Memories of Death
AI assisted by Rich Pav
When I was 12, my parents died. A year and a half later, my sister's twin sister died. And six months after that, I found out my cousin had died.
All of these deaths were related to my family. None of them had anything to do with the world around me. When I think back to those days, it was the most confusing, most traumatic time in my life. I remember the grief and the loneliness. I remember how it felt like I was being ripped apart by an unseen force, but I can't remember the details of what those times were like. I'm sure I'm not the only person to go through this and I wonder if it's because I'm just not remembering them. What is it like to not remember?
I remember the details of my own death. That part isn't hazy at all. But the details of how I died, of what happened to me, I don't remember. I don't know how I felt. I don't know what my pain was like. I don't know what it felt like to die. I don't know what my experience was like.
It's hard to imagine not remembering the experience of your own death, but I've heard from others that it's possible.
Some people can choose to not remember. There are reasons for not wanting to. But I think the real question is: why should I remember?
I've decided that I'm going to work on remembering how it felt to die. It's not an easy thing to do. But it's important.
In part, I'm writing this to understand the experience better. I'm also writing this to help you to understand how it is to be dead. I want to understand what my death would feel like for me if I were able to remember. It's not to compare myself to others, because that would be weird. It's to help me understand what it's like.
I don't think it will be easy for me to write this, but I don't think it's easy for you to read it, either. In a way, it will be both difficult and comforting. It will take me a while to process what I'm writing. You don't have to wait for me to get through it. Go ahead and read it now, and if you're able to, try to imagine what it would be like. And then write back to me, and tell me what you think it would be like.
I'm not writing this from an ego standpoint. I'm not writing it to be famous, or for some other personal benefit. I'm writing it from a desire to understand. If you're like me, and it helps to read this from time to time, that's great. If you just read it once, and don't think about it again, that's okay. That's also great.
I always knew I was going to die. It was just a matter of when. I'd live long enough to get to this point, and then I'd die. It wouldn't be because I got too old, or had outlived my usefulness. It wouldn't be because someone had killed me. It would happen because, eventually, it's just what was going to happen to me. My body would stop working, and it would stop feeling and thinking.
I guess what I'm trying to say is my death would have been inevitable, even though I always knew it was going to happen.
I remember feeling really scared when I was young. Like, really scared. When I was five years old, my mother had a nervous breakdown, and was hospitalized. While she was in the hospital, I remember feeling really afraid, because I didn't know if my mom was going to die, or if she was going to be okay. I don't think I ever realized that what I was feeling was fear. I just felt really, really scared.
I don't remember ever being in a situation where I was afraid of dying. I don't remember ever fearing my own death. That's strange, because the fear was really intense when I was a kid, and I had to know why I was scared. It was a very real and present fear. And it still is.
It's easy to forget that, because there's a very real reason why you fear death. Fear of death is completely rational, when you think about it.
The Visit to Grandma's
One day, when I must have been about twelve years old, I was visiting my grandmother, and I had a little transistor radio with me, so I could listen to the radio at her house, while I was visiting. I was in the living room, sitting in a chair, watching a movie on the television. My grandmother was sitting in a chair across the room, watching the movie with me.
I had a transistor radio in my hand, and was listening to the radio. At one point, the announcer said something about a murder being committed somewhere in the United States. A man, who was wearing a white shirt and a dark suit, stepped out on the balcony of his house, looked around for a minute, and jumped to his death. Then, the announcer said, "Another murder in the United States."
I looked at my grandmother, and I could see the shock on her face, as the announcer was telling about this man jumping off the balcony and killing himself.
My grandmother said, "Where is he?"
I didn't know what to say.
I pointed to the television set, and the announcer was still saying, "Another murder in the United States," and the man was jumping off the balcony again, now.
My grandmother said, "You mean the man jumped off the balcony on the television?"
I nodded my head, "Yes."
She didn't say anything more. She just looked at me, and stared into my eyes, with her mouth slightly open, and I knew then that she was thinking, What is going on in the world?
This was the first time that I realized how terrible the world was.
There was an ad campaign at the time that had a song in it. It was something like this.
The next day, I listened to the song on the radio. The song said, "There are murderers, everywhere."
I was shocked. It was the first time that I had ever heard anyone talk about murder being "everywhere."
I thought, "I'm not a murderer. Why should I be afraid to talk about murder like that?"
But, when I realized that there are murders everywhere, I was a little bit afraid of what other people would think of me. It was not safe for me to talk about murder.
