What Happens When You Die

Your funeral feels surreal. Faces from your past and present are suddenly all in the same place, smiling and crying and celebrating your life. Your loved ones are hugging each other and saying goodbye to you, but they haven’t really accepted yet that you’re gone. They never really will. Your presence is still felt everywhere. When your loved ones squint they can almost see your fingerprints glowing on everything you touched. Doorknobs and light switches, shoelaces and silverware. It’s like you’re still here, just out of reach, and your voice is still so clear, just distant, coming from another room.

Your obituary seems uncanny, both unreal and hyperreal, like a piece of fiction that’s somehow become a fact. Your loved ones read it once, twice, again and again. They read between the lines. There are stories hidden within that brief paragraph. There are chapters. Volumes. So much goes unsaid. Your loved ones glance at all those other obituaries printed on the page and imagine all the other recently deceased out there, and all those other loved ones. They are strangers, united by grief. The living left behind by the dead.

And that’s what’s so strange too, that your death isn’t front page news. It’s buried in the obituaries section, the graveyard of the newspaper. Meanwhile the rest of the paper is tattooed with the usual ink stains. Weather and war, gossip and sports, op-eds and crosswords. Your death belongs with the puzzles: it’s a sudoku without any numbers, impossible to solve.

The world is cruel in its obliviousness. Offers for new credit cards addressed to you continue to arrive in the mail. They pile up in the recycling bin, unopened.

Your phone number is still saved in your loved ones’ cellphones. They’ll never delete it. Your email address still pops up in the To field, and it haunts them every time.

Photographs of you take on more weight. A 5×7 inch glossy photo of your naturally smiling face weighs 3.5 ounces, but it may as well weigh a hundred pounds. Your joyful gaze transcends two dimensions.

Your emails become digital mementos. Every book you inscribed, every card you sent, every gift you gave takes on new gravity, exerting its own pull on the soul, a bittersweet black hole to be cherished from time to time, then placed back on the shelf. These objects can’t replace you, but their presence helps solidify your absence.

Your loved ones couldn’t forget you even if they tried. Artifacts are everywhere, scattered through the mundane world of sights and sounds. Your sandwich on the menu. Your song on the radio. At first the unexpected reminders sting, and your loved ones wish those things would respectfully disappear, wish restaurants would stop serving Reubens and radio stations would stop playing The Temptations. But eventually the sting lessens, until it barely feels like they’re being stung, and your loved ones order your favorite sandwich, and hum along to your favorite song.

Life goes on without you. Time doesn’t pause. Students go to school. Workers go to work. Meals get prepared and eaten. Money exchanges hands. Jokes are told. TV shows broadcast new episodes. Gas tanks get filled. Dishwashers get emptied. Dogs bark. Cats nap. Birds sing in trees. The sun rises and sets, rises and sets. Perhaps that’s the hardest thing of all to accept, that everything in the world just keeps on going without you in it.

Acceptance comes in slow stages over the months and years following your death, and nevertheless sometimes upon waking from a dream about you, it’s hard to believe you’re forever gone. The dream gets dismissed as just a dream even though a part of the dreamer knows it was you, saying hello.

You weren’t perfect. You were better than perfect. You were good. You were warmth and wit, kindness and integrity, welcoming arms after a long flight home. You loved this place, this planet. You loved it in a way that only you could, and your love lingers in everything you left behind. Your family and friends. Your work. Your books and movies and TV shows. Your food and music. Your house. Your neighborhood. Your evening walks. Your now empty shoes. Your expired passport, which took you everywhere.

You loved. You are loved. You will be missed. TC mark


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  • Anonymous

    ozymandias, bro

  • A.

    I really like your whole paragraph with the newspaper metaphors.

  • http://baileypowell.com/ Bailey


  • Anna

    beautiful, touching piece. made me tear up a bit because it reminded me of all the ones I lost.

  • http://twitter.com/barkmuckner Mark Buckner

    Decided to read this with the unrealistic expectation that it’d literally solve the mystery of what happens when you die. 

