We have always referred to death’s touch as cold. We have always interpreted the pain and anguish written on the face of people as death being mean and wicked. What we forget is that at the hour of death, we might or might not react to such feelings like cold, pain, nausea, or even anger associated with this world.
It is that facial expression that most people have before death that makes the living think that death is painful. A man might have malaria and is experiencing severe symptoms. He would be cold, his temperature high; he is bound to show on his face that his feet feels cold, his sides ache, chest hurts, and he is uncomfortable. That is what we sometimes misinterpret as feeling pain in death.
The sick person may have forgotten to relax their faces, have forgotten to allow death make them look better. They feel the warm, comforting arms of death but have forgotten how their expression looks to the living watching them.
The ones who die in a sudden crash, from gunshot or generally quick deaths sometimes have their faces twisted in agony. It is the sharp, unexpected feeling of pain that they are trying to deal with. But in eventual passing, there is no pain.
Death is not a gender. It is a being. It is not abstract but is concrete. We cannot say that death is male or female or hermaphrodite; we see it as a being we can relate with in bodily terms when it comes. Even the blind feels and sees death when it comes for them.
Death is not a feeling, it’s not a hollow pit, it’s not a passage, it’s not even the darkness that shrouds the eyes, it is not the pain we feel; it is the being we see no matter how brief the time.
Let me describe the first one. I was a baby the first time I saw death, but I did not know. It had come to me consoling me for the pain in my sides. The doctors had said my liver was bad, that I should be taken home to die peacefully. My mother’s in-law had told her after seeing the medical results and my frequent illness to drop me somewhere so that cold kills me, but my mother refused.
I remember it, when it held me. It was not cold. Whoever said death’s hands were cold? Do they say that because we get cold when we die? It hugged me, and I felt warm. I stopped feeling the pain. It felt like mother’s touch had more warmth and then, it asked me to follow it. Of course I did. I went with it to be rid of the pain, slowing drifting away under its pain-free and gentle guidance.
Mother recounts that part as someone telling her on the road, as she was walking back home with me strapped to her back, that the child’s body was limp and that it seemed I was not breathing. Mother said she wanted to run mad and ran all the way to the hospital.
Some transition do not always mean pain, it could be on a light note, pain-removal.
The second one is that you forget.
You see those flashes we see in movies where a dying person thinks about their family before they eventually give up ghost? That is not entirely true. Before death, it is the fear and the love in our hearts that make us remember our loved ones. We are scared. We are not sure what to expect of death. We think about life, pleasure, dreams, people, only when there is still life in us.
When death comes, however, it makes us forget. We don’t remember mother or father. We are alone with it. And we are not scared anymore. Death in its own is not painful. It does not make us cry or want. It comforts us and makes the passage easier.
This is the reason when a person is sick, they only think about getting better. They don’t think about their phones, clothes or pleasure. If the situation is bad, they only remember people. When death arrives to save the day, the memory goes away to leave a body walking slowly into another plane.
My aunt died in our house. She was in so much pain, she prayed for death to help her. She was always groaning and grinding her teeth in anguish. The moment death came for her, I knew. She no longer recognized anybody. She looked at us with unseeing eyes, smiled and muttered. I knew she was no longer with us. I knew she was walking with death. When she finally left, I cried because death did not come early. She had gone through so much pain that her heart broke and she said out loud that she wanted death. And the moment it came, she no longer felt pain.
Some hours before she passed on, she tittered between our world and another. She muttered unintelligible words, called my mom’s name when she returned briefly. Few hours to her death, she muttered till the last few minutes.
Someone would ask me how possible it is that since we forget when death comes, how do we remember to reincarnate? My answer is that there are planes we have not yet seen and cannot see while still grounded on this one.
One of such examples is the dream plane. Our souls are strong enough to create a pact/tie with other souls before we leave. Your grandmother must have loved you so much that she decided to return to you. When she is a baby, she remembers, until time and this plane’s struggles make her forget.
Secondly, conscious people attest to who they are in their dreams. I, for one, know my dreams. I continue my activities in my dreams. I don’t have entirely different dreams all the time. When morning comes, I forget my dream, and when I go back to sleep, I finish up with that dream. Sometimes, there is a two-week difference to a dream that I am currently having, but I am able to recall what happened then, why and when in my subconscious mind.
Let me give you an example. I once had a dream where I was leading a girl to a stream. We were supposed to go talk to a deity in that water. After many hoop holes and challenges, we reached the water, then I woke up. Two weeks after (mind you that I’d had random dreams in between) I return to that dream, with the girl. The girl in my dream was surprised. She said she never expected me to return or to remember, I smiled because I did.
The third? You can talk to death. Before we totally slip away, there is that moment when we talk to an imaginary being. The people around us think the illness has entered our heads, but no, we are conversing differently. Remember my aunt?
For people who die a quick death, there are few seconds of consciousness to process that they are gone. Writers and actors have shown us these things that we always overlook. Some people’s spirits leave so forcefully that they do not want to leave this plane. It tells death that it would stay back to haunt or finish a particular task before it goes back to the wheel of incarnation. For some people, they are given second chances. Death is kind. Our spirits are strong, so we stay back without a flesh or return to our flesh.
Some really strong spirits assume a flesh and begin to manifest until they are done or discovered by a living being. All these are what we call superstition.
Imagine the case of an ogbanje. It comes and goes at will. Even as a human, it can communicate with death and life and maneuvers as he/she pleases.
Some ogbanje theories say that these people are being called by a higher/stronger force. But the point remains that they have seen death too much to worry about it. What they worry about is staying alive.
We can decide to stay at a dying minute, be brave to tell death that we want to go back, that we want to stay. If you are weak and unsure, you go with it without protest.
One particular August I left this plane, I could still hear my mother reminding me that I promised not to go. The pain I had been feeling was gone and I was walking through the dark spiral with the being. But my mother would not let go. Before we got to the lighted end of the tunnel, I told death I needed to return. My mother would be heartbroken and I no longer wanted to go.
The pain had returned instantly and my consciousness told me it was an injection piercing my skin. I came back. Call it earthly attachment or whatever, I returned from that dark spiral hole to behold the grief-stricken face of my parents. I remember telling death to allow me stay.
Sometimes, too, I forget. And I get scared and I have no will to stay and I beg it to come for me. In that moment of fear, I reach out to my loved ones. The people for which I want to stay and I tell it to allow me endure the pain till I’m better.
Fourthly, some people feel their death.
Yes, they do.
What happens is that they don’t know it is what is beckoning. Spiritually strong people feel and immediately counter it. Whichever way, it comes in subtle ways.
On the day he died, a man I knew growing up — we shall call him Arnold, did strange things. For the first time, he called his neighbor and told him all his business deals, his uncompleted projects, the people owing him. When the neighbor asked him why he was talking about it as he was not a mechanic, Arnold did not have a reason except that he felt like. He was not troubled. He laughed with ease, played.
The strange thing happened in the evening before he left to his demise. A girl had playfully touched him, and Arnold, a bulky young man fell completely to the ground. After his death, people said he fell because his spirit had left already. Do you think he should have tried to stay?
Another young man, Ugochukwu, bought gifts and shared. He said he felt odd. He died the next day.
The hands of death are not cold. It is the human body that is. The only grouse against death is a person’s age. Like life, death is constant. The hands of death are warm, soothing, comforting. It leaves the person with peace and quiet. And it takes us beyond pain to a place where we have a chance to return again.
To live is to die.