A very sad thing happened this weekend when the wife of a dear friend and co-worker, who was apparently an occasional visitor to this site, unexpectedly and suddenly passed away. I cannot imagine a family less deserving of such heartbreak, and I struggle to find some way to help them. At times like this there are no catch-all words of comfort for those left behind. I can only offer the following insight.
About three years ago I was in Bermuda with my friends Sean and Andrew. While there we foolishly rented motor scooters, even though only Andrew had any appreciable experience on any motorized vehicle. So it comes as no surprise to hear that I, ever the klutz, crashed my scooter and suffered a concussion.
Now, in between losing consciousness on the pavement and waking up with a paramedic peering down at me and tasting Andrew’s fingers in my mouth (don’t ask), I have vivid memories of a unique experience. In those brief seconds of blackout I remember long minutes of complete contented timelessness during which I was on a country road in summer with blinding brilliant white sunlight beating down upon me; and with me were the people in the world whom I loved the most. During this period, I knew that I was supposed to be somewhere else, but I was so completely content and happy to be on that road that I didn’t care what was happening in the “real” world.
I’m not suggesting that what I experienced was a near-death experience. I don’t know if my heart stopped. I accept that it’s entirely possible that my “hallucination” was caused by scrambled neurons and/or the subtle play of Bermudan sunlight upon the retinas of my still open eyes.
But all of that is beside the point. When I awoke I no longer had any fear of physical death. I still cling to life with all my might, and I’m terrified of life-threatening situations. But my only anxiety regarding my own death concerns the care and disposition of those I would leave behind; I am otherwise now convinced that the actual process of personal death is not necessarily a traumatic experience, but indeed is the “re-birth” that many traditions teach. I am not a religious man, yet I have personally encountered additional scenarios which reinforce the conclusion that physical death is not the end of the journey.
None of this, of course, helps my friend and his children in the short term. But I hope that, over time, as they come to deal with missing their departed love one, there will be some comfort in considering that death, while tragic, may not be the complete extinguishing of human spirit or potential, but merely its transformation to another place or form.
If anyone has any words of particular insight and comfort to offer my friend, feel free to add them as a comment, as he is a regular visitor.