I saw an interesting film called ‘Flatliners’ last weekend. In it, four medical students, curious about what happens after we die, choose to stop their hearts, then to be revived to tell of their experiences. While I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, I thought it was poorly presented. It started off well enough, but poor direction and a script that could have been better written left much to be desired. Overall, it was a jumble of drama, horror and sci-fi.
But the film left me pondering—in that I suppose it reached one of its objectives—what happens after we die. Not that I have never wondered before, but the film roused those questions: If I had the opportunity to witness what happens after we die, to live again to tell the tale, would I choose to do so? Am I afraid of my worst experiences returning to haunt me? What if it were true that I would see my loved ones again? It made me think of experiences I have had over the years around relatives and friends who were dying, such as premonitions and dreams.
Recently, I heard a story about a community in Berbice that is said to be haunted by Dutch spirits (‘jumbies’). It was reported that many people in the community have seen the ghosts of the Dutch. As a result, some people have moved out of fear. It made me think of ‘My Bones and My Flute,’ by the late Edgar Mittelholzer, which I read a few years ago. It is a haunting tale of a Dutch ‘jumbie,’ whose family was murdered during the 1763 slave revolt and who shortly thereafter committed suicide. The planter promised not to rest until his bones and his flute were buried according to Christian rites, otherwise he would haunt the living who came in contact with the document in which his wishes were stated until they joined him in death. The music of a flute would sound closer and closer at set times and only the people who had touched the document could hear it. Of course, the story is inspired by actual events. The Berbice Slave Rebellion was one of the most significant in our history. The book is rich with metaphors, such as restless spirits of murdered plantation owners, which are manifestations of guilt for cruelty to other human beings. There is the ‘jumbie’ of a headless slave, people who had much of their culture and spirituality stripped, leaving them blind and with no direction. It reminded me about a story I heard when I lived in England about screams from the grave of a slave who would not rest because his remains were not in Africa. Surely, considering our history, such stories would not be surprising. It makes me wonder if much of what is happening in our society is not connected to the trauma from our history. Was peace truly ever made for those who perished under slavery and colonialism? If they could see their descendants now, would they be proud?
Modern day terror haunts us. Recently, we have seen the alleged rape and murder of a thirteen-year-old boy in Berbice; the murder of two elderly women in Georgetown; an accident where a goal post fell and killed a six-year-old boy in Plaisance; the suicide of a twenty-year-old policeman in Berbice who ingested poison after a picture of him kissing another male was leaked online; and the murder of a policewoman in Berbice by a man who later took his own life. Constantly we are forced to face such horrible realities. How do we cope as a society? How can we carry on without being concerned that there is something very wrong with some of our people?
Many of us wish to have our loved ones returned. If we had the chance to ‘flat-line’ and return to tell the tale, I am sure there are those who would choose to do so. But would we be made to face judgment for everything we would have done on this earth? Or, would there be nothing? Would we be gone forever?
Many people have claimed to have seen dead relatives after they would have had near death experiences. Such experiences have given rise to constant speculation about what some people really see. Do they actually see their dead relatives? Do they imagine it? Are these visions manifestations of their wishes? Do we continue to exist in another form? Do we migrate to a paradise or a hell as is the belief in some religions? Or is our spirit eternal and we are reincarnated in different physical forms as some other religions also teach? I have heard many accounts of people who swear by reincarnation. Déjà vu is a feeling I have experienced quite often in my life, such as the familiarity of some places that I was visiting for the first time.
Believing that there is life after death comforts people, especially those in grief. For close relatives of mine who have died, I have often comforted myself in thinking that they are somewhere existing in some form. We need some form of therapy to help us cope. Some find it in religion or spirituality.
Some find it in relationships. Some find it in counselling. Some find it in denying the reality and living through fantasy or through turning to means of surviving, such as drugs and alcohol abuse, while some never find it.
Though the question of whether there is life after death is a mystery that many, myself included, would love a conclusive answer to, the truth is we will never know for sure until it is our time. And if it is that there is nothing after, that we are gone forever, then that is even more reason to make the best of the time we have here. And if we are to face some judgment, that should be reason enough to treat others with respect, kindness and love, to seek justice, peace and righteousness, and to create balance wherever we can in this era of so many crises.