In Memory of Dori Smith: Thoughts On the Death of The Body, and The Life of The Spirit
© 2017 by Ilona Elliott
C.S. Lewis once wrote about how grief feels like fear. It does too. It kind of sucker punches you. The grief that accompanies death is the most fearsome. I have a friend who is in the clutches of that grief right now, having lost her only daughter. My heart is broken for her, but I am not hopeless for the life of her child.
When my father died, I remember holding his still hand. I remember kissing his head. I remember feeling afraid. I remember panic. I was so afraid that I would forget what it felt like to hold his hand or what it smelled like to kiss his head. That solid, real life, flesh and blood human being that was there from my first moments on this earth, had left the room, never to return. His flesh and blood still sat there, upright and hunched slightly forward in the hospital bed in my parents room, but my father was not. I knew with such certainty that it was so, it filled the pit of my stomach with a sour ache that stretched up the back of my throat to my jaw and into my ears.
I had spent the night beside his bed. I couldn’t leave except to use the bathroom or get a drink of water. I don’t know how I knew, I just knew, that he would soon be gone. I think it was his wet and ragged breathing and the way he seemed to have retreated to the edge of consciousness, as if he was inching in and out of this world, back and forth. He was no longer hanging on to life with the characteristic stubborn persistence he had shown throughout his long illness. He was hovering at the border, his body no longer able to house him in any useful way. He had lost it all–the ability to eat, to drink, to speak, and in the end, to breath. His lungs filled with fluid, pushing the air, and the life, out of him. Like being born, but in reverse.
I had been in the room with death before. I had accompanied two well loved dogs on their journeys. I remember the slight sense of lift I felt when the breath left them, the momentary flutter of lightness. I remember holding my own breath, my eyes closed, my heart reaching out for the spiritual meaning of the moment. I remember feeling deeply wounded. And that was with the dogs.
With my father, there was so much more–more time, years and years worth, of having him there; more relationship, seeing how it’s hard to relate to a dog the way you do with a human (why can’t they talk to us?); more pain, mind numbing, gut wrenching grief filled with questions and regrets, and dreams, lots of dreams about him.
The week that he died I dreamed that I walked out of his front door during a thunder storm and was struck by lightening. My brother Dana was walking ahead of me. My soul shot out of my body and was lifted into the air. I was looking at him on the ground. I thought, “Oh shit, I’m dead”, and then another thought, less fearful: “It’s okay, I’m going to be with Dad, and God”…
And with that, as I felt my soul accelerate to great speed, I stopped watching my brother down below, turned my face towards the stars, and let go. That’s when I woke up.
I don’t know if death is anything like that. I hope it is. I read a lot about near death experiences as a young woman, after my grandmother died. I studied them again while writing an essay for a college writing class. I spoke to three people who had been on the threshold of death and had them. One woman died during child birth and reported feeling her soul bumping up against the ceiling of the delivery room, flanked by helping spirits on either side. She felt at peace as she watched the nurses working to revive her on the table below.
I talked to a cowboy who had been in a terrible accident, and while recovering in the hospital, found himself looking down on his own body in the hospital room, watching as his wife cried and the medical team worked to revive him. When we talked, decades later, he seemed pretty spooked by the whole experience. He told me he had never met anyone who had experienced such a thing, and I assured him that there were lots of people who had. I think he felt better about it after that.
Lastly, I talked to my sister-in-law, who had choked on something as a child, blacked out and fell to the floor. She described how she found herself waking down a long tunnel, toward a bright shining light, she assumed to be Jesus. She was aware of people on either side of the tunnel, saying things like, “She’s too young, This shouldn’t be”, and feeling like she had a choice whether to stay or not. She sensed the presence at the end of the tunnel telling her it wasn’t her time, and that she should go back. And she did.
I’ve read many, many such accounts as a result of my interest in the subject.
Throughout my life, I have found consolation in these recollections of the living. The belief in the truth of them is what keeps me going when I am overwhelmed by grief, like I was when Dad died.
I recently attended a memorial for a radiant, beautiful twenty three year old woman who succumbed to a rare form of lymphoma. Her battle with the disease over the course of two years was epic. She tried many avenues to kill the beast that had invaded her body, but in the end, just like Dad, her body could no longer support her life.
I know that Dori’s body is dead. I believe that her spirit lives on, she exists still, in some new state, one that doesn’t include the limitations of a physical body. I hope it’s a life of beauty, and dignity, and peace and love. And freedom, glorious freedom. In a place filled with the spirit of love and unity and, oddly enough, humanity.
I’m expecting that my Dad and my Mom are there, and all our relatives and friends who have shed their earthly shells and now fly through the universe with the greatest of ease. When my time comes to join them, I hope it feels like that dream I had when Dad died, and that my last thoughts will be, It’s okay, I’m going to be with them all, and with God.
Rest in Peace dear Dori, in the arms of the angels, until we see you again.