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Tales from the Afterlife and the Lighter Side of Death

Some people are born to shop, others are born to run, but unfortunately, we are all born to die. Death is inevitable. I think author Greg Palmer said it best in his book, Death: The Trip of a Lifetime: “We spend our immortal years (12 – 40) not thinking about death, our middle years (41 – 60) trying NOT to think about death, and our later years (61 – 115) trying not to die!” Since death is unavoidable, why not seek inspiration from it, rather than fear.

For many years, I worked across the street from a cemetery and it was fairly common to have a funeral procession interrupt my commute. Now for some people, perhaps those who are superstitious, such an act could be seen as a bad luck omen, akin to a black cat crossing one’s path. This sight for me though, was a great motivator for living life to its fullest, a call for me to seize the day!

For many Americans, seizing the day feeds a multi-billion dollar industry of plastic surgery to erase the signs of aging along with a frenzy of fitness-related activities aimed at postponing death. Interestingly enough, USA Today reported in August, 2013, that even with medical advances, many Americans do not want to extend life. A Pew Research Center survey indicated that 69% of Americans want to live to 70 to 100-years-old, while only 38% would radically extend life to age 120. This might be a shortsighted decision when considering the “bucket list” cottage industry in publishing. There are books promoting 1,000 Places to See Before You Die, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die, and 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. If we took this all literally, we simply couldn’t die. We’re all too busy! We will certainly need at least 120 years to comb through all of these “musts.”

But if we must die, we might want to embrace the notion that there is an afterlife. This could explain why there was a boom in the publishing industry with books about after-life experiences. Brick and mortar as well as on-line, book stores have an abundance of titles that pertain to “heaven,” including: Heaven; Heaven is for Real, Heaven Exists; To Heaven and Back; Waking up in Heaven; Proof of Heaven’s Existence; My Journey to Heaven; The Five People You Want to Meet in Heaven; 90 Minutes in Heaven; The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven and even, Biblical Proof Animals Do Go to Heaven.

On television there are afterlife reality shows and one of the more popular is TLC’s Long Island Medium starring Theresa Caputo, a medium currently on tour commanding steep ticket prices second only to the Rolling Stones. She speaks to the spirits among us and comforts us into thinking that when the time comes for us to die; we are simply transitioning to another phase of our existence.

Unfortunately, there is a down side to afterlife experiences as well, which can be summed up with the ongoing obsession with zombies, the afterlife experience gone bad. With the popularity of AMC’s The Walking Dead and countless Hollywood cinematic titles, professor Eric G. Wilson of Wake Forest University wrote an article called “Zombies: Why are we so Obsessed?” for the Huffington Post that stated: “The creature breaks boundaries that constrain us and becomes a gruesome geographer of lands expansive and unknown. Monsters overcome the termini of death (zombies), time (vampires), space (ghosts), and stable identity (werewolves, other shape shifters). In these ways, they become sublime, invitations to push beyond the limits locking us into this one, finite life.”

Another take on zombies comes from H. Peter Steeves, a philosophy professor from DePaul, and he said, “What the zombie is about is the desire to have what we used to love, but is gone, back with us now so we can love it again. But, of course, when it comes back, it’s not what it used to be. It’s warped. It’s dead. It’s changed. It’s disappointing. And, that’s scary.”

With the fear of the dead coming back to life in our cultural consciousness, I have come to appreciate the sturdy, well-sealed concrete mausoleums at the local graveyard. Well-constructed housing for the dead is a necessity and as Zig Zigler has pointed out, “research shows you’ll be dead longer than you’ll be alive.” In a world so infected with mindless killing and terrorism, it’s important to remember to eat dessert first because you never know how long the meal is going to last. So, take time to seize the day and celebrate life. And, don’t get too hung up on consumerism and accumulating things, because it's been pointed that there are no luggage racks on hearses.

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