If people knew that I was talking about murder, they might think I was a murderer too. It was dangerous for me, to talk about murder.
My grandmother had been shocked, by the news that the man had killed himself, on the television no less.
She had been shocked when I told her about the man jumping off the balcony on the television, and I had been shocked when she was shocked.
She had been shocked, when she heard that song that was about murder being "everywhere."
I was shocked that she was shocked.
It was as if I were the murderer in the song, and my grandmother was the one who needed to be afraid of me. It was as if the person who said "There are murderers, everywhere" was talking about me.
I was afraid, and I was beginning to think that I might be a murderer.
I was a little bit afraid of what other people would think of me.
I had been brought up in a Christian home, but now the world was saying that I was a murderer.
"It's not safe to talk about murder," the world was saying, "and we should never be afraid to talk about it."
No, it was definitely not safe for me to talk about murder. It was not safe for me to listen to the radio, or to watch television, or to read a book, about murder being "everywhere."
But, there was no way that I could live in the world and not talk about murder.
And there was no way that I could live in the world and not read books, or listen to the radio or watch television about murder, "everywhere."
I was a murderer, and there was no way that I could ever escape from that knowledge.
And, I would never be safe, if I lived in a world, where murder was everywhere but was not talked about.
There were murderers, everywhere.
But, I had never killed anyone, and there was no way that I was going to murder my grandmother even if she did do what she said.
What do you think? What is the most important thing for you to consider?
The most important thing for me was that there were murderers, everywhere. I had to speak about murder, to everyone. I could not stay silent.
But, there was another thing that was important for me, too.
I was not a murderer.
I could never do the things that were described in the song, "There are murderers, everywhere."
There were murderers everywhere, but, I was not one of them.
I was not a murderer.
It was then that I realized I was stuck in a circular thought pattern from which I needed to extract myself, otherwise the story I was writing would be a repetition of the pattern of thought that I was trapped in, and that would have been an insult to my grandmother.
I decided to make a "decision."
It was a decision that would change everything.
I decided that the pattern that I had been caught up in was a pattern of thought, a pattern of behavior, and that was where I needed to change the direction of my life.
I had to break free from the mental imprisonment that I had been living in.
The pattern that I was living in was my own pattern, and it was that pattern that was holding me back from getting ahead in life.
I decided to break the pattern.
It was a pattern of behavior that I needed to break out of and I decided that I had to break the pattern of thought that I had been living in and replace that pattern with a pattern of thought that would bring me success and fulfillment.
I decided that I needed to change.
I started to make a list of everything that was going wrong in my life, and I found out that everything that was going wrong in my life was an example of the pattern that I had been living in, and I decided that I was going to break that pattern.
I had to make a decision.
I decided that I had to make a change in my life and I decided that my life was going to change in a radical way.
Yet still, things were not going at all well. I needed to move the story forward, to some other place and time.
I turned to my grandmother and asked her, "How do I make a difference in the world?"
She said, "By changing the story you are telling yourself."
I said, "How do I do that?"
She said, "Go to the story library. You know, where you read stories of great human beings doing great things."
She then added, "But if you have a problem, that is another story."
And I said, "That's what I'm trying to do, I'm trying to change my story."
"Then," she said, "tell that story."
To The Library
So I went to the library and I checked out "The World's Greatest Human Being," by Max Lucado, who writes Christian fiction.
It's not the kind of stuff you're used to reading. You won't find anything exciting or romantic. It's more along the lines of "If it was easy, everyone would do it."
It is a story of ordinary people who get in trouble and make a difference.
They do not become great human beings, but they do change their stories about themselves and change their lives and leave an impact.
It made me want to change the story I was telling myself.
The more I read it, the more I started to believe that every day matters, no matter how insignificant it may seem.
Every little action, big or small, can make a difference. Every moment, every day, makes a difference.
No matter how small the impact, it can make a huge difference in people's lives, if we choose to make it.
It reminded me to live in the moment, and to remember that the people around me need me more than I need them. It is important to look out for them and help them, because we have a greater purpose than just ourselves.
We are all connected.
You Remind Me of Someone
AI assisted by Thersa Matsuura
I woke to find myself all alone in this old graveyard. A vampire in the rain. What happened, I thought to myself. Oh yes, of course — we were drinking that bottle of rotgut wine in that dark alley and I had the misfortune to fall asleep, and it was then you started shrieking your head off.
Oh well, a lot of good that did me. Still, now you've got me out here at midnight trying to figure out how I'm going to get home without a ride. Not that it matters much; there's no place left for me to go anyway. There are no jobs and my friends would never understand why I have to leave town after what happened to my family.
