Published by: Dolly on 28th Aug 2017 | View all blogs by Dolly

The tidal bore drives up the spine, pulling in the breath. It reaches its zenith, before slipping back down again, pushing out the breath. The body lives. Heart pumps the blood. The skin feels, and eyes see colour. Sound of speech and hearing, while the flesh burns with desire. The mind is fuelled with ideas and language. The body in all its intricate and subtle movement, travels through time. Over the years it slows, until finally, it becomes acquainted with the gravedigger's spade, and a handful of earth that rattles on the coffin lid, as the mourners turn away to the pub and the inevitable buffet, where, whoever the body was, will be mentioned over a drink, a sandwich, a chicken drumstick and perhaps a piece of cake. Gradually, the small talk drifts to general things, other people's health, and the reason for the gathering becomes obscure. Eventually, it breaks up, leaving the body forgotten in the grave. Over the years it will be visited. Someone will leave flowers, remember, and say, or think a few words. Families change, people move, until there is no one left to visit, and it becomes abandoned. The earth shifts, and the monument to who ever is buried there, moves with it, listing slightly, a stricken ship, that once carried someone's life.


Alternatively it might be turned into a fine ash and exist in an urn, and for a while, sit on someone's window sill, a display cabinet, or the traditional place, centre stage over the fireplace. Then, over time, occupy a space in the dark recess of a cupboard, or behind the overcoats at the back of a wardrobe. Or perhaps becomes the result of a symbolic gesture, where the remains are scattered over what is assumed to be a favourite place. 'He or she liked to come here,' they will say. Whether he or she did or not.

Where will the dead be when this takes place? Fighting the darkness, or coming to terms with exploding light? Or perhaps looking for the welcome of visions, that are expected to accompany them on the stairs to heaven, and an everlasting, blissful existence. Maybe it's just a trick, a lie taught to everyone when they are young. When Sundays were Sundays, nothing was open, the streets were quiet, the church bells rang, and the pubs were full for an hour between the morning service and the Sunday roast. Then again, there could be nothing. but even nothing is something. The universe is in a state of flux, and all things must pass, all things must change. Even oblivion.



  • Yo
    by Yo 10 months ago
    Yep, but none of us know what comes next. Could be nothing, could be something. It's nicer to think there's something, paradise, until we're ready to give the short rollercoaster of life another go, just for the fun of it.
  • SecretSpi
    by SecretSpi 10 months ago
    “For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no further reward, and even their name is forgotten"

    Then again - who knows?
  • Hilly
    by Hilly 10 months ago
    We had a spate of deaths that sent us reeling, bang,bang, one after the other but the dreadful thing was, they were all young. We attended the scattering of ashes of one with a friend, who died in his girlfriend's arms only a month later. We then had to send him off, followed by many more.
    I don't know what comes after. I hope there is something, another 'go on the wheel' or whatever. I don't wish to believe in a constructed Heaven and Hell scenario.
    What it does is make you reassess your own life. Are you waiting for retirement having not really lived your life? Can you say, if I died tomorrow, would I be fine with that or would the regrets come pouring out?
    I once thought, many years ago, that I would be happy to die. Where was I? In Monet's garden at Giverny. I would have died so blissed out. Perfect time.
  • Dolly
    by Dolly 10 months ago
    I am seventy six, so I have reached an age when death is not even on the horizon anymore, but immanent, so I have started to think about it more. I don't fear it, and ideally I would like to go to sleep and not wake up again. However, this is not always possible, but my interest isn't morbid, more a fascination of what might transpire, and I'm starting to look at it as an adventure into the unknown. It's something that comes to mind now and again. In the meantime, I'm more interested in what's happening to me while I'm alive!
  • Newbie
    by Newbie 10 months ago
    At 68 I'm still amazed I made it this far!!! Yes, I do wonder and yes I am scared although I've experienced things to make me believe life continues afterwards, but, like Dolly, I'm living for now and feeling happier than I have for many years.

    Friends and family members have died and I'm still missing and mourning them. I would love to be able to pick up the phone and hear their voices once more. I recall ringing the number of my in-laws after the death of my mother-in-law, willing her to pick up the phone. After several rings it went to voice mail. Father-in-law had taken a well-deserved holiday abroad to visit his family.

    I like to think I've made peace with any regrets I might have had and look forward to new experiences.
  • JeanieD
    by JeanieD 10 months ago
    I'm 67 and this is the best time of my life ever. I'm aware that everything could change in an instant in terms of the health of me or loved ones, and the thought of bereavement or my own death can be neither ignored nor dwelt upon. I do sometimes fear that I won't have enough time to do all the things I want to do, but as others have said, it's best to live for each day. Regrets? Yes, some. Nothing's perfect. But that's life and I hope I will have a lot more of life left to enjoy. What comes after, I don't know. Not the heaven or hell I was taught at Sunday school, oh surely not. Maybe a state of non-existence. I can't imagine not existing but perhaps we were in that state before we were born. I suppose we've already experienced it too when under anaesthetic or when in a deep sleep where we're not dreaming. Or will we be recycled back onto this earth? Who knows?
  • Sandra
    by Sandra 10 months ago
    I'm 70 (unlikely as it sounds to me) and since I never anticipated making old bones am surprised to still be here. I've had a life with good luck, good health, and a loving family, and the last decade of so has been a thoroughly enjoyable period of learning new skills and making new friends.

