Trying to Wrap My Mind Around Death

Stephen Raburn
6 min readNov 1, 2018


Lately, I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around the idea of death. To be honest, I’ve never really been afraid of death. I’m not eager to hasten its arrival, by any means, don’t get me wrong; but my curious nature has always allowed me to think on death mostly in terms of the next adventure, where answers to great mysteries of the universe may be revealed.

I’d like to believe the afterlife will include some sort of reunification among souls of loved ones gone on before me. There are questions I never got around to asking my father in this lifetime and am hoping for another chance in the next one. And I’d sure like to see my sweet Mama’s crystal blue eyes again.

I’m inclined to believe I have an eternal soul. I like the idea of reincarnation, which seems as plausible as any other theory. I’m banking on coming back as a rock star in my next life, by the way. Hopefully, not a cockroach. Karma’s a bitch, they say. Some religions contend that we are put on this earth to learn important lessons and if we don’t learn them, we’re destined to return again and again until we do. I’ve honed in on what it is exactly I'm supposed to master in this life, but can only truthfully claim I’ve been marginally successful. If that’s really how it works, I expect I’ll still be trying to get it right again next time. Wish me luck.

The romantic in me embraces the notion of soulmates. The universe seems to inexplicably put people in my path that I feel I’m “supposed” to know for some reason, and I always try to pay attention, always try to be open to the universe’s subtle and not-so-subtle cues, always curious about these feelings of deja vu.

When I looked into my oldest daughter’s eyes when she was first born, I felt like I’d known her for a thousand years. All the old Indian ladies who visited her as a newborn swore she was an Indigo child and an old soul. She’s been wise beyond her years her entire life. And a little clairvoyant. I honestly believe this isn’t her first go-round. If she goes on to find a cure for cancer or something, chalk it up to fate and destiny.

Not long after our marriage ended and still trying to make some sense of it all, my ex-wife visited a psychic in San Francisco. The psychic told her that she and I have danced this dance many times before, that we keep finding each other in various forms. Once, in a previous life, we were married to each other and we lost a child. Although it wasn’t her fault, the baby was in her care when it happened and I never forgave her for it. Our souls made a vow that we would find each other and parent together again in another life. Our marriage was doomed to fail. We were incompatible from the very beginning but drawn to each other for some reason. We got pregnant early in the relationship. Otherwise, we probably would have had a torrid and tumultuous affair and then gone our separate ways. But with a baby on the way, and her very conservative Hindu parents and my very conservative Christian parents putting pressure on us, we decided to get married. Our divorce was inevitable, but perhaps we fulfilled the vow we made to each other many lives ago. By most accounts, I’d say we’ve been successful at co-parenting our children. What the psychic told us was reaffirming and comforting to us both. I have reasons to believe it’s all true. The psychic knew details about me that no one knows.

But every now and then the idea creeps up on me that, just maybe, there’s really nothing more to us than flesh and bones and that what awaits us in the afterlife is nothing but vast void. And that can be quite unsettling, especially during my regularly-scheduled 3 o’clock bouts of insomnia. The idea of “nothingness” causes me angst. Are humans really just another element in the material world that got lucky enough in the evolutionary process to develop a highly advanced nervous system which allows for us to ponder such grandiose things, but, in the end, we’re no different than a gnat that gets swatted or a daffodil that falls to a late freeze? Maybe these feelings of deja vu are just my mind playing tricks on me.

Deep peaceful sleep, complete darkness… that’s as close as I can get to conjuring “nothing,” but both of those are most certainly “something.” I can’t wrap my mind around what “nothing” is. A total lack of awareness. A lack of being. A lack of place. A lack of thought. That scares me.

You hear about people who’ve had near-death experiences and most of them describe a light in a tunnel. Sometimes they talk about beautiful gardens and music and serenity. But scientists are quick to explain these transcendent phenomenons as the result of the brain’s neurochemical responses to trauma and give them no more credence than alien abductions. Science can be a real bummer.

Despite my Baptist upbringing, with its fear-mongering Sunday morning fire-and-brimstone sermons, I long ago denounced the idea of a punishing god. Some of my Alabama relatives would probably tell me I’m in for a rude awakening. I believe in a Creator, in feminine energy, in the God that existed before the patriarchy re-created Him in their image to justify what they needed justifying and to control behavior of the masses. I believe God is Love. And that God is Nature. And that God’s love is manifested through compassion, forgiveness, acceptance, gentleness, humility, peacefulness, creativity… all incongruent with a judging, vengeful, masculine god. I believe there are things to learn and things to dismiss in all the world’s religions. Let’s say Truth is as expansive as the Milky Way. Whatever canons and scriptures and prophets you hold dear, I expect we could collect everything we all think we know about God or Allah or Krishna or Jehovah or Yahweh or Mother Goddess and the meaning of life and our purpose on earth and the afterlife and all of it would fit on a spec of dust in the wind, by comparison. Tell me what you believe and I will gladly tell you that you may be right. I will also tell you that you may be wrong.

It’s not that I’m driven to know what will happen to me when I die. I’m fine with the “unknown.” I appreciate a good mystery. I’m just hoping that it’s something other than nothing. So I’ll choose to believe that some sort of next dimension awaits me when it’s all said and done here, a metamorphosis, renaissance. And try to flick antagonizing thoughts of “nothingness” away when they pop into my brain in the sleepless hours before dawn.

I expect that if civilization survives long enough, we’ll eventually gain a better understanding of such things as souls and life-after-death and what our purpose is while we’re here, even if that seems far-fetched now. It hasn’t been so long ago that we thought the earth was flat, remember. Humans are pretty good about figuring stuff out. How crazy do you think the Internet would have sounded a thousand years ago? Lord knows we don’t need any more gadgets, so give us another thousand years and maybe a wave of big discoveries and inventions will lead to a New Age of Enlightenment when our understanding of the afterlife will be no more mysterious than gravity is now. When the Truth is known, I bet rationales for all these holy wars we’ve been fighting and divisiveness and border walls will seem as preposterous as the reasons we burned witches at the stake back in Salem do now. Cue up “… one tin soldier rides away.”

Maybe I’ll be around in some form or another at that time. Look for me. Hopefully, I’ll be the lead singer. But go gentle on the cockroaches too. Just in case.

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Stephen Raburn

Stephen Raburn is a writer, daydreamer, activist, and father of two amazing daughters. He lives in Durham, NC.