On a visit to a cemetery yesterday, I noticed an unusual grave. Amongst the familiar flowers and candles freshly arranged around the headstone there was a silvery helium balloon waving gaily above them. On the balloon, in funky lettering, was the words ‘Happy Birthday’.
‘How refreshing,’ I thought.
Refreshing, because the friend or relative with the balloon was not going to be dictated to by convention and was going to celebrate the life of the deceased in whatever fashion they wished. Just because someone has died does not mean that we have to become fixated by that fact.
Then I realised that the balloon could just as easily have said – in similar funky lettering – ‘Happy Death Day’.
Some people would find that idea shocking, even irreverent. But rationally, it makes perfect sense. Here’s why.
When we die, we leave our still living loved ones in corporeal mode and it is assumed that we go to some other place. The living are grief stricken because they will miss the person who has died. The person who has died either doesn’t care because there is nothing of their consciousness left after death, or they go to some sort of Heaven – consciousness intact – where they have a great time. Either way, it is the living which suffer the grief.
But here’s the kicker; we never think of the time before birth. For some reason, the arrow of time forces us to look only forward. Part of the problem is that a recognisable vessel of the dead person is left on earth that becomes corrupt and disintegrates, a depressing image. But the supposition of what happens after death has to be applied to what happens before birth. Presumably, that space after death must be the same space before conception. There must be a heaven before birth (if you believe in the concept). Birth, therefore, is a transition into something ‘worse‘, into the suffering, pain and grief that is life (perhaps the cards ought to say, “Sorry for your birthday”.). Rationally then, death is a release, a return to the heaven from which we came and should therefore be celebrated as a good thing. If we only had a useful image of ourselves before birth – a cartoon cell with a resigned look of disappointment on our face – it would help to visualise the truth in this. But a sperm and an egg don’t carry the same emotional charge as a broken cadaver. Pity.