Photo by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash

You are probably not at all surprised that people don’t like to talk about death. I am fine with it, always have been. Perhaps it is because in my regular conversations with my elderly aunt, she would consistently harken back to the untimely death of every family member. Try as I might to change the subject, reminding her that each was my family as well, she would recite their deaths like she was counting tithe. But I am not talking here about that. I am talking about each of our “endings”… not as we want or expect it to happen, rather what may or may not happen afterwards.

I have dealt with a lot of deaths in my life, both personally and professionally, some of them beyond gruesome and have always been struck by the indelible impact they have on the living…how a death transcends time for those who survive. Yet, I couldn’t help but think that as much as it caused great pain to the living, the pain of the dead was over. However awful their ending was, it was over for them.

I have been told that it makes people uncomfortable (recently), not that it was a topic of conversation for me before. Now, it is more relevant to my life and, as we all should acknowledge, a part of life. So…I am going to talk about it here, because you can choose to read it or not and I don’t have to censor what I say so as not to make people feel uncomfortable.

I have noted before that I am not a religious person, so have no allusions of the pearly gates or the flames of eternity. Nor do I believe in reincarnation. As I have thought about it in greater depth, I think about Irving Yalom’s perspective, as he didn’t believe in an afterlife, either. He believed that what follows after life is the same as what preceded it. Yet, and perhaps this is presumptuous, I can’t help but think that all of the knowledge gained in a lifetime cannot just go away and dissipate into nothingness. As such, I am drawn to Carl Jung’s proposition/belief in the collective unconscious, whereby everyone is born with and shares ancestral knowledge and imagery that is expressed in archetypes. These universal archetypes are inherited patterns of thinking and behaving, signs, and symbols, not formed due to personal experiences. In fact, 1929 Jung wrote: “It is the matrix of all conscious psychic occurrences, and hence it exerts an influence that compromises the freedom of consciousness in the highest degree, since it is continually striving to lead all conscious processes back into the old paths.”

Of course, Jung had his proponents and his detractors, but there is something in it that resonates with me. However, I am looking at this less from a retrospective and more from a prospective view. I can neither prove nor deny that it exists, but I would like to think that each of us becomes a part of it, in turn. In my mind, I visualize it as a constellation of knowledge somewhere in time and space where, when we are gone from this realm, our knowledge and experiences become a part of the matrix. I would even delight in the idea that our psyche remains there, free to roam and absorb collective knowledge and wisdom while contributing to it, unburdened by earthly pain and emotion.

There is something satisfying and compelling to me about this “ending”, this death from life on earth, where the “conscious” is free to roam, contribute to and absorb knowledge. The freedom from physical and emotional pain is also quite enchanting, with access to all of the world’s accumulated knowledge unburdened by intrusions from life on earth. There is somehow a purity to it.

So, when my days on earth are done, I now like to think of the joy of being a part of the cosmos like a renewable resource…still contributing but at the same time able to access and partake of the fruits of the labor from generations past. After everything is said and done, my vision of “afterlife” is no more or less provable than any other one out there and it gives me peace. In the end, isn’t that what is most important?

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KLP

As a now-retired psychologist, I was recently diagnosed with terminal cancer, and am currently undergoing chemotherapy to hopefully prolong my life.