    • dcdenise

      me too! How weird are we : )

  • Caleb

    Your funeral doesn’t feel like anything; you’re dead. Faces from your past and present are irrelevant. Your existence is rendered worthless, by death’s infinite negation. Your death is rendered worthless, and since your death is worthless, the subject of this article is worthless, and since the subject of this article is worthless, my commentary is futile, and so I’ll stop now, and should never click the “Post as…”, but I’m too inconsistent to follow through. :(

    • Gracelizabeth09

      Well, aren’t you delightful…

    • caleb

      edit: sorry. it doesn’t matter if nothing matters.

    • Joe

      oh my god. why.

  • Gracelizabeth09

    So damn sad, and kind of touching in a weird way. Things like this continually remind me that I would straight up cease existing if my husband ever died. His DNA is woven through every aspect of my life.

    • C. B. Turner

      To Grace Elizabeth–Believe me, a fairly new widow, you will not cease to exist if you outlive your husband.  There is shock and unbelievable sadness, then numbness which helps you cope at the beginning.  Then the numbness wears off, and you are faced with the cold reality of it all.

      Please know that we do survive the loss of a spouse.  Not easily.  Maybe not gracefully.  Certainly not quickly.  But, the sun still shines every morning, the newspaper arrives on my doorstep, the cat still needs fed…life goes on.  It will never be the same as it was, but it is still Life, and as such, is very precious.

  • http://www.facebook.com/iamahmad Ahmad Radheyyan

    That’s beautiful, dude. thanks for sharing.

    Can you write a speech and give it at my funeral?

  • Guest

    “Nobody notices except your boss and landlord”

  • http://twitter.com/tannnyaya Tanya Salyers

    I feel like this is real for old friends, too…ones that have left your life, but not life on earth.  

    Touching, regardless. 

  • Sar

    This made me cry. Really beautiful. It emphasized to me something that I’ve recently realized: the value of every single solitary human life. 

  • http://twitter.com/CowboySandtoes Cowboy Santos


  • Sophia

    This hit at a time where it hurts. It hurts from love. Thank you for this.

  • Maja

    “Your death belongs with the puzzles: it’s a sudoku without any numbers, impossible to solve.” and  “These objects can’t replace you, but their presence helps solidify your absence.”  – BEAUTIFUL! 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001079660479 Bilqis Ibrahim

    This is really beautiful

    Hit real close to home, I mean, it’s sort of strange to know many people feel this way, and not really be comforted by it. I’m not, at least.

    Or maybe I am. I don’t know

    This is lovely, anyways

  • Dinah

    “TV shows broadcast new episodes.” ohhh. i don’t know why that one hit me so hard, but it did. :( :( i can’t imagine my shows living on without me!!

    • KN92

      If I never get to find out the mother of Ted’s children, NO ONE DOES.

      • dcdenise

        Right? Would they just end the damn show already and tell us who it is. Ted can’t get anymore boring, Marshall can’t get anymore whipped, Lilly can’t get anymore self-righteous, Robin can’t get any bitchier, and Barney, well I guess we can continue to watch him hump everything that moves, but do we really want to?

  • Erin

    I was really touched by this. I lost my best friend 5 years ago and each word really resonated with the myriad of feelings that go along with the death of a loved one. Nice piece of writing.

  • http://www.facebook.com/itsTheAPB Ashley P. Bell

    your body and being is a source of energy, this will eventually biodegrade into the earth whether in the form of food for maggots or ash in the ocean to help create the sea bed or be part of the very molecular dust that floats about in existence. energy transfers, always.

  • http://twitter.com/B_Stranger103 Beatrice

    I just found out yesterday, after a month and a half had passed, that my friend of 28 years died. This entry is especially profound to me today.

  • Rohaina


  • Mike

    Wow – that last paragraph is especially gut wrenching.

  • http://www.toonyc.com/ Cedrucker

    Your death is “impossible to solve”–god, EXACTLY.

    And that last paragraph left me shivery and puddly-eyed. I don’t quite know how this piece packed such an emotional wallop, but I just want to tell everyone to read this.

  • Les Cordoza

    And to be loved is all I need .
        And those I l0ved.. I loved indeed

  • http://twitter.com/vickstahs Vicky Nguyen

    This is comforting to read, somehow.

  • C. B. Turner

    What lovely writing.  As a widow of 4 and 1/2 months I have experienced similar feelings, but from the other end of the spectrum.

    I dont know the age or life experience of the writer of this piece, but this person really does “get” what life is all about.

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