I like to tell myself that I am not afraid of death. I think that part of me believes that as well. Yet this nagging sensation, hidden deep within me, tells me that I have tricked myself into believing this. I want to believe it so badly, that I have lied to myself, so cleverly, so convincingly, that part of me has started to perceive that I am unafraid. That what comes After is not something to be afraid of.
What comes after is a question I have forever questioned, ever since I was first confronted with death. This first time, must’ve been when my Grandmother died. I was young then – five, maybe six years old. I think I was too young to truly feel the emotions you’re meant to: shock, sorrow, anger, even manic feelings.
I was still too young when it came to her funeral. I was sat in church, listening to the priest rattle on. But I wasn’t really listening. I was a child, more intent on the people around me. And they were all crying. And I wasn’t.
I remember turning round to my cousin – merely a month older than me – to check if he was crying. If I should be crying. I can’t even recall if he was. I just remember I wasn’t. Saved by my child-like innocence.
I don’t remember my mum actually telling that my Grandmother had died. That is a benefit of being an innocent child. Your mind blocks out all the horrors that you experienced. My only memory of seeing my Grandmother in a state of near death, was when we visited her in hospital. I think she was asleep, or was on some heavy drug. I can’t even remember what she died from – I think it was cancer.
Either way, that is my only memory. I have few other memories of my Grandmother truth be told. My abiding memory is one where she taught me about etiquette. As a kid, I was always in a world of fantasy (nothing has changed). I suppose most kids were, but still. I had a plastic Zorro sword, one which I carried everywhere. One time, my grandmother asked to see the sword, so I handed it to her. She shook her head, taking the sword as she did and gripping the handle.
“You should never hand someone a blade with the sharp end pointing towards you.”
So she turned it back round, and gave it to me, handle first.
And you know what? I have never forgotten that lesson. I always hand people sharp objects blade first, be it a kitchen knife or a screwdriver or whatever. Handle first.
Yet then she was gone, with only pictures there to remind me of what she looked like. And I never remember feeling sad. Sure, I felt sad once I came to grips with the concept of death. But never before. Never when it mattered most. When I should’ve been mourning.
It was like this when my parents got divorced. I was nine at the time, possibly ten. I remember walking into my dad, sitting on the end of the bed, crying, with my mum stood up. My mum said that she was no longer happy and wasn’t laughing as much with him. I don’t remember feeling anything. Perhaps I was too young to. Spared those emotions by my age.
But my sister. My sister was at the age where children just start to understand how the world works. Love, death, all those sensations that I was yet to fully understand – to appreciate. She was almost two years older than me and must’ve been upset for weeks.
Later on, I was told that she wasn’t only upset at my parents, wasn’t only upset that the divorce, or the world, but was upset by me. By my lack of emotion. Perhaps, in some ways, she was jealous. Jealous that I had been spared the pain and suffering that comes with a broken family.
I never remember feeling upset about it. They both moved on. A few months of mourning for my dad, but soon he was happy. It didn’t affect my life, save for that I now visited London every four weeks for the weekend.
Now I’m at the age where death and loss would affect me. Reading Pet Semetary (Stephen King) got me thinking about death. I had a neighbour – not quite a friend, but someone who I was close to – who died when I was in year nine (around the age of thirteen). He was about six himself and he died of meningitis. That I remember being distraught about. Longest day of school I remember, constantly close to tears.
I wasn’t even close to him. I had played with him maybe twice. Yet it hit me: that death can come snatch people away at any moment.
When my thoughts turn to this, my mind becomes depressed and sullen in itself. It starts to think what if. What if my mum died? Or my dad? Or even my sister? And I feel the emotions rise up, the emotions I should’ve felt when I was young, when my grandmother died.
Then I snap myself out of it, realising there is no need to think about it.
But what comes after?
When my grandmother died, I did not know what came after. I had been told before – whether it was at school or family, I do not know – that there is nothing after death. Nothing. Just nothing. Blackness so absolute that nothing can exist. But, as a child, I could not imagine there being nothing. Children have so much life, so much energy, that the idea of everything stopping is far too foreign to them.
Even now, I do not know what comes after. No one does. But what people believe is key. My belief? I do not believe in God, therefore I cannot rightly believe that heaven or hell exist. As comforting as the idea of heaven is, I cannot bring myself to believe in it. Yet I do not believe there is nothing after death, either.
The idea of reincarnation fascinates me. Coming back to life with no memory of previous life sounds plausible. I do not know if I believe that a good previous life leads to reincarnation of good fortune, or vice versa, but I think I could believe that we are in a never-ending cycle of life – always forgetting; never remembering. That could be plausible.
But you see, could. Could is the word that makes all the difference. Anything could be, but nothing is known. Nothing is certain. And so I carry on guessing, never sticking with a belief, for the more I think about them, the less likely they seem.
That is the point though: life after death is something no one can report upon. It is a myth about what happens next, much like the story of Christ. Belief, much like religion, is what keeps the idea alive.
I suppose one day I will find out what comes after life. But not for a while, if death is kind. No, not for a while.