I’ve Always Wondered What It’s Like To Die

This is not a post about suicidal ideation, but if you find themes of death triggering, I recommend sitting this one out.

Have you ever thought back to some of the crazy theories you had as a child—before science and facts cured you of your ignorance? For instance, I had a friend who thought that pregnant women gave birth by vomiting the children out. In her mind, it made perfect sense. Her mother was always nauseous when pregnant with her little brothers, so how else would they get out? Thankfully, we have sex ed in Jamaica.

For me, my crazy theory centred on death.

An Early Fascination

I had always been a morbid child. I’ve been told adults felt uncomfortable when left alone with me as a baby—including my parents. I had an unnerving way of looking at people that made the hair stand up on their arms.

I was also a sickly child. I frequently suffered from fevers that escalated to the point of hallucinations.

I remember lying on the bed one afternoon. Mom sat by my bedside mopping my brow with a cool, damp rag. “Make it stop. Make it stop!” I screamed.

“Make what stop?” Mom asked me.

“The bed,” I answered. “It’s spinning.”

My hallucinations were also not pleasant. I frequently blacked out and re-awoke to an old man chasing me around the house. Sometimes, I ran up and down the stairs, screaming. Other times, I locked myself in the closet, in hopes he would disappear.

My short story, The Man in the Closet, is based on these experiences.

A Strange Coincidence

When the man stepped from the static and into my world, horror gripped every part of me. No soothing words from my mother ever got me to calm down.

I would sit on the floor, pull my knees up to my chest and start rocking to and fro.

“He’s coming…” I would tell my mother.

“Who’s coming?” she would ask me.

“The man.”

In a few minutes, I would be tearing through the house. If she tried to grab me and tell me to stop, I would fight tooth and nail.

Long after the hallucinations stopped, I would still turn the oats boxes around. I forget the brand now, but it was an American brand with an old man on the front and he reminded me of the man that used to chase me.

One day, while visiting a cousin overseas I did not grow up with, I saw her also turn the oats box around. It was the same brand. I was shocked. At this point, I was fourteen years old.

“Why did you turn the box around?” I asked her.

She didn’t reply.

“Did you used to see him, too?”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” she replied.

Nearly a decade later, I learned that another cousin who grew up on the other side of the island also used to see the same man on the oats box. He didn’t chase him, but he apparently used to scare the crap out of him at night in his room.

Coincidence? Who knows. But, why did we all see the same man? And, I’m the only one who had a history of fevers. My other two cousins were physically healthy.

The Crazy Theory

When I was a child, I assumed the old man was a ghost—or as we would say in Jamaica, a duppy. How else could I explain something so inexplicable that seemed every bit real to me? Why else could I see him when everyone else tried to reassure me that no one was there?

It didn’t help that I had a strange fascination with cemeteries. There was a Catholic cemetery across from the Catholic kindergarten I attended. That kindergarten also had a playground. But, guess where I liked to play at night?

Then, I heard a song that worsened matters. I forget the musician, but it was a Christian gospel song about the resurrection of Jesus:

Arise, my love

Arise, my love

The grave no longer has a hold on you

My parents had begun to play it often for Easter celebrations and TV programs mirrored the same theme. Night after night, we watched movies of death and destruction in the time of Jesus and his ancestors. I was 100% sure the people who died on TV died in real life and I started to wonder about the courage to volunteer to do such a thing.

But also—what was it like to die?

A Continued Obsession

When I was about six years old, my paternal grandmother died. We were very close and that loss taught me what death was. Yet, it didn’t quite sink in the way it should have. Every time someone got up in church to see her in her coffin, I got up too and trotted up behind them, so I could get another look.

“Interesting,” I thought. “Death doesn’t look so very different from life. Is she sleeping?”

I was at her bedside when she died. I heard her last words when she looked toward her friend and said, “I can’t tell my hands from my foot.” Then, she fainted away out of existence and her daughters cried out in anguish at the loss of their mother.

