Obsessing About Death Taught Me to Appreciate Life

“Write about something in your life you once obsessed about but now rarely, if ever, think about”

Death/heaven/hell. Yes, I’m getting down and dark with you tonight. Ok, not really.

Death is something I’ve thought about since I was about 8 but how I thought about it and the specific aspects I thought about have changed quite a bit, as I imagine, have yours and my thoughts about life.

As many of you know, I spent two years in India with my aunt and uncle in a large Muslim home as a child. I prayed there, learned or rather was unsuccessfully taught how to decipher the Quran in Arabic and I was told about the Muslim heaven and hell (known as jannah and dozakh/jahannam) and how you would suffer if you were a bad Muslim but be rewarded if you were good. Pretty basic stuff I suppose seeing as the idea of a heaven and hell are elementary to growing up. It almost goes hand-in-hand with learning the difference between what’s good and bad.

Muslims are taught that they have a soul. Beyond this, I’m not sure what is said to happen to the soul but I assumed that it continues to live on in a state of limbo just existing. Like a magenta orb just floating around, passing by other orbs. Maybe you get reincarnated like Hindus believe. At any rate, I recall looking out the chipped window of the blue building we lived in and being terribly disturbed by the notion of a soul that meanders for eternity and after.

Flash forward to about 17 years later, after my cat, my favorite being in the whole world passed away, I hoped that when I died, there truly was a place like heaven because I couldn’t bear to think that we wouldn’t see our loved ones again. I wasn’t religious at that time. I hadn’t given too much thought to heaven or hell because I was pretty sure I belonged in the latter.

As is the case with many of us, death stood as a pillar of pure relief sometimes, knowing that I could beckon it just as well as it could me. There was leverage in that. After he passed, it was the first time the thought occurred to me that heaven or an afterlife were terms constructed for people in their time of need to provide comfort and meaning to life. Because it’s depressing to think that we live these lives and build these paramount relationships with others only to lose them someday and never see them again. It’s much easier to believe that it wasn’t all meaningless. That what we built meant enough that it would surpass death itself.

About 3 years later now. I still miss my cat but I find comfort in knowing that I gave him immense love in this life and that will have to be enough for me. That little guy knew I adored the shit out of him.

I don’t know for sure if heaven and hell exist. Does anyone? I don’t fear death or where I’ll end up after because now I fear the things left undone. I found out I had a gas leak in my apartment last week and if it wasn’t for two people who noticed the smell when I had become used to it, who knows what could have happened. Not exactly a near death experience but the first thing that came to my mind was ‘fuck, I could have died without ever finishing my book.’ Death scares me into thinking about the things I want to accomplish while living.

So that’s where I am.

That’s what I’m doing.

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    Death looms larger I believe as you get older. I've had several discussions about death and dieing in the last week, mostly with folk around my age. All were about people we know that had gone on before us. Made me pause a bit about were I was and what I wanted to accomplish. Serendipitous that you would write on it as well. Maybe it's something in the water? Maybe it was we were supposed to get slapped by another planet last week. Maybe we did get hit by a planet and we are living in each other's dreams now? Maybe I watch too much sci-fi?
    As always your writing has given me pause to think.

  • In reply to Wally Slowik:

    I laughed out loud to this! Maybe I'm just a figment of your imagination? Maybe you're a figment of mine. Maybe humans only exist in the mind of cats to care for them and we are caught in a dimension where only our thoughts exist. Maybe we've read too much sci-fi. Thanks for dropping by, Wally.

  • I remember my daughter obsessing about death when she was quite young. It was worrying at first, and then I realized it was normal. She asked, "Where's grandma?" My mother, whom she had never met, died many years before. I said, "She's looking over us." It just came out. And, I don't believe in heaven or hell, not even one tiny bit, but I needed my daughter to believe, in that moment, that my mom was still there. Thanks for sharing your beliefs.

  • In reply to Kerri K. Morris:

    Thanks for sharing that, Kerri. You put your beliefs aside because that was what was best for your daughter in that moment. I'm sure your response brought solace to her.

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