The title will evoke two entirely different, independent, even incompatible, lines of thinking. One will be about the survivors, their feelings of loss, their struggles to cope, even their guilt. The other would be about the person who died. We know what happens to the body, but what happens to the personality that inhabits the body once the body is gone?
Take a few moments to think about one or the other of these lines of thinking. I will take the unusual step of leaving a few lines blank to encourage you to mull over your own thoughts.
When the body dies, it changes. As Albert Einstein said, everything is energy, though that energy may be in the form of matter sometimes (e=mc2). In nature, in every part of the universe we know anything about, nothing ever disappears. The matter that was the body of the one who died is conserved, by nature, either as energy or as a part of something else that is matter.
We bury the dead body, a ritual dating back to ancient times when it was believed the whole body might be resurrected in a future life. Nobody today believes that a dead body will return to life as a whole person, with the same unique characteristics and personality as it had in its original life. Who would want the decayed mess anyway? When we bury a dead body, we put away that body as we turn it back to nature to deal with as it will.
Did the person, while living, have a distinct personality? Not characteristics and features. A toaster has those. Did the person have something that clearly distinguished him or her, other than characteristics and features? Toasters may look and behave alike, but not people.
If so, then that personality--called by some the soul or spirit--must continue to exist. The natural law of conservation dictates that nothing disappears. That personality must continue to exist after the physical body is put away. We don’t know how it began, we don’t know where it goes after the body breaks down, we only know that something unique to an individual exists while we know that person.
We know nothing about the nature of that conserved personality. But then, we know very little--most of us know nothing--about energy. What do you know, for example, about the nature of electricity, of magnetism, of heat, or light, even of gravity? It doesn’t mean that something doesn’t exist because we can’t see it or touch it. Energy exists. Spirit can exist too. Science, through its own laws, says that the personality of a person who once lived must continue, even as the body transforms into something else.
The spirit has no need to transform because it is neither matter nor energy, the only two kinds of existence we can even slightly understand. To be truthful, even science knows very little about these two states of energy, though it claims to have great knowledge.
Conservation is not just faith, it’s the law, a law of nature. We don’t know where that conserved personality or soul goes, where it continues to exist. But we don’t know what happens to the energy that results when matter changes its form to energy either.
Does that personality hang around in the form of memory? Science might say that is a fictitious and unnecessary construct. But then, science has no explanation--not even a clue--about what memory is. Memory, like the continuation of personality or soul of a person who once lived in a human body, may be another form of energy, or something entirely beyond what science understands today.
Not long ago science taught us that our body consisted only of our cells. Now we know that we are a symbiotic collection of cells of our body and maybe 20 times as many bacteria (mostly on our skin and in our gut) that we can’t live without and that can’t live without us. Science has trouble distinguishing between fact and beliefs that scientists masquerade as "theory" (believe it because we said it) or fact.
Let’s return to the other line of thought, what continues in the minds of people who knew the dead person before death.
A person commits suicide because they can’t cope with the pain (usually emotional pain) that has become the main focus of their life. That person did not receive what he or she needed in order to be able to cope while alive. Didn’t receive what they needed from the very people who will regret the passing of that person.
As I write this, "sweet miracle" Whitney Houston’s funeral has taken place. The cause of death has not been revealed. The outpouring of grief and emotion about her passing matches that after the death of almost anyone in history. Her body was found under water in a bathtub. Police do not suspect foul play. Her death was likely some form of suicide, perhaps accidental from an overdose of something.
No one wants to spoil the outpouring of good wishes and goodwill in memories about Whitney. Before she died, the media portrayed her as a broken singer and actor, destroyed by twenty years of cocaine abuse. Now she is an icon of beauty in many forms. "Maybe the best singer ever in history" one of the speakers at her funeral said.
Unspoken at that funeral was that Whitney Houston needed something more than people who knew her were giving. The very same people who sat in the church at her funeral. Of course they would feel guilt as well as great regret.
Are they guilty? Under the law, you are considered guilty if you break a law even if you didn't know the law existed. There is no law about tuning into the needs of others. We know little about suicide, most of us, so we would not know what a person needed before they decided to end it all.
It’s not that no one knows what every person needs in order to feel useful, needed, worthy and secure. But very few do know. As societies, we don’t pay attention to those who know the answers because knowing would only add responsibilities to our lives. It’s easier to regret later than to commit now.
As important as these lessons are, we don’t teach them to our children, in general. We don’t teach them to each other. Most of us don’t want to know about these lessons because we don’t want the responsibility of knowing what we would need to do to help someone else who is emotionally at risk. It’s all we can do to look after ourselves.
Yet we have needs too, needs that are not satisfied. If we knew what our loved ones needed, we would also know what we need ourselves. If we knew what we should know to help others, we would be less needy ourselves.
The lesson we all need to learn is to listen to others. That’s what every one of us needs. We need to listen to others and we need others to listen to us. Of course there is more to it than that. Listening means caring. The other thing we all need, that is a basic need of our species, is touch by others. Touching means caring.
Very few people would commit suicide if they sincerely believed that someone cared about them. Those who care must show their care or the message will not get through.
Now you have a beginning. Listen. Hug. Care. Show you care.
Don’t wait to attend the funeral.
Bill Allin is the author of Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today’s Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for parents and teachers about what children need to develop socially and emotionally as well as intellectually and physically as they grow. What they need to avoid becoming statistics.
Learn more at http://billallin.com