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I finally got around to watching the Netflix series, “Midnight Mass.”
During one of the episodes, one of the main characters, Riley Flynn, is asked what he thinks happens when we die.
I did not expect to hear such a beautiful, breathtaking description of death, and I want to share it here:
“When I die…my body stops functioning. Shut down. All at once, or gradually, my breathing stops, my heart stops beating. Clinical death. And a bit later, like, five whole minutes later, my brain cells start dying.
But in the meantime, in between…maybe my brain releases a flood of DMT. It’s the psychedelic drug released when we dream, so I dream. I dream bigger than I have ever dreamed before, because it’s all of it. Just the last dump of DMT all at once. And my neurons are firing and I’m seeing this firework display of memories and imagination.
And I am just…tripping. I mean, really tripping balls because my mind’s rifling through the memories—you know, long and short-terms, and the dreams mix with the memories, and it’s a curtain call. The dream to end all dreams. One last great dream as my mind empties the f*ckin’ missile solos and then…
I stop. My brain activity ceases and there is nothing left of me. No pain. No memory, no awareness that I ever was, that I ever hurt someone. Everything is as it was before me. And the electricity disperses from my brain till it’s just dead tissue. Meat. Oblivion.
And all of the other little things that make me up, the microbes and bacterium and the billion other little things that live on my eyelashes and in my hair and in my mouth and on my skin and in my gut and everywhere else, they just keep on living. And eating.
And I’m serving a purpose. I’m feeding life. And I’m broken apart, and all the littlest pieces of me are just recycled, and I’m billions of other places. And my atoms are in plants and bugs and animals, and I am like the stars that are in the sky.
There one moment and then just scattered across the goddamn cosmos.”
Now, isn’t that a hell of an improvement from the standard “I become worm food” response? As an atheist, this had always been my stock answer about death, since I don’t believe in an afterlife. I love that he mixes in science—normal, everyday, earthly functions, like bacteria feeding—and makes death magical and meaningful for those who don’t believe there’s a heaven.
Lately, I’ve come to be fascinated by the subject of death and dying. On TikTok, I follow people who are hospice nurses, death doulas, and those who work in the funeral industry. When I was much younger, I couldn’t even consider the topic without immediately wanting to push it out of my mind. But now, with aging parents, grandparents, and other family members, I know I will have to face more of it in the future.
The more I learn about the death-positive movement, the more I am convinced that understanding and honoring death—of the ones we love, of pets, of our own eventual demise—is a necessary part of life.
What do you think happens when you die?