need not work, so there is that. Still, the simplest actions, rolling over for instance, are so difficult, you might as well be working in the salt mines. Obviously, I roll over as rarely as possible, but one does get stiff; and there are bedsores.

By now you may be wondering if I have mistaken infirm old age for death and am in some sort of predeath revery and not dead at all. The dead are used to this. Someone is always telling us we aren't dead. The dead are used to doubt. We don't think we're dead ourselves.

We even have an explanation why. The cause of death is the failure of oxygen to reach the brain, but the dead don't need oxygen, so, for the dead to be dead there would need to be some other cause of death, and there isn't.

And, though even I can see this explanation is somewhat lacking in substance, I can explain that, too. The least substantial aspects of life are what die. For instance, breath; when breath goes, it takes everything. The way we wore our hat, the way we sipped our tea--you couldn't take that away from us, we brought it here. As I say, I'm blind, but I can well imagine this to be an affecting sight, if you could stomach it.

If you care about appearances, take my advice: don't die.

By the way I have no assurance that, assuming you have not already died, you will. You might not. There is no proof. There is too much variation. I really can't even speak for any dead but myself, so certainly I can't speak for the living.

I find it's helpful to keep an open mind when you're dead. And it is easy, since there is nothing to get in the way. And in my case, if I understand my situation correctly, that would include a head.

Phew! Okay. I'll take questions now. Yes. In the front row.

Q: Have you a gender?

A: I personally do not but I can't speak for others. Next.

Q: Does love last after death?

A: Yes. But we don't merge. We may enter each other, but we don't merge. That remains true after death--if there is an Oversoul, I have to assume I would be in it. I'm neither important nor unimportant enough to have a separate policy. Or if I do, all the dead do. Yes.

Q: Is there air after death?

A: There is very little else. But let me add, I have a theory that some of the dead become air, which is the origin of the saying, you see the other side of people when they are dead.

Q: Are dogs immortal?

A: Ha, ha.

Q: Did you see a nine-year-old girl named Imelda?

A: No, but I am blind.

Q: Did you see Larry?

A: I wish.

Q: Did you see--

A: I'm going to have to ask you to hold your questions about missing loved ones.

Q: If you say you are not dead, but you are, maybe it's a semantical issue, not a scientific one.

A: Good question. Next.

Q: Is there time?

A: For? Oh, I see what you mean. Of course there is time. But it seems to take forever.

Q: I saw Imelda.

I notice I am meaning nothing here. In death, you can take some things with you, but meaning isn't one of them. Let me be more precise. I don't know for a fact you can't take it with you; but no one seems to. The way we sipped our tea, the way we held our knife, you see that everywhere. The way we changed your life, it didn't get over; we had to leave it behind, with you.

Another thing about death they don't tell you is, it writes like this. You can't sink your teeth into it. If you don't have to write like this, don't. It's like Death! the Musical! where Meaning is very Abstract, and Death is a Stairway. That is so vexing. Meaning is not abstract. Death is not a stairway; the dead couldn't manage it.

We are a great deal like very young infants; but we have no mothers; we're more like slugs.

Another thing about death they never mention is the semicolons; they're everywhere; like pine nuts in Sardinia. Like stones and rubble. They are very tiring. I believe I'll take a break here. I wouldn't be so foolish as to predict how long a break. There is time, but there are no markers.

Death is not like breakfast, where small things loom large, an undercooked egg, for example. Here all things are the same.

And there is never breakfast.