The Weight of the Soul
This is a piece about how Dan Brown helped me to cope with my father’s death. And about how Tyler Eltringham’s blog post, “How Spiderman got me through my mom’s death” at his Linkedin via medium.com
. . . helped me to get through my mom’s death.
And how the death of Arizona Senator John McCain inspired me (and I’m sure plenty of others) to look at death as an heroic final mission. (My dad was also a Navy pilot like McCain, albeit serving in WWI not Viet Nam.)
My dad died at age 93 on October 7, 2018. My mom died at almost age 88 on January 8, 2019. They passed almost exactly within three months of each other. Yes, they were both elderly. Yes, my dad, after six months of various surgeries and bone breakages and circulation and lung problems, in his last days was in actual Hospice care in a nursing facility. Yes, my mom in her last days was in the ICU of a hospital, trying to deal with years of deterioration from Alzheimer’s, that resulted in her ultimately forgetting how to eat, walk, talk, think, and breathe. She suffered a heart attack at the very end, and, well, very old women who weigh around 80 pounds don’t usually survive a stressor like that.
This is not to mitigate either of their physical suffering, but just to set the facts out. And to contemplate what is known or believed about death from several sources that seem to provide insight into grief (Dan Brown), as well as an imaginative path to survivor’s guilt (Tyler E.).
Dan Brown says in The Lost Symbol (2009) that the soul or spirit of a deceased person actually has mass, actually weighs something, and can be recorded in its escape from the corporeal form. In a scene in the book, his two main supporting characters, siblings Katherine and Peter Solomon, are together in Katherine’s Washington, D.C. lab. She is showing him an experiment on weight at the moment of death. A dying person (by consent) is allowing her to weigh him as he passes. The scale says 51.4534644 kg; however, at the exact moment of his death “the numbers on the scale decreased suddenly. The weight change was minuscule, but it was measurable” (pp. 394-395). The extrapolation is that something that has mass “exits the body at the moment of death” – the soul? In his last few days, my dad was using his hands to try to grasp some imaginary rope or ladder that he seemed fixated on; it was a hallucination likely caused by over-use of oxygen. But maybe it was also The Preview, the Stairway to Heaven, upon which his soul could climb to escape his failing body.
Tyler Eltringham says that in order to escape the grief and guilt he felt after his mom’s death, in part because he was not at her bedside when she passed, he started reading “the entire Marvel main canon continuity” (par. 10). It was the story of Aunt May’s death, and Peter Parker’s reaction to it (“knees buckling”), then resiliency towards it (“but he didn’t fall”) that helped him cope. Tyler is a young man. He graduated from ASU in 2013, and now works as Creative Lead in R&D at Riot Games (INC. magazine company of the year 2016) in Los Angeles. This blog by Tyler, “How Spiderman got me through my mom’s death” does not shy away from candor or crazy, in both language choice and style of narrative. It is exactly what you’d expect from a person in his mid-20’s. (Note: The image above might be Uncle Ben’s death in the Spiderman comic series, not Aunt May’s?).
In 2018, Arizona Senator John McCain also died (Aug. 25, 2018). In his final book, The Restless Wave, (2018) McCain exhorts warriors to sing a song of death, to not regret and look back: “When it comes your time to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with the fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song and die like a hero going home.” McCain was a scion of survived-suffering; he was a giant in the field of courage, a benevolent monster in the area of service.
In terms of religion, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states that at the immediate moment of one’s death, one sees the ‘face of God’: “Each man receives his eternal retribution in his immortal soul at the very moment of his death . . . [And] those who die in God’s grace and friendship . . . see Him as he is, face to face” (CCC 1022-1023). This was especially comforting to me in thinking about my mom in her last moments, because, like Tyler, I was not at her bedside (in Michigan); I was back in Arizona at work. It was more important that the last, and then first, face she saw was the face of that of her beloved Maker and Father. She was a true believer and was surely granted the beatific vision at the end. Which was surely followed by the smiling face of her beloved husband, who preceded her in death by only a few months, welcoming to eternal life. Love you both. Miss you both.