On the Pandemic and the Afterlife: Is Halloween Cancelled? Is Covid-19 Spooky Enough?

As of today, October 27th, 2020, 69 out of every 100,000 people in the United States have died from Covid-19. Total deaths in the world are 1,161,422 (cnn.com). A few numbers on a page, many beautiful lives lived and lost. Rest in peace. It’s Halloween week 2020 and I mused months ago how dancing skeletons and these new facts of death might impact the holiday. Unknown. Stay Safe. I don’t want to fathom reporting something unimaginably scarier this time next year.



The two U.S. presidential candidates said recently regarding the pandemic, “…we’re learning to live with it,” and conversely, “we’re learning to die with it.”


Pandemic fatigue is the new word on the street. To our great benefit we humans are not one-dimensional. Fatigue doesn’t have to eclipse common sense. Fear of death hopefully inspires us to new learning and motivates new behaviors. Denial is common to grief as one of our many natural systems for self-preservation. If not life threatening, and very short term, denial is usually okay. As we know, this global pandemic is deadly. We can use our fear to respect the virus and do what’s needed which includes increasing our compassion and self-care.


Dr. Jennifer Ashton, ABC News Chief Medical Correspondent said this week,

“there are two variables, how the virus behaves and how we behave, only one of those variables is under our control. So our behavior and our psychology becomes critically important.” Tom Bossert, former homeland security and counterterrorism adviser added, “At this point, what happens in the next four weeks or -- or 10 weeks is going to be up to, you know, 300-plus million people, and they have to change their behavior.”


Regarding mask wearing, Dr. Collins, Dr. Fauci’s boss, recently said, “a mask is your statement that you care about other people…it’s not really subject to debate.” Months ago actor Sean Penn stated in a Firing Line interview about his group CORE’s Covid-19 testing efforts, the pandemic is an “active shooter” situation. Unfortunately, that’s the most sensible thing I’ve heard all year.


Afterlives: What do we all think? Here’s a brief summary of our shared thoughts at last week’s Death Cafe.


“Heaven and hell are here on earth.” “My body is a coat I can take off.” There is a sort of parallel universe that our “spiritual bodies” exist in. The point of being on earth is learning and growing. If we aren’t able to complete the tasks we set out to do before we arrived here we don’t fully graduate and may return. Some branches of Buddhist thought speak of multiple realms of existence we experience on the great wheel of births and deaths until we attain an enlightened state free of such experience. Among these realms is a “hell realm.” The 1994 film “The Tibetan Book of the Dead: A Way of Life,” written by Leonard Cohen, His Holiness The Dalai Lama, and Ram Dass, illustrates this journey between life, death and rebirth.


“We not only agreed to forget, we agreed to forget what we forgot.” Was this perhaps a conversation we had before entering this life experience? It’s something to consider, as we usually think far more about what’s after life than what may or may not have been before this life.


The question of where consciousness originates is seen as essential to the life, death, afterlife conversation by one attendee. She views the brain as a kind of transceiver that sends and receives. She feels she is not just her physical body, but more than that. To experience a “higher self,” she challenges herself to “get out of her own way!” While experiencing first hand the departures of her father and the family pig, one woman said that with both she experienced a very real feeling that “something had left.” Her thoughts are that “everything is made of the same stuff.”


We also talked about what a surprise it must be for those who don’t believe in any afterlife to have what’s known as a near death experience. One person who was raised in a religious tradition realized as she got older that it simply wasn’t inclusive enough to account for all her lived experiences. With death, people sometimes find their religious beliefs either nurturing, or too limited, not speaking to real needs and questions.


One person has found no evidence there is anything else beyond this life other than the possibility of living on in the memory of others. Simply stated, “we come and we go.”


The wonderfully imaginative book “Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives,” by David Eagleman sparked a wild response from the world. Eagleman, a neuroscientist, decided he’d explore some fun new alternatives to our really very few ideas about afterlife. Check out his site at www.eagleman.com. “Until the End of Time: Mind, Matter, and Our Search for Meaning in an Evolving Universe,” by physicist Brian Greene, is a highly recommended new 2020 title. Although twenty years old, Bill Moyers documentary series “On Our Own Terms: Moyers on Dying in America,” is well worth revisiting.


Letting go of the need to define and describe something perhaps beyond our abilities to explain also came up. As we often do, we confirmed the great benefits to be gained by deeply appreciating the here and now.

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