In the Abyss all things exist
I think about death a lot.
Not least because of having lost so many friends and family members in recent years, but also because the idea of what happens after we die has always fascinated me. Is there a complete extinction of everything we are and ever were, or is it simply another stage of existence, does some part of us live on in another form: is the human body a caterpillar to the soul’s butterfly?
I have a strange memory from childhood, a false memory, it would seem. I was very young, pre-school age, perhaps even pre-nursery school, so probably aged around three or four. Though maybe that part of the memory is wrong also.
My father died a few months before I was born, and I asked my mother what had happened. He’d actually died of a heart attack, but in this memory she said, ‘He merged with the sea.’
This phrase is interesting because it was so beyond my childish understanding that I don’t think I could have made it up, and it left me with an image of my father being consumed by and dissolved in a deep, green sea, to become forever part of it.
I have no recollection of whether I later questioned my mother about this. And it sounds as much like something she would say, as something she wouldn’t. Though when I think about it logically, I can’t believe she did say something that would make no sense to a child and give no answers. Maybe she thought it though, and maybe I plucked that thought out of her head.
The sea is an interesting metaphor for the abyss that represents the great unknown of death, and the image of a person merging with the sea illustrative of the soul having left the body to return to the source, and makes such sense in a metaphysical way that it must have come from somewhere.
Aside from the crushing pain of losing someone, I have always viewed death as a comfort: an end to suffering, the eternal, dreamless sleep. Certainly the idea that there is always death has got me through some very dark times. To know that it is an option is to free you to look for other options.
A few nights ago, I dreamt I was dying. I was at the end stages of an illness, my body was weak and there was to be no way back, just a slow winding down into nothing. I felt the same fear I had only previously felt empathetically, such as when my mother was dying. This fear is not a panicked feeling, but more a sadness approaching quiet dread, the feeling that time is slipping away and nothing can be done. Everything slows down, rushing is pointless, yet there is no time to plan what kind of legacy you’ll leave, no time to right wrongs, say the unsaid. Lost time cannot be made up for. All you can do is wait. It is almost as if when you know the end is near, rather than rage against the dying of the light, you have to simply be still and wait for the night to descend, for the blackness to extinguish every last atom of the day.
The dying in this dream was a long, slow process. I had time to reflect on everything I hadn’t done, all the loose ends that would remain untied, and with the realisation that all I could do was to run all the what-ifs through my head while I waited for my life to end, while I hovered at the edge of the abyss in eternal longing for the life I once had.
I have been not so far from death a few times in my life, and at the time I was either too young or too focussed on recovery to appreciate what had been given to me. But this time, albeit only in a dream, I knowingly faced the abyss. Perhaps aided by the experience of having watched others face it. This time I can see the second chance, and can actually feel enough relief at having survived to appreciate it, to not take for granted life and good health.
Perhaps it takes a dream experience to learn the lessons we miss in ‘real life’. Perhaps being one step removed from the physical makes it easier to analyze information. Or perhaps it’s because dreams themselves come from the same abyss, the sea with which we shall all one day merge.