The other day, my dog asked me what happens when we die. Gulp.
I look at Jasmine and think dammit. I didn't think dogs knew about mortality, which is why they're so cheery all of the time. But maybe she knew all along, or maybe she found a note or the body of a hiker in the bushes that tipped her off. At any rate, here we are. She knows.
"Oh Jazzy, you aren't going to die for a long time. You take good care of yourself, and eat the kibbles and go on so many walks every day and tend to your relationships and take a lot of naps, and you wear your mask when we go out and you try not to drink too much."
She stares at me and I realize she won't be placated like a four year old. She is six, after all. If it weren't for the Coronavirus, she would be in first grade. Instead, she's "homeschooled". I put that in quotes because it's mostly home and very little school.
How much should I tell her about death right now? She's isolated from her peers for the most part, which is hard. Her job as a lab assistant has slowed way down. But on the other hand, truth is always a good plan. So I dive in.
"No one actually knows for certain what happens when we die," I begin. "It's something that so far, can't be determined using the scientific method, so people just pick what they think happens and believe that. Some people believe we go to heaven (UP) or hell (down), based on how we behave in this world. Up is for the good creatures, and down is for the bad ones.
Some people, like me, believe that we die and most of it ends. There's no re-uniting with the puppies that were taken away from you when you were practically a puppy yourself, etc. Your heart stops beating, you stop breathing, and soon, stillness takes over and your mind quiets and that's it. The end. Your family either incinerates you and sprinkles ashes in beautiful places (or, in my dad's case, you live in a can in a suitcase in the basement storage locker of a retirement community; I'm not sure why that is but I guess that's how we do it in my family), or they bury you, or set you up with a mushroom suit, and what was once you is gone.
Some people, especially those who make movies, believe that when you die, you hover around near where you died or near the people you loved or hated, and almost communicate with them. You can sort of drop things and make noise and watch while your person falls in love with a living creature, and so on, but you aren't nearly as effective as you were when you were alive. Like, in your case, if you died and I got another dog, maybe the other dog would sense your presence and growl inexplicably. Eventually, in a good movie, you move on and rest on a pillow in heaven and the new dog takes your place.
One area that remains a question mark for me is what happens to the brain waves and creative force. I'm not sure how much I even believe in that, but I know there is uniqueness to each being, something that sets each one of us apart. Like you, for example, have that towel fetish. When you go into a house, you beeline for any towel you can find and grab it in your teeth and roll in it until someone asks you to stop. What happens to that impulse? Is it floating around out there, waiting to land on another creature?. All of that tail-wagging, all of that towel-grabbing. Where does it go? Does it live on in the hearts and minds of your loved ones? Will I become a person who honors you by stripping off my clothes, heading for the bathroom, and rolling in the towels when I go visiting, in much the same way that people make grandma's sheet cake? Or is that impulse magically transported into a being that's about to be born, who arrives on earth with some hazy memories of your life?
We may never know, Jasmine. In the meantime, enjoy your days. Keep wagging. Oh, and if I go first, and we're home alone for a week before anyone notices, please try not to eat my face right off the bat.