I watched them lower her into her grave and thought maybe I might see her again. She might appear to me the way the oats box man had. But, she never did.

Shortly thereafter, my maternal great-grandmother died. She, I have seen.

A Passing Illness

My great-grandmother was the first bi-racial child born into her Irish family. When I knew her, she was already old. She cared for me often because I had a tendency to bite children who bullied me and quite a few parents had me on their whoop-ass list.

When she died, a sickness took hold of me. I had not experienced that kind of sickness since my younger days of fevers and hallucinations. Mom feared I was relapsing into that sickness again. It continued all throughout my great-grandmother’s funeral. It ended when they buried her.

For some time, people shunned her home. She had lived there alone and it was eerily quiet with no electricity.

But, I would take my little flashlight and my CD player and hop across the path that connected it to my grandmother’s home. I spent hours alone in the home every night and I have no real recollection of what I did there.

A Strange Intruder

One afternoon, while I was in high school, I visited my grandmother’s house. She was doing the week’s worth of ironing on the back verandah and humming a tune to herself. I sat quietly with a book, but then I looked up and saw something that should have alarmed me, but did not.

“Mama,” I said to my grandmother, “There’s a woman in the bedroom.”

“Oh?” My grandma responded, calmly. “What does she look like?”

“Sad,” I answered. “She’s in Richard’s room, staring at your bedroom door and she looks very sad. She’s wearing a blue dress and she is light-skinned with curly hair.”

My grandma stopped the ironing and looked me dead in the face. “You don’t know who that is?”

“No,” I answered. “Why is there a woman in the room?”

My cousin peeked over my shoulders, trying to see this invisible woman.

“That’s my mother.”

I laughed. “But, Mama. She’s young!”

My grandmother didn’t argue with me. She came to my side and looked into the room. I turned to look at her, but when I looked back, the woman was gone.

“That was my mother,” she said and she looked as sad as her own mother had.

An Angry Avenger

When I was in university, I crossed paths with the other cousin who the oats box man had terrorized. By then, my great-grandmother’s house had passed to me and I had lived there throughout high school and community college. But now, I attended university at the other end of the island.

When I returned for the weekend, my cousin decided he would stay in the house with me, despite its poor state. This paternal cousin, unbeknownst to me, was on anti-depressants and had stopped taking them. He had been snapping at me and being utterly disrespectful all week, but I paid him no mind.

“I don’t know why you put up with him,” Richard told me. He had come to spend the night as well. I’m his favourite cousin and we didn’t see each other much anymore.

The following morning, we woke up to some strange sounds in the neighbouring bedroom. At first, we thought it was my paternal cousin mimicking a ghost with “Ooooooo” sounds. Richard and I laughed but didn’t leave our room. The noise persisted. As we listened, we realized it wasn’t quite a ghostly “Ooooo!” It was more like “Mmmmmm!” like when someone can’t speak.

We rushed into the neighbouring room. When we did, my paternal cousin bolted upright on the bed. “I’ve been calling you for an hour!” he yelled. “There was a woman! Holding me underwater!”

At this point, Richard and I were laughing. My paternal cousin had the entire bedroom to himself. We were the only three people in the home. The doors were locked. And, obviously, aside from the cold sweat seeping into the sheets, he was dry! What water?

“Describe her. Tell us what she looks like,” Richard mocked him.

He described my great-grandmother. As far as I know, they have never met. We also have no pictures of my great-grandmother, which is why I never recognized her when I saw her in her youth. Even more interesting, he saw her as I did: young.

My Mother’s Story

There’s a story my mom likes to tell of my great-grandmother. It isn’t of any specific incident, per se. Rather, it’s just an illustration of a personality quirk my great-grandmother had.

“I never knew how old your great-grandmother was. Even now, I had no idea how old she was when she died. Every year you would ask her how old she was on her birthday and the number would be one year less! One day, I asked her, how come the number was getting smaller instead of bigger and she cursed me out good and proper and told me to stay out of grown folks’ business. I never asked again.”

