Trying to Understand and Cope with Death

I have experienced a lot of death and loss this year. A friend died of ALS in November. I lost my father-in-law to stroke the day before yesterday. And the news is filled with reports of horrible shootings that seem to be occurring more frequently. Given that this is the holiday season, when love and general happiness usually abound, I have been trying to cope by making sense of the loss.

I remember when my stepfather died when I was eight years old; I remember thinking that although he would not be coming home anymore, the idea that he ceased to exist never occurred to me. In my eight-year-old mind an analogy formed that seemed crystal-clear to me then, just as it still does: when a driver gets out of a car and the car stops moving, the driver has not ceased to exist; he just left the car.

In the case of someone leaving their body, we loose touch with the 'driver,' the occupant of the body. That is the sad part. You love and become attached to someone, so it's sad when they leave. I find it more comforting to think of the person who has died as having departed, as opposed to ceased to exist, both because of how I was raised - Episcopal - but also because it is logical. IF you accept that there is a soul, THEN it follows that an embodied soul is just as alive as a soul without a material body.

I came across some literature that nicely explains all of this in terms of logic and argument. It is called the Veda, or Vedic literature. It was written in Sanskrit, the oldest language on earth, thousands of years ago. And what is remarkable is how closely every analogy in the Vedas corresponds with the simple understandings I formed as a child. Later, when I accepted initiation from a Vaishnava guru, he explained that these things are "simple for the simple, but complicated for the crooked."

Faith that we are souls who have falled, somehow, from a more exalted existence, is simple for children. We are alive because a part of God is within us, and when that particle leaves the body, the body dies. But the spirit-soul lives on to experience new adventures in a new body.