I have been binge watching Dead Like Me, a TV show on Amazon Prime that deals with dying. I have been paying special attention to how it depicts what happens when people die.
In Dead Like Me, a small group of “reapers” serve Death. They are notified by a Post-It note who will die along with where and when that person will die. The reapers visit the death scenes moments before a fatality is scheduled to happen. They must then brush the target person with the touch of death. This gesture apparently helps the soul leave the body; without the touch, the soul remains trapped inside the dead flesh (yuck).
Apparently, Death chooses who dies when, but that selection process happens in a random lottery, so no judgment about a person’s worth is involved. Yet when someone’s number comes up, the subsequent death becomes scheduled because the reaper must be present to execute the touch (which in the show includes some special lighting effects.)
Dead Like Me depicts souls snatched from their bodies just before they would experience any ridiculous amounts of pain. However, this separation of soul from body is not actually shown. Instead, we cut to the victim standing next to the reaper while pondering his or her freshly dead body. They usually look as animated as if they had just been shot with a tranquilizer dart.
As with other supernatural movies and TV shows I’ve seen, the freshly dead people pass instantly into their new environment where they display surprisingly little curiosity about what just occurred. Some characters do manage to ask something like, “Am I dead?” When they get a yes answer, they practically yawn with resignation. Just another ho-hum day. Dead? So what? Whatever.
I don’t know why this is so. Are there some behind-the-scenes, practical TV/movie business reasons I’m not aware of why freshly dead characters appear so dull? Are the writers clueless about afterlife research or do studio heads restrain the creators from exploring more interesting cosmic possibilities?
AM I DEAD?
At the very least, this common question points out how inadequate the word dead is. If dead means without life or no longer exists, problems start the moment someone asks, “Am I dead?” If you no longer existed, you would not be conscious of anything. You would not be asking questions or making comments. You would be dead.
A more correct question might be have I transformed?
In Dead Like Me, reapers call themselves the “undead.” They are depicted as physical beings but with a few bonus superpowers. In one episode, for instance, a reaper deliberately put a big knife through her hand to demonstrate for a priest how quickly her flesh could heal. It also gave her the opportunity to give him the touch of death.
The undead exist among the living and hold down regular jobs. Their progress to the light has been delayed, but at least they know that humans go somewhere after their bodies croak. Yet in this TV show, they don’t have many answers for cosmic questions because they have not entered the light themselves. They also apparently don’t receive any memos that explain the universe.
MY OWN PASSING
When I conceive of my own passing, I think the moment that I learned I had survived my body’s death, I would be giddy. I would be eager to know what happens next. I would be intensely curious about my new existence. I picture my initial afterlife existence as a treasure hunt for answers to all those mysteries I longed to solve during my mortal life.
I mostly envision death or transformation as a huge release of emotion, a big whoosh to freedom. I am much more of an “Oh, wow, oh, wow” guy in my visualizations.
I would instantly think that, contrary to what some believe, the life I had just lived would not be the only existence I would have. All those thoughts about “one life to live” and missed opportunities would diminish if not entirely vanish. For anything I missed, I could just create new opportunities in this new world.
I have studied enough afterlife research to conceive of life as a series of existences, some physical, some not. We just keep going. Some of us come back here, some of us head off to somewhere else. It is a much more complex and wondrous system than die and go to heaven or hell or disappear as dust for the rest of eternity.
ENTER THE SOULPHONE
In our mass media culture, most depictions of any afterlife are of the scary, thrill-seeking variety. We seem far more content to show the variety of ways in which people’s bodies die than to explore stories about what happens when dead people awaken alive in another realm. As fun as I find Dead Like Me, the show nevertheless ignores almost every consequence of meeting “the grim reaper.” The freshly dead person gets whisked away from our view, never to be heard from again.
As progressive SoulPhone devices arrive, they will be introduced into this culture of misleading stories about dying. The mythology that fuels shows such as Dead Like Me will also shape our perception of the great beyond and whether or not we should be afraid of it. Our doctors and teachers and preachers may have a lot of explaining to do.
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