Another one of my friends died today.  When you are 75 it’s hard to ignore the subject of death and dying.  Particularly if you are as I am a hospice volunteer who has experienced dying up close and personal. 

My parents and brother have died and my too young second wife died several years ago.  I sat vigil with one of my best friends in his hospital bed one day a week for several months until cancer finally took him. Too many of my close friends and lovers have left me. None have come back with a message from beyond.

My friends who never talk about death and dying now seem to want to discuss the topic. Could it be because they too have experienced the death of a contemporary? Maybe they have noticed as I have the number of high school friends who no longer are with us.

Conversations about dying always get back to the big one.  What happens when we die? Is there a better place? Do we go to a better place only if we believe in religion? Can we believe in God if we don’t believe in religion? Can we believe in religion if we don’t believe in God? Is there a good death and a bad one?

First some facts:

How soon is the death event. Well at age 65 according to the US Department of Health and Human Services men have 12 to 17 years. Women 12 to 20. Does that seem like a long time to you? According to that I may only have seven more years.  But then I could live to 100 or get swallowed up by an earthquake tomorrow.  I could live a long time but have such severe dementia that I barely know I’m alive. We can’t know our future.

And that’s not all we don’t know.

We live in a basically unknown environment.


So if you are skeptical about what’s out there, you certainly have reason to be. Some scientist believe dark energy will continue to cause cosmic expansion and there will be a burn out. All I know is that it’s not comfortable for my small brain to consider that if I could hop a 747 to the edge of just our solar system, the Oort Cloud (and there are other suns and other solar systems) it would take 3.6 million years. That’s a lot of bad in-flight movies.

Can our soul survive outside our body? Is there some kind of a collective consciousness? Is consciousness another element like hydrogen that our bodies latch on to for a brief time.

It certainly would be nice to know that I could still be around and outside my dead body without having to reside in dark matter. Maybe you could still see a play or a movie. No kidding people have tried to weigh the body before and immediately after death to see if the soul could be calibrated. No one knows the answer for sure.

So do some of you wonder whether there is a God or Not?  Isn’t it all in how we define the argument.

I am going to die eventually. Am I afraid I am going to HELL? Do I hope to go to HEAVEN? Will I be chanting OM near the end? Do I get buried or cremated? If buried should I wear my best suit. Take a deck of cards?

My wife was cremated and her ashes scattered in the ocean near a restaurant we both loved. My uncle who was a mortician was buried with a bottle of single malt.

My great uncle had a provision in his will that he be buried in the family plot in Philadelphia. Instead his wife cremated him and put him in an urn which she kept on the bar in the living room.

My wife didn’t want a funeral. She was sure it would be a bad time for everyone that bothered to come. She only liked good times.

To me there is denial in burial. Why keep that body around. Your dead.

I saw my mother exactly five minutes before she died and immediately afterwards. The difference was striking and indescribable. Without that thing that is life, the body is just a piece of flesh. Dispose of it as you will.

But will God be angry with me for my doubts . My God will hardly notice.

Isn’t religion really all about fear of death. I’m not yet afraid. Maybe I will get religion the closer that day arrives.

I confess, without even acknowledging the existence of God, I like religion. I don’t like it stuffed down my throat but I like ritual. I like a little of all of the religions. Most people forget there are many.

Christianity has 33% of the market; Islam 21%; Judaism only .22%; Buddhism 6%. To me it’s like asking what kind of music do you like. Can’t you like it all. They all have similar themes.

They all ask you to shut up for a minute and contemplate something other than yourself. For most of us our favorite word is our own name, not Jesus. Will Jesus be angry if we are not sure what to believe. Moses? Buddha?

Some of the religions were based on the seasons. The summer and winter solstice. They were afraid of crop failure almost as much as we fear death. Those not farmers had to move with their livestock and leave their dead behind. They needed a portable God. Not an idol. Way too heavy to carry.

And then I guess that brings me back to my God. I think the books preaching the death of God by Dawkins and Hitchens or those arguing for atheism are ridiculous. They argue against a God that only the most traditional Christians accept. He is an angry guy that looks like Charlton Heston after he discovered the restaurant wouldn’t let him in if he didn’t leave his gun in the car. They never pick on the god who is the conductor of this fabulous mysterious universe.

One of the things that fascinated me about Jewish prayers that mention God is that they never say the Hebrew word for God but instead use a code word. The idea is that the mere word itself is too holy to be spoken. And maybe too mysterious.

My God is that mysterious. She is so beyond explanation that we have not yet made a religion to warrant her mystery or complexity. She may be beyond the hologram that may be our universe.

After the death of someone very close to me, I was most comforted by of all things a Coldplay lyric:

“Those who are dead are not dead they’re just living in our head.”

Yup! That I can believe in.