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Birth, Death and Beyond

This essay first appeared in print at Einkwell.

Birth, Death and Beyond

This is something I have thought about over the years, as many of us have, and moreso after the death of my mother in 1998. I kept finding myself thinking about her life and her passing, and then I would find myself examining my own mortality and thinking about my children. In light of recent world events, I am again thrown into considering, "What comes next?"

Many people believe that when you shuffle off this mortal coil, the game is done. I am not one of them. I believe in a lot of things I cannot see, or touch, or taste, or hear, or smell...like love and friendship and humor. And I believe that birth and death have more in common than we realize. How so?

Well, consider an unborn baby. It has all the senses we are accustomed to, but how many does it get to use? Hearing...well, yes, to a point. There's mum's heartbeat, her voice, perhaps the voices of others - though not clear - music, other muffled noises, but nothing the baby can put a name to, or even understand.

Sight...probably not, unless baby has a mum like E. Her first daughter was born in July, and up to the day she went into labor, she was to be found in her back yard, in halter top and shorts rolled down below her belly, sunbathing. I imagine the baby had a nice red glow coming through her mother's skin, like when you point closed eyes at a bright light source.

Touch...very limited again, only the walls of the enclosing womb, or baby's own hands and limbs touching itself.

Taste...amniotic fluid. Yum.

Smell...none. The apparatus is there, but nothing to make it go.

And what happens? Well, there baby is, floating serenely, everything is wonderful, and as it has always been. It knows nothing else, remembers nothing else (as far as we know), and one day things begin to change. The comforting walls begin to close in, the cradling water flows away. An experience beyond imagining, fraught with fear and possibly pain--discomfort, anyway--and beyond the baby's control, is entered into.

And then...why sounds are sharper now, more varied, with subtleties never imagined. Sight, as it develops, reveals color!! and shapes, faces, things, baby's own hands, so much, so new, so different. Touch...there is soft and hard, warm and cold, rough and smooth, gentle and not-so-gentle, comfort and discomfort...again, all beyond prior experience. Taste...no longer the salt water of the womb, but mum's sweet milk, and then other flavors, salt and bitter and sour, apples and ice cream, chocolate and chips, so much that was never suspected or even imagined. And now there is smell...baby powder, mum's breath, dad's aftershave, poopy diapers, the dog, the blankets, flowers, food...

Things beyond imagination, beyond previous experience, and amazing, wonderful, breath-taking. No wonder babies look around with such huge eyes and amazed little faces.

So, then, what of death? I believe it is the same. Our spirits are in these bodies, as the baby was in the womb. We have senses we can't use, do not even suspect exist, although there are those who have a hint, as E's daughter had a hint of sight, whereas other babies would have no such opportunity. We call them "psychic" or "witchy", those who get a glimpse of what is out there waiting, and when we die...do we not go through something unimagined, something perhaps fraught with fear, sometimes with pain or discomfort, sometimes a simple slipping forth into...something we cannot imagine because we lack the senses, the experience to guess what it might be.

That is what I believe, anyway, and if my thoughts bring you comfort, then I am pleased. I lost my mother to a long battle with breast cancer three years ago, and although I miss her terribly from time to time, I often wonder what she has moved on to, and what amazement awaits us all.