My mother also often talks about the last time she saw my great-grandmother. One day, while she was re-telling the story, I told her of the time I saw my great-grandma at Mama’s house. I thought I had told Mom the story before, but apparently, I hadn’t. When I told her what great-grandma was wearing, she broke down into tears.

I was confused. “Why are you crying?”

“That’s what she was wearing the last day I saw her,” she said. “You weren’t there. I came to say hello and there was a man in the house that I had always disliked. So, I told her I would visit another time.”

“‘I have something to tell you!’ she told me, excitedly. But, I left out of annoyance that the man was there, and now I’ll never know what she wanted to say.”

A Continued Curiosity

I sometimes wonder about the things I’ve seen and experienced that make no logical sense. People ask me if that isn’t evidence of God and another life. I tell them no, it’s evidence of human ignorance. I would much rather admit I do not know than create a comforting hypothesis.

Is my great-grandmother watching over me from the Great Beyond? Did she attack my unruly cousin who had the awful idea to disrespect me in her home? On the property where she was buried? Or, are we all just quite mad and sharing common delusions across countries and city lines?

I don’t know.

What I do know is that I still think about death. I still wonder what it’s like to confront that final breath and whether there is truly anything in the Great Beyond.

Did You Know? I Also Write On:

22 thoughts on “I’ve Always Wondered What It’s Like To Die

  1. A very spooky and fascinating read Alexis. I suppose I have no preoccupation with death, but I’ve seen it enough now in my career to no longer fear it. I’ve pronounced death as young as 1 day old, and as old as 90+ from all sorts of causes: congenital defect to cancer, pulmonary embolism, heart failure, gun shot wound etc. I view it as a very humbling privilege, and it’s even more humbling to bring back patients from death’s door. For the sick and dying, especially our palliative care cancer patients, death is a relief from pain and welcomed by both the patients and their families.

    Sometimes I’ve heard them call for people while “travelling” as we call it Jamaica, and when I tell the relatives, they cry and look terrified because apparently that’s a relative who has been dead for years. Anyway, I do view death as a break from our earthly struggles. It’s truly always something, and I’ve witnessed and experienced enough pain and suffering (mostly mentally than physically) to not graciously accept my mortality. Nonetheless, I still give thanks for life and will do my best to make the most of it but when that fateful day comes, I’m not afraid to bow out. I hope to live long enough to maybe get married to a nice man, have 2 kids and watch them live to adulthood though. And also own my first home, and maybe live abroad for a few years but we’ll see. 🙂

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience with death in your career. Pronouncing death for a baby at 1 day old though. Goodness. How did the parents take it? Were they okay?

      I think I was more welcoming of death in my younger years. Now, it’s not that I fear death, but I resent not seeing what I planned coming to fruition. My books, my tiny home, my travel bucket list. Even so, I think I could at least die at peace knowing that I lived my life to the fullest.

      Thanks again for sharing your experiences. It wasn’t an angle I had considered!

      1. I wouldn’t say the parents were 100% okay.. but they were expecting it. The baby had anencephaly (in simple terms no brain.. just a tiny bit of brainstem tissue in this case). They had been offered an abortion on medical grounds but refused. We told them the baby would die at birth. But he actually lived for about 16hours and some minutes. Their main regret was that we didn’t allow their 5 year old kid onto the nursery to meet his brother..

        And agreed! I think I’m pretty okay with death but I would wish I got even a decade or 2 more to bring some more goals to fruition

      2. Wow. Born with no brain! I wonder why they refused the abortion and I wonder if they regret that decision.

        Amen to another few decades! My to-do list only get longer and in a good way!

  2. Very interesting story. Did you ever figure out what was causing your fevers when you wee a kid?
    I used to get sleep paralysis alot with vivid, intense scary dreams. I know the hallucinations aren’t real thanks to science but before then when people used to believe in ghosts and demons I really don’t blame them.