    What happens after? Nothingness. My biggest 'concern' is what happens to the family history stuff I've inherited ... but I know I can't dictate others' interests.
  • Clytemnestra
    by Clytemnestra 9 months ago
    Oblivion is simply a lack of awareness. We may be oblivious while vibrantly alive so why should the opposite be impossible?

    I'm looking forward to an awfully big adventure when I die. Free of physical limitations, I may get to see what's going on within all that mysteriously expanding dark matter :-D
  • Gerry
    by Gerry 9 months ago
    Slightly off topic, but I have a particular interest in fiction on this subject – or, rather, on the subject of non-oblivion. My local Waterstones (York) recently displayed many shiny new volumes of ‘Lincoln in the Bardo’ (George Saunders) a novel in which Abraham Lincoln’s newly dead son seems in danger of getting stuck in the ‘Bardo’ – a Tibetan term indicating, so far as I can tell, the condition of being earth-bound, or a ghost. The question apparently is whether Lincoln junior can be set free and go on to ‘the light’. You may notice I’m a bit hazy about details. This is because I’ve not finished the book. Judging by the dust jacket it is a much praised volume, but judging from my response it is well weird. (Oh, and I’ve just seen it’s long listed for the Man Booker Prize, so there you are, I’m a pleb.)

    Another recent purchase is ‘On the Other Side’ by Carrie Hope Fisher. The cover, showing a pink heart festooned by leaves, a bird, a cello and a strawberry, tells you it is chick lit. The book is also, says that same cover, ‘the number one best seller’. This might be because Carrie Hope Fisher has a big following as a video blogger. Anyway, the story seems to be about a woman, recently deceased, who cannot proceed to the top floor on the metaphorical lift till she sorts out a few issues in the basement – i.e. from the life she has just had.

    I’ve just checked both these books on Amazon because you usually get recommendations for similar books. Well, if you’re looking for anything in the ‘discarnate’ genre there’s nothing. Recently anyway.

    It was some time ago that I read ‘The Lovely Bones’ so my memory may be foggy, but so far as I can remember the novel is mostly about the grief of those left behind, whereas our newly dead heroine doesn’t do much but look down and eventually – I seem to remember this from the film – move on, presumably to something like ‘the light’.

    You can see from all this that there is a natural rhythm to ‘discarnate’ novels: delayed progress while problems are worked on or, at least, observed, followed by moving on.

    Possibly the best illustration of this is the Patrick Swayze film, ‘Ghost’, where Swayze is stuck between the worlds (i.e. as an earth-bound spirit, or ghost) until the problem of the baddie is sorted, after which Swayze can go on to ‘the light’. We also get, via Whoopee Goldberg, the medium character, a glimpse of the sort of characters who come back for a chat. Whether they come from the ‘in-between’ state or from the lower reaches of ‘the light’ is not clear, but they don’t seem like high flyers, anyway.

    It seems to me there is massive, but neglected, potential in this genre. The final sorting of life issues strikes me as a superb opportunity for some really crunching drama. To be fair, I suspect there may be quite a few obscure titles in the U.S. of the sci-fi/fantasy/YA type, but in Britain there’s almost nothing. It’s like fantasy before Tolkien came along, a great big nowt begging to be summat.

    Sad to say, I have failed, thus far, to persuade agents otherwise.
  • sirtanicmills
    by sirtanicmills 9 months ago
    Sometimes, I sit for an hour or two in places that have been regarded as deeply spiritual for 3000 - 4000 years or so. And sometimes, I feel a vibe or presence. But for me it's about renewal and regeneration. I'm not really convinced by the continuity argument.
  • Athelstone
    by Athelstone 9 months ago
    Gerry, I'm not overly surprised that agents are resistant to death as a theme. Most of our death fiction isn't actually about death, it's about a firework display of blood and gore, or about the sadness/bitterness/callousness/cuteness/compassion of the survivors, or some comic ghostliness, or a cypher to fix a plot point: anything, in fact, except the death itself. Generally people don't like to contemplate death and agents aren't different. I think Dolly is pointing at exactly that issue. Death is rather different from the events that surround it. Death is not an event in life (not my quote).

