Death in Time

Death in Time

The timing of things. You are here at the perfect, right time. All in due time. Your time will come. It’s not your time. We’re living in the wrong time. In the nick of time. Your timing is off.  We weren’t here on time. We escaped death, this time.

Eckhart Tolle reminds us the only time which is real is the present moment. The past exists only in our minds, our memories, our ruminations, the future doesn’t exist either, our future is really just our present. We recall the most important times of our lives in days. The day I get married, the day my child is born, but never do we say, at least in the West, the most important day is the day I die.

I remember lying flat on my favorite Miss Piggy sheets, the ones where she’s dressed in different can-can dresses, swinging from a trapeze of scarves, Kermie in a white tuxedo and top hat cheering her on. I was six-years old and I had just discovered death.

I will die and everything else around me will go on without me. Everyone will go on living.  Monday will come, then Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday night Dallas. Dallas will go on without me. I will die and J.R. will go on living.

In the year 2013, I had my first and only Ayahuasca journey. I experienced, maybe for the first time in my life, pure joy and bliss, the knowing that everything is alive, and there is no death.  Quite different from my experience with Miss Piggy and J.R.

I saw the electrical universe in its infinite glory and discovered I too am a collection of neural pathways. Some call it the soul, some call it the will. Some call it nothingness. Whatever one calls it, this soul, this will, this thing is kinetic and it’s in constant motion.

Energy cannot be created nor destroyed, it can only be changed into one form or another. As it is in physics, so in Ayahuasca, the message was clear.

If there is no death, what does this say about time?

I took a course to be a death doula, a guide for the dying and their loved ones. I learned about the soul, the will, the energy that never dies, and how it functions after death. Some souls jet off, while others linger, but according to Olivia Bareham, founder of my school Sacred Crossings, there’s an average of three days for the soul to make its way from the material into the ethereal.

There are countless stories of strange phenomena after someone has died. A mother comes into the hospital room. Her child has already been pronounced dead, but when she enters the room, the heart monitor lights up and starts beeping. Or a surgeon bangs his fists on the double doors to enter the autopsy room, and the body literally turns over, as if to say, no not yet.

I was asleep at my father’s house, early morning Christmas day, when I shot upright in one fell swoop. I gasped for breath, not knowing what was happening and there she was. A woman, lying on the floor next to me. She was full-bodied, with a crinkle cut perm, eighties hair gelled hard and crispy. She wore a forest green ribbed sweater and blue jeans. I could make out every detail of her body, but I couldn’t see her face.

I leapt out of bed straight for the door, and turned to see if she was still there. She had one leg crossed over the other and was pushing herself up with her hands. In total panic, I flew into my dad’s room shouting, “Someone is my room, call the police!” My sweet, diabetic, seventy-something-year-old dad rose from his pillow and handed me his cell phone. I was shaking so badly I couldn’t dial the number. He took the phone from my hand, dialed 911 and handed it back. As the 911 operator talked me down from my hysteria, I realized no one was actually in the house. There weren’t any noises or windows being broken or doors being slammed. There was just me and my dad, both of us shaken, in our pajamas.

I continued to talk to the operator. I think I made a mistake, maybe it was a bad dream, but what I saw was real, at least to me. Four police arrived at our door.

“Merry Christmas,” I said, still visibly confused. “Do you get these kinds of calls a lot?”

The police officers were kind. “Oh sure, it happens all the time, we don’t see any forced entry or anything suspicious, do you want us to come in and look around?”

“I think it’s okay,” I said. “No one is here. Thank you for coming.” I felt embarrassed as they left. I turned to my dad and said, “I feel bad they had to come on Christmas morning.”

He replied, “Oh it gives them something to do.”

One definition of a ghost is someone who doesn’t know they’re dead. Which would explain her outfit and hair being straight out of the eighties. We can describe someone in this state as transitioning, being in-between worlds or stuck in the bardos. Is this where my ghost was, in the bardos next to my bed?

Stephen Jenkinson, the author of the groundbreaking book Die Wise, talks about the ways people die. Some willingly invite death in and others go kicking, screaming, and sedated on medication. Unfortunately, he’s witnessed more in the latter category. Ghosts are those who refuse to accept an ending, and remain trapped in the process of transition.

From my first understanding of death on my Miss Piggy sheets, to studying to be a death doula, my understanding of death has radically changed. I see it as similar to birth, in that death has a similar gestation period, around nine months. In Jenkinson’s experience, the majority of people who are dying don’t understand that the dying process has begun. Their experience is, ‘I’m very sick,’ or ‘I have a terminal illness or I’m fighting this disease.’ Which in his mind, is a disservice to death.

Perhaps our sense of time in this material world would change, if we nurtured our relationship with death, befriended death, fell in love with death, our greatest marker of time, in all its mystery, beauty, pain and messiness.

Include death. Welcome death to the top of the list of our most important moments, and hold sacred the exquisite accomplishment, to die wise.

Stacey is a Colorado native, attended the School of Journalism at Boulder. She’s lived in San Francisco, London, New York and LA and is splitting her time in Colorado and Spain to pursue her writing. Follow her on Twitter.