After life

Look upon the world as a bubble, regard it as a mirage; who thus perceives the world, him Mara, the king of death, does not see.
~ Dhammapada, Canto XIII, verse 170

A depiction of the afterlife as perceived by Tina Sweeney, of Laval, Quebec. Image from The Big Book of Near-Death Experiences, by P.M.H. Atwater. (Excerpted in a photoessay on Newsweek's website--click the image to see more)

I’ve become a student of many aspects of many religions, but one of the areas I pay most attention to is death and the afterlife.  The novel I wrote for my dissertation is set entirely in the afterlife and deals with questions of permanence and identity after death.  As a Buddhist, one of my primary focuses in mediation is on impermanence and the death of the ego, the independent self.  And as a student of compassion, I take very seriously our role of consolers in times of great distress and grief.  So I read a lot about death, dying, and the afterlife.

And I am very much looking forward to Lisa Miller’s forthcoming book, Heaven: Our Enduring Fascination With the Afterlife, portions of which appear in the Easter issue of Newsweek and on Newsweek‘s website.

From my afterlife novel:

“Oh,” Tarah says.  She’s stopped playing, the last notes resonating inside the piano.  She turns to face me, her hands in her lap.  “I see now.  You haven’t accepted that you’re dead.”

If I could feel cold I would.  For a moment I almost believe her—I can’t feel my heart, which I’d expect to be slamming into my breastbone right now.  I’m not even breathing.  I’m just standing here, staring at Tarah.  I’m not blinking.  She’s staring back like she’s waiting for me to pitch over stiff and confirm that I’m a corpse.  But then I hitch in a breath, and I lick my lips.

“What did you say to me?”

“Dead, Nessie,” Hadi says.  He takes my hand but I jerk it away.  He sighs, the poor kid.

“Nessie,” Tarah says,  “you have died.  This is what comes next.  You need to accept that.”


It’s too late, breathing or not I have come disconnected, no sensation anywhere but moving everywhere.  I dish across the surface of myself like an oil slick, without shape, a translucence in all colors.  There’s no earthly way of knowing which direction I am going.  I’ve said this before, read it aloud from somewhere.  I’ve done this all before, and before, and it all just keeps sliding backward forever, no start to any of it.  I feel infantile, I’m in my own womb, and I’m terrified.


I am the ocean.  I ebb and flood.  I rise, I sink–recede.  I am not asleep.  But this is not a wakefulness.  I think the children might have been right.


And just as sudden it’s over.  And I am over.  I pry open my eyes to the thin light, press my hand between my breasts.  I feel nothing.

Published by Samuel Snoek-Brown

I write fiction and teach college writing and literature. I'm the author of the story collection There Is No Other Way to Worship Them, the novel Hagridden, and the flash fiction chapbooks Box Cutters and Where There Is Ruin.

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