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On Death and Dying: The Grim Reaper and Anaphylaxis

Updated on August 4, 2016
Fall scene graphic by Michelle Collins
Fall scene graphic by Michelle Collins | Source

One thing always uncomfortable to talk about is death and dying, even though it happens every day. So when we are well, we don’t even think much about it at all. But there is something about it I never heard anyone else talk about, and that is the fact that when one is dying, or very ill and death threatens, the body seems to take on its own.

What I mean by that is to say that the body and mind become distinct and separate entities from your own consciousness. The will you once had in their operation becomes usurped by a menacing force that is inspired by this force of “life.”

You might be thinking what I am saying here is obvious, but what you may not understand is how “spooky” it feels when it happens. That is because it feels like an alien force, something you have no control of even if you make herculean efforts with your mind. I surmise then from experience a certainty of spirit versus flesh; however, perhaps too – and to convey clearly the effects – one is also confronted with the deep recesses of the unconscious and its contents of primordial images and reflective emotions.

Remember, the body and mind wants to live. They want it more than we are consciously aware in our daily lives. In fact, when illness is so great and death threatens one’s door, the body and mind go into action, all by themselves independent of any will or control you might think you have. A more succinct way to describe it is in knowing how the body responds to Anaphylaxis, that Type IV hypersensitivity reaction from allergy to certain food or antibiotics. In this potentially fatal condition, the body goes into “emergency mode” all on its own and sends all its blood from the limbs to its own vital organ system in an attempt to preserve them at the cost of all other body parts. It knows on its own that the “essentials” must be preserved if life can go on and nothing one does with their mind or unconscious has anything to do with it. The body acts independent of you, like a “creature” or “alien” within.

This is how it is also when death from severe illness is watching you from within. If you have disease with symptoms you are ignoring, for example, your mind will provoke dreams in you to tell you what you’re not seeing. When I was very ill, this is what my mind did to me, although I did not make sense of my dreams until my near death. Only then, many years into the future, did I understand what my mind was trying to tell me.

While asleep in my apartment, and consumed with grave illness, I had a vivid dream. It was as though I were awake. It was absolutely real. I heard a loud knock at my door; rather, a loud pounding at my door. It was an urgent pounding, as though someone were taking their fist and hitting my door with all the might and strength they could muster. BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! (slight pause) BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!

I was frightened by the pounding in the dream. At first, I hesitated to open the door; thinking whoever it was would just go away. But it continued, BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! (Then, slight pause) BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! I could feel myself getting angry at this, and it was my anger at the noise that fueled my courage to open the door, telling myself I will face this individual face-to-face – whatever the consequences.

I ran to the door and screamed behind it, “Who is it!! What do you want!!” But there was no answer.

In exasperation and rage I opened the door, and who do you think it was? It was the GRIM REAPER! Yup – totally true story. He stood there with his sickle and black hood and total darkness making up the shape of his face – his hood only covered a deep, dark hole.

Anyone who knows dream interpretation will tell you that the Grim Reaper appears, not only when we are dying (which is a known experience of many), but also when we are not “seeing” something in our lives. Denial is a BIG adjunct to this type of dream, not death. And, in truth, although I was very ill at the time, I did not realize how fatal my condition was and perhaps could have or would have died if I did not get past my DENIAL. Thus, the Grim Reaper makes his appearance rather from “denial” than death (and clarifying this because if the reader of this hub had a dream like this it does NOT mean you are dying).

What was my mind doing? On its own – with perhaps the support of the “all-knowing” unconscious within (and my body’s attempt to get me to DO SOMETHING about what it was experiencing), conveyed to my mind a message that would WAKE me, so the Grimm Reaper was sent to my door to AWAKEN me. In essence, to tell me, “If you don’t get help right now, you’re gonna be dead”!

I was indeed in a fatal condition. I had burst my appendix and was in between life and death. Although I was given oral antibiotics, the sepsis that saturated my body tissues was too great for this small prescription, even though I thought in my mind I would “get better” because of it. I had other dreams synonymous with this one, like one where a group of black dogs (three of them) were barking at me in unison in my living room, attempting to alert me to the fact that there was a danger lurking beneath the surface, but what was curious to me was the unusually “vivid” experience of these events. When I awoke from the Grim Reaper dream, for example, I was relieved but painfully aware of the tricks and warnings my mind was creating for me. I also took