    1. I had rheumatism as a child, so it was rheumatic fever worsened by tonsillitis.

      I don’t think ghosts and demons are primitive hallucinations of the past and science has never explained any of that away.

      In fact, here’s some science for you. One of the most important laws of physics is that energy can neither be created nor destroyed. However, when energy changes its form, there is a small degree of energy that doesn’t make it in the conversion known as entropy.

      Humans are obviously animated by a special form of energy that allows us to be alive and be conscious. If energy cannot be created or destroyed and an entropy “leak” is a constant risk of changing energy, what happens to people and their energy when they die? And how does entropy from a human life form manifest itself in reality/nature as we know it?

      1. I don’t think science has been able to explain away ghosts and demons away either (my sleep paralysis example aside). Problem is, I don’t think science has been able to explain or detect ghosts either. I used to believe in ghosts, now I have an agnostic view toward them. I’m not trying to invalidate your experiences by the way, I think they’re interesting.

        When it comes to thermodynamics, science doesn’t distinguish ‘living’ atoms from ‘dead’. We die, decompose and then become a part of the earth again. As for consciousness, that’s a whole another thing, which I know very little about.

  3. Spooky, yet true. I don’t believe in ghosts, nor have I had visions of them, but I will say that the night before my mom passed away, I’d gone to bed and had a very vivid, golden-ribbon flash of vision floating between my eyes. At first, I’d reckon it was because I’d just gotten off my night shift at work and was really exhausted, but looking back, that vision was perhaps a way of my mother saying goodbye. She was far too young to have passed, and I hope that all’s well with her in Heaven.

    1. I’m sorry to hear you lost your mother so early, but it’s touching that she took a moment to say goodbye.

      I have a friend who was deathly allergic to cats all his life. His sister had cats and he could only ever stand outside the house when he visited.

      When his mom passed, his sister was inconsolable and begged him to stay in the home with her. He was sure he wasn’t going to make it, but he needed the company too, so he decided to give it a try.

      He fell asleep and woke up the next morning just fine. He hasn’t been allergic to cats since and believes it was his mom’s passing gift.

      All that to say, you just never know. It really could have been her. I hope she is happy and well, wherever she is.

  4. There are so many recorded examples that cannot be explained easily. I have never experienced anything similar myself, but would never doubt those who have. I’m not sure whether it is a blessing, or a curse!

    1. That’s a very good question re whether it’s a blessing or a curse. I’ve often wondered that myself.

      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment….and not telling me I’m crazy. 😂

  5. I love this. Makes me curious about any lost memories I have from childhood. I did have a visitation from an ex boyfriend of mine in my mid 20s. He was floating over my bed near the ceiling telling me to come with him. Obviously, I knew nothing about what he was asking, until the next evening when I got the call that he’d died. We were 2200 miles apart and hadn’t spoken in years. I often wondered what would have happened if I’d agreed to go with him.

    1. WOOOOOOW! That’s insane. Of all the people to visit, he came back to you! Sounds like he never quite got over the relationship.

      You should definitely think back to some younger memories. Life isn’t the neatly packaged 3D world they sell us.

      Maybe I’ll share some more ghost stories around Halloween. 😂

  6. The mind and the physical world we live in is truly an amazing place. Many people are able to connect to other physical energies. As the person above stated, we could also have some good talks.

    1. Sadly, I think I lost my connection as I got older and definitely after I left Jamaica. Maybe something will rekindle it later in life.

      Looking forward to that chat!

  7. You and I could have some good talks. I was visited by both of my grandfathers as a wee child – visits that only stopped once my mom found out and told me it wasn’t possible – they died a year before my birth.

    1. I have a friend who experienced something similar. She also comes from a Mixed-race family and a White lady kept visiting her at night. Her parents thought she was just imagining things until she described the person. It was her great-grandmother who had passed long before she was born.

Chat to me nuh!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.