Stories About Death

One of the greatest challenges of being incarnate on planet Earth is facing the mystery of death.

We know what happens to the body. We can see it, smell it, deal with it, though we may grieve. But the spirit? What happens to that? What lies on the other side of the dark door of death?

We don’t know.

So we create stories.

One story says it is all over when the body dies. The elusive essence we call spirit dies, too. It is the end. There is nothing more. Some respond to this idea by grabbing to get theirs while they can, since they believe there will be no consequences. Others say that, if indeed all ends with the death of the body, they must live a life of service and integrity, do their very best in the time that they have.

But most stories say that even after the body dies, the spirit does live on. Perhaps we become part of nature. In my novel Never Again, as Lenny is dying he says to Clara, “Maybe I’ll sink into the earth, like your Elirians, and become part of all that is, the trees, the grass, maybe a rabbit that nibbles the grass, then maybe a coyote.”

Some religions say there is a heaven and a hell, and only if we meet certain conditions can we go to heaven. Otherwise we are doomed to suffer for eternity. Hindus and Buddhists, say we will be born again—and again and again— on the wheel of reincarnation until we have learned all life’s lessons and  become so purified that we can return to God.

Throughout history and in all cultures there are stories about death. But what happens when the stories from one culture conflict with those of another? There can be terrible results.

Clara explains to the Elirians. “Many become frightened when they hear a story different from their own, because if that story is true, then maybe theirs isn’t. They may become so afraid they kill the ones whose story is different from theirs.”

“You kill over a story?” one of the Elirians asked, her dark eyes wide with shock.

“Yes,” Clara answered,because we are afraid. Because it is unknown. Much of the violence on Earth is because we fear death. We fight over things that we hope will protect us from death, but in the end nothing does. We walk on the brink of the unknown and try to hide from it, deny it. But inside we all know we will die, and most of us are afraid.”

How then do we face death in a sacred manner? Certainly not by going to war over our stories as we have for millennia. The grief and destruction of such wars create right here on Earth the hell that many fear in the afterlife.

I could blog every week for a year and still not touch all that can be explored about relating to death in a sacred manner. And I will write more in the weeks to come.

For now let me simply say I believe we must live in love. Whatever story we hold closest to our hearts, we must also allow and respect the stories of others.

The truth is we don’t know.

So let us face the wonder of the mystery with trust, awe, and curiosity.


Welcome to my blog.

I love stories, and am also fascinated by the issues underlying them. What are we really writing or reading about? When a story is done well, the underlying theme is implicit, yet it touches us, moves us to weep, uplifts us, challenges our thought patterns.

Ursala LeGuin is a master of this art. I have delighted in her novels since I first read The Wizard of Earthsea decades ago. When I began to write my first novel, she was my inspiration.

In the Wizard of Earthsea, the young hero, driven by pride, unleashes an evil into his world. He pursues it throughout the islands of Earthsea, seeking to learn its name and so master it, and finally succeeds only when he calls it by his own name. The essence of projection is stunningly expressed, with never a didactic word.

My own novels have been inspired by my personal struggles.Yet not mine alone. The deepest struggles of humankind are universal. We all seek to find ourselves and our purpose in life, to succeed in our endeavors, to love and be loved. We must all deal at one time or another with disappointment, failure, the heartbreak of love lost. We must all face death. When I give my personal struggle to my protagonist to solve, it becomes greater than just my struggle. Often my protagonist figures it out better than I do. So I am healed. Such is the power of story. And the joy of writing.

In the blog posts to come, I will be exploring the underlying issues of my own novels and novels that have touched me deeply.

I welcome your comments. Let’s have a conversation