Well, I guess I'll just have to find another way home tonight — and make sure it works better than last time. Maybe I won’t go home at all.
The weather was cold and damp. I huddled up against the church wall and wished that I'd brought along some warm clothes. The wind whistled through the cracks between stones. And then it occurred to me: If I knew that the spirits were angry with me for leaving them so soon after I came back from the dead, maybe they could use their magic to help me find a ride home.
But first I needed something else.
It wasn't long before I found what I was looking for. Right by the church, there was an old stone bench covered in ivy. There was a small sign near the base of the bench that said, "YOUR PLACE TO REST." It looked like a nice place to sit and rest.
I climbed onto the bench and sat down, leaning back against the cool gray stone. And I closed my eyes and let the cold rain patter on my face. I didn't feel very tired. I just felt lonely. I guess you could say I missed the sound of someone else's voice. Maybe I should call her.
"Rachael!" I shouted into the night. "It's your brother, Jake! Are you there?"
There was no answer.
But then I heard a sound coming from somewhere nearby. It sounded like footsteps. They stopped. Then I heard another set of footsteps, and then another. Each one getting closer and closer until suddenly there was a soft thump! as the steps landed right next to me. I opened my eyes. The streetlight shone down on a young girl who stood over me.
It was Rachel, my older sister. But how could she be here after...
She was wearing a white dress with red flowers on it. Her skin was pale and creamy and her hair was a beautiful shade of black. Her dark brown eyes looked kind and sad. And I realized that she was carrying a large box wrapped in brown paper.
"Hello," I said. I stood up and took a step forward.
She took a step backward. "Who are you? What are you doing here?"
I shrugged. "Rachel, it's me. Why are you scared of me?"
Her eyes went wide. "Scared of you?"
"Yes. You don't know who I am, do you?"
"Well, it's okay. I don't blame you. I look pretty scary when I'm drunk." I waved my hand dismissively. "Just forget I said anything. It's late. Let's just get inside before you catch a cold."
She didn't move. "But..."
"Please, Rachael. Just go home. You don't want to be out here in this weather, do you?"
She shook her head.
"You're not human are you?" she asked, squinting at me.
"What makes you think that?"
"You're so pale. Your eyes. They're so weird. I've never seen eyes like yours before. And your hair is... strange. Is that really your hair?"
I rolled my eyes. "Yeah, I know. My hair looks terrible. But listen, Rachel, I'm going to get sick if we don't go inside. So will you please just come with me and I'll explain everything. Okay?"
She nodded. She reached out and put her hand on mine. "Okay," she whispered. "Let's go."
I led her around the stone wall of the church. As we walked I noticed that she kept glancing back at the bench. She’d left the package there. I didn't ask her about it because I already knew what it meant. The place where I was supposed to be buried. But I did wonder: Who was I going to meet up with in the morning?
The lights were all off in the church. I saw some candles flickering through the stained glass windows. We had to walk through the graveyard to get to the front door. The storm was getting worse. It was pouring down hard now. I could hear the drops striking the ground. It was loud.
Rachel started shivering.
"You're freezing," I told her.
"Here," I said, reaching into my pocket. "Take my jacket."
She hesitated for a moment but then took it. I wrapped it around her shoulders and she smiled at me gratefully. "Thank you," she said. "But why are you helping me?"
"You remind me of someone," I replied. "Someone I miss."
We reached the heavy church doors. Why was there a carving of a demon on the knocker? I pushed them open. Inside, everything was very dark. Except for the candles. A big crucifix hung on the wall above us. The sanctuary had been converted into a single large room. It was lined with pews on both sides. There were more candles than I could count.
"I don't understand," Rachel said quietly. "Why are we here?"
"Because you reminded me of someone," I answered. "Something happened to me tonight. I was bitten. I went mad."
"That's the secret," I replied. "I don't have much time left. That's why I need to find out what's going on."
"So you came to the church?"
"Not just any church," I said. "This is where they brought me when I was... sick. I was here for three days. Three days of darkness. And then I woke up and... everything was different."
"I can't explain it. All I know is that things are different now."
"But... what do you mean?" she asked.
"They turned me into a vampire. Look at these magnificent fangs." I showed her my teeth.
"Vampire?" she whispered.
"Yeah. A bloodsucker. And that's what they wanted. They were trying to make a monster out of me. Make me one of them. But it didn't work."