    Some of the most interesting fiction about death that I've read comes from Carlos Castaneda. That might irritate some people who think that Castaneda's stuff is all true, or alternatively is all rubbish. There are also some wonderful depictions of dying from several writers. But death itself? Not often.
  • Sandra
    by Sandra 9 months ago
    Sarah Hall has recently puvblished an anthology of short stories under the title 'Sex and Death'. She discusses reasons and reactions at https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2016/aug/19/sarah-hall-sex-and-death-short-stories?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other
  • Athelstone
    by Athelstone 9 months ago
    Very interesting read, Sandra. Thanks for the link. Anything that promotes the short story form is good in my view.
  • Dolly
    by Dolly 9 months ago
    Hi Gerry. There are three bardos. 1. Bardo at the moment of death. The clear light of reality.
    2. Bardo of experiencing reality. Visions of various forms of the Buddha.
    3.Bardo of rebirth. Karmically impelled hallucinations, which eventually result in rebirth. Typically, images of men and women passionately entwined. These are dealt with in The Tibetan Book Of The Dead. This is well worth buying. Also, one of the chapters in The Sutra Of Complete Enlightenment deals with it. There is a trilogy of Ch'an and Zen Teaching by Lu K'uan Yu. (Charles Luk), which contains the complete sutra.
  • Gerry
    by Gerry 9 months ago
    Athers: you may be right, and the horse I flog may indeed be – ironically – dead. ‘Ghost’ and ‘On the Other Side’ do offer rebuttal though not in convincing quantity. They have quality, however, or, let me say, qualit‘ies’ plural – humour and romance particularly but also the sort of stout good heartedness that sets us off nodding as if to say, yes that’s the way life should be. (Or, in those particular stories, life on both sides of the – what shall I call it? – interruption.)

    I don’t just see it – the Nearby Beyond – as an area for a good hearted mixture of drama, humour, romance and all the rest, however. For the last fifty years or so I’ve been thinking along the lines of ‘without vision the people perish’. That is, I looked around me as a teenager and decided that what we humans most desperately need is a sense of perspective. Fix that, I thought, and you fix the world.

    Every teenager wants to fix the world, don’t they, and I can’t prove that a sense of where-we-come-from and where-we’re-heading will provide the key, but here’s what that nice Mr Wordsworth had to say:
    ‘Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting;/ The Soul that rises with us, our life's Star, / Hath had elsewhere its setting, / And cometh from afar;/ Not in entire forgetfulness,/ And not in utter nakedness,/ But trailing clouds of glory do we come’

    That’s more like it. Poor old Christianity had two thousand years in which to accumulate errors as well as merits, and one of the worst errors in my view was the fear of hellfire. Good for keeping the plebs obedient, thought the emperors of Rome, both spiritual and temporal, but to my mind it was a disastrous choice. The opposite of love, I would suggest, is not hate but fear. This is because love expands and fear contracts. Hence, if God is love, then the promotion of fear is the promotion of God’s opposite. Work out what that might be.

    And I think we’re still stuck with that fear in some vague form or other. Hence the unpopularity of the sort of story I think people would love if only they gave it a chance. Just like people have loved ‘Ghost’ and that number one bestseller ‘On the Other Side’.
  • Gerry
    by Gerry 9 months ago
    Dolly: congratulations on getting to grips with the Bardo Thodol and allied literature. I could never persuade myself to give it a proper go. I did, however, enjoy Athers's Castaneda novels, never spotting their unlikelihood till a debunking book came my way. Ah well, a good lesson in being a mug. Cracking good reads, though.
  • Clytemnestra
    by Clytemnestra 9 months ago
    Gerry, may say that I understand you?

    The three Bardos Dolly refers to are tenets of Buddhism which is not a religion but a philosophy.
  • Woolleybeans
    by Woolleybeans 9 months ago
    I'd not heard of the bardos, Dolly, though Mr WB read a fair bit on Buddhism a bit back and was most interested in the way the stuff he was reading focused on learning and growth and not one set of doctrines or anything. I just did a quick google and found 6 bardos, so I may have to go and do some more reading!

    I must say, the bardo that involves all the visions etc sounds somewhat intense.

    And it's also interesting how Buddhism seems to function as both religion and philosophy, being one to some and both to some etc, and depending on what you mean by each term.

    I like the basic 'seek wisdom and growth in understanding' idea of it all. It makes a lot more sense to me than being told someone else's conclusions and being expected just to agree.

    Gerry, I like Blake's lines on the fear/love, the idea that basing things on 'Thou shalt not' leads to 'binding with briars, my joys & desires'.
  • Dolly
    by Dolly 9 months ago
    Hi Wooleybeans.
    The Tibetan Book Of The Dead is well worth buying. The copy I have is the first complete translation by Gyurme Dorje, with an introduction by the Dalai Lama. There is also a trilogy of Cha'n and Zen teaching from various sources translated by Lu K'uan Yu, (Charles Luk). There is also Cultivating The Empty Field, The Silent Illumination of Zen Master Hongzi, translated by Taigen Dan Leighton, along with Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, a compilation by Paul Reps, and The Narrow Road To The Deep North And other Travel Sketches, by Basho. I have read quite extensively over the years, although I am by no means an expert, but do have a basic understanding. The word Zen has come into use quite extensively over the years, by people who have no understanding of it. I suppose you can take from it, but I personally think that to have a true understanding of all this, you have to be born into it.
  • JGA
    by JGA 9 months ago
    by JGA 1 min ago
    I'm 76 too, enjoying my second childhood. Putting myself through art school in patches, learning drumming, thinking about this writers workshop picture book course I'm starting....
    Death? Lets hope it just switches life off so there is nothing more to worry about.
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