This morning, I read a very emotional article in the New York Times about a man named Julio Garcia, who died of a died of a brain hemorrhage in March 2010 and how at least seven people received organs from him after his death. In the untimely loss of one person there is now the hope of renewed life and healing for others. More poignantly, Garcia’s family was able to meet with the recipients and reconnect in some way with their loved one living in within others now. The photo of the family placing their hands on the chest of the recipient of Garcia’s heart moved me to tears.
It got me thinking about what I often feel are very limited concepts concerning life and death. While I mourn the physical passing of a person as much as anyone, I try to approach death from the perspective that the “life” we know in terms of the body is simply one aspect of the process of “living.” I realized this as a teenager, when I lost both my beloved grandparents and a friend of mine in the space of about a year. In fact, it just occurred to me to that today would have been my friend Jonathan’s 41st birthday. He has been dead longer than he was ever alive, and yet I had an experience so profound at the time of his death that it changed the way I view the process of living and dying.
Jonathan and I had gone to elementary school together, but in junior high, he moved to New Jersey. We spoke on the phone and wrote letters somewhat regularly. One night in late spring, he appeared in a dream and announced, “I’m leaving and wanted to come see you to say goodbye. You can’t follow me where I’m going.” I was very confused by his statement and asked where he was going. He repeated the same thing again in a rather emphatic way, as if he was rushed and needed to make his point as quickly as possible. He hugged me and that was the end of my dream.
I woke up understandably confused and a bit weirded out. I told my good friend Jules about the dream and we ruminated on what it meant. (But I didn’t call him. Back then, that was a long-distance call.) A couple of days later, Jules called me and said, “Remember that dream you had about Jonathan the other night? I don’t want to have to tell you this, but he died after having a swimming accident.” He was on the swim team at school, hit his head during a routine dive and suffered a brain injury. He didn’t die immediately – it was about a day later, which was when I had the dream. Yet, because of that dream, he is always alive for me in spirit. In a way, I did get to have that long-distance conversation after all.
As a teenager, I had a hard time accepting this experience, especially coming on the heels of my grandfather’s death – and then a couple of months later, my grandmother died. It wasn’t until years later that I realized that the dream I had of Jonathan was not something to be feared, but cherished. It was a confirmation that the soul lives on in a very tangible way, even after death. The timing and conversation within the dream were too specific and timely to have been simply coincidence. And many people do report similar experiences when loved ones pass away, so it’s really not that unusual a phenomena. On an energetic level, we are interconnected. I have experienced this in a very direct way so many times in my life and through my Reiki practice.
Last year, a friend and former colleague of mine passed away after a lengthy battle with breast and liver cancer. She was only 42 and it’s hard not to feel that kind of early death keenly. Several days after receiving the news, I was thinking about Julia and feeling a deep moment of sadness. Suddenly, a vision materialized in front of me. Seriously, it was like something out of a movie. There’s no other way I can adequately describe the experience. It was Julia, and she was absolutely radiant and smiling. There was such peace associated with this energy, as if she was trying to let me know that she was no longer suffering, no longer in pain. It comforted me greatly. I later mentioned it to her husband and he said hearing that from me was of great comfort to him.
I’m not a medium, nor do I generally spend my time communicating with the afterlife. I can’t really explain why these things happen, nor can I predict them. And yet, like anyone else, I have a real fear of the process of dying. Not so much about what happens after, but just those final moments leading up to death. I’ve already had one near-death experience and didn’t have the “floating out of my body and heading towards a peaceful bright light” moment. I had sheer terror and excruciating pain – unable to speak, move or breathe – while medical doctors were trying to stabilize my vitals after losing about half of my blood supply. I wasn’t even lucky enough to lose consciousness, because I was fighting it so much. I was on the edge of blacking out, but somehow part of me knew that if I lost consciousness, it was over. I had a 10 hour old baby to care for too. It was not my time yet. However, when I do go, I hope to not experience anything that traumatic again.
Death is always viewed as the “big ugly.” Any death is seen as “tragic”, even though we know that as soon as we set foot on this Earth, we are heading towards an eventual demise. Our bodies are designed to get old and break down over time, yet we all seek in one way or another to stave it off – whether it’s through fitness, diet or plastic surgery. Many of us do believe in an afterlife of some sort, and that provides comfort, but not so much for the actual process of getting there. And it can often be hard on those who are left behind, because they miss the physicality of the body – someone to talk to, to embrace and to share activities with during the course of a life together.
What I thought was so wonderful about Julio Garcia’s story was how he is still living on in a way he never could have anticipated: by giving life directly to others. I’ve heard of stories where organ recipients actually begin taking on certain aspects of the donor’s personality or preferences, indicating perhaps that a bit of the spiritual also pervades the physical. We need them both to be truly alive, truly awakened as a human being.
Are you listed as a potential organ donor? I am. To learn how to become an organ donor: Donate Life America, donatelife.net; 701 East Byrd Street, 16th Floor, Richmond, VA 23219; (804) 337-3580. You can also add it as a preference when you apply for or renew your driver’s license.
(Photo credit: philip.bitnar on Flickr)