"Because I killed myself. In order to save my life."
I nodded. "When I was in here, I found a Bible and I read it. I knew how to do it, so I did it. Took a knife and cut my wrists."
She was looking at me in horror.
"I couldn't tell anyone else," I continued. "I had to pretend I was crazy. I couldn't risk anybody finding out. Then I pretended I was a vampire, but..."
"I'm not a real vampire. Not yet anyway. I haven't fed. Haven't taken any blood."
"I have no idea. Maybe it's something in the air. Or maybe my body has changed, somehow."
I nodded. "It feels different. It aches sometimes."
"Are you sick?"
"No. But my mind... well, it's still messed up. I'm not sure what's going on. I'm scared."
"You should be,” she said.
"I am. I just wish I understood the secret better."
She was quiet for a long time. "What do you mean, 'the secret'?" she finally asked.
"The secret of who I am."
Rachel began to cry in great sobs. "I don't understand. Are you a vampire or not? You have the fangs. There is blood on your shirt. Yet, you say you aren't yet."
"Yeah, I guess so."
"Then what are you?"
I sighed. "I'm still me, Rachel. Just different. A little crazier maybe. Drunk, definitely. I have to figure this out."
She stared at me, her face wet with tears. "Is there anything I can do?"
"No, Rachel. I'm sorry. I'm sorry for what happened back home with mom and dad and the dog, Richard."
"Oh, Richard," she added. "I'm so angry at him."
"Me too. But he's not worth it."
"Did he ever hurt you?" she asked.
"Then kill him. Kill him right now!"
"I tried,“ I said.
“But you're not a killer."
"I am now. He was going to bite me again. This time, I would have let him."
"He would have killed you,” she said.
"I don't think so. I saw his eyes. They were afraid. Afraid of me. But he's smart. He'll wait until I'm asleep. He knows what I really am."
"He's right, you know. We can't trust you,” she said.
"I wouldn't have done it if I didn't have to."
"You have to feed,” she said. “That's what vampires do. You can't go on like this."
"I won't feed on you. I promise. But someone, sometime. I can't tell you how. I have to keep it a secret."
"If people find out, they might try to turn me into a monster. Like my parents did. My grandfather. And they'd probably kill you too."
"Because you remind me of someone."
She sat down beside me. "Who?"
"My sister Rachel."
"But I am Rachel, aren't I?" she said. Her expression was confused. "I'm your sister. Right?“
"Yeah. Your real name is Rachel. And you look exactly like my dead sister."
"You mean... you mean I'm really her?"
She gasped and began to cry again. "I'm her! I'm really her! And I’m dead you say?“
"Yes, but there is a problem with you being her, you see," I said. "Tonight after I got really drunk and after I went out in the rain, they came at me, they turned me into one of them."
"And then you died,” she said.
"Yeah. Because I was stupid enough to cut my wrists. So, now you're stuck here. Stuck in a coffin with me. I guess we'll just have to stay together, Rachel."
"Together forever,” she said.
"Yeah. Forever. Because I was the one who murdered our family. All of you," I said. "I went insane. I was drunk and mad and a vampire or a ghost, I don't remember. I'm sorry, Rachel.“
She looked away. "Don't be. It wasn't your fault. You were born different. Born evil. Our father did it. He always hated you."
"Well, I took care of that, didn't I?" I said with a little laugh. "I'm just sorry about you and Richard though.”
"Richard our dog," Rachel said. “He was a swell dog.”
"Maybe he'll come back to us,” I said. “If dogs can be ghosts, that is."
"I hope so. I love him."
"I know. Me too."
"Will you help me find him?" she asked.
"I will try. It could take some time though.”
She wiped her eyes. "I can't sleep. Not with you here. I don't want to think anymore."
"Do you remember how to make the flowers bloom?"
"I wonder if you can still do that."
"We'll see," she said. "Maybe."
"You should try, blooming flowers in the rain in this church. It would be beautiful."
She held her breath and closed her eyes.
In seconds, the candle flames burst into flowers inside the church. Red and yellow and bluebells.
Rachel opened her eyes.
"Wow!" she said. "It worked."
"Maybe it worked everywhere.“
"Let's go outside. Let's play in the rain."
"Okay. Come on."
We left the coffin and went out into the night. The cool air smelled of rain and spring.
The stars were bright, tiny flowers were everywhere. Rachel ran ahead of me. So I stood on the edge of the graveyard and watched as my sister played in the rain and jumped in flower puddles with a dog named Richard.
A dog we both loved.