Dreaming about Life and Death

Posted on June 4, 2017

Last night, I had this very vivid dream, where I was suddenly present at the scene of a road accident. A motorcyclist had crashed, and it looked horrible. There were other people in the dream, but they were too scared to approach the victim of the crash. A sorry sight, this man scattered in pieces on the pavement with limbs contorted in unnatural ways, hands and feet missing, blood everywhere. The accident was strange, for hands and feet were lying apart from the body.

And the strangest thing was that the man was fully conscious. His head was trying to talk. In the dream I moved very close to him, to hear what he was saying. It was a question, and it was very faint: “Am I all right?” Clearly, the man was dying, and there was nothing I could do about that. So I put my hand gently on his chest and I confirmed: “Yes, you are all right. Everything is fine. I am here with you.” He smiled, and then he died, very quietly, in my presence.

And then I woke up and had to think of a post by a FB friend called Anna. Anna works, or has worked, I am not sure, as a gynaecologist, and she is different from me, from most of us, I suppose, in that in her medical profession she has to make life-and-death decisions on a daily basis. As a doctor, you have to take a third person stance, make your decision, and hope for the best. Patients may die because of your decision. You can never be absolutely sure that your decision was the right one. And you have to live with that.

When we exchanged on FB, I once wrote to Anna that the name reminds me of my mother who was called Anneke, and who died fifteen years ago. My mother died in the presence of my father and of all her children. I have eight brothers and sisters, so we were a crowd, standing around that bed. It was a beautiful early morning, a splendid Saturday in May. The last ones to arrive were me and one brother, the brother that I had struggled with the most in the past. My brother lives in New Zealand, and I had collected him from the airport. My mother was waiting for us. She had not seen my brother for years. She smiled when she saw him. There were unresolved difficulties between the two of them, but it did not matter now. Anyway, she was unable to speak. But she could smile. There was full recognition. One hour later she died.

My mother was paralyzed with MS for the last ten years of her life, and she had suffered a lot, but during the years of her illness she had developed incredible presence, and immediate connection with everyone who was with her. Especially in her later years, it was a complete delight to be with her. So I miss her, and there are times when I miss her terribly. But when I am fully present, in any situation, and in particular in situations where presence is a challenge, I feel connected with her. Then she is there with me.

There is a beautiful passage in the book No Death, No Fear where Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh describes the process of coming to terms with the death of his mother:

I opened the door and went outside. The entire hillside was bathed in moonlight. It was a hill covered with tea plants, and my hut was set behind the temple halfway up. Walking slowly in the moonlight through the rows of tea plants, I noticed my mother was still with me. She was the moonlight caressing me as she had done so often, very tender, very sweet… wonderful! Each time my feet touched the earth I knew my mother was there with me. I knew this body was not mine but a living continuation of my mother and my father and my grandparents and great-grandparents. Of all my ancestors. Those feet that I saw as “my” feet were actually “our” feet. Together my mother and I were leaving footprints in the damp soil.

I find this very beautiful. It moves me to tears. The true nature of Life is made clear to us in the moments when our life changing events are happening, and we are fully present with them. When our twin daughters were born. When my mother passed away. At such moments I can see clearly what is Essence. There are other moments, when a veil hides from us what is True. We are all on the path of having true presence at all our moments. And then we can lead the life that Thich Nhat Hanh points out to us, the life where there is no more Death and no more Fear.

It is such a precious treasure to be alive, to be able to feel that we can be together, to be able to celebrate the force that stirs and moves us, to feel how that force connects us to the whole living universe. Our bodies are living continuations of all that was before on this planet, in this universe. We are here now. Our time is now. We can be fully aware of that. We can smile at each other, and play together, and share. This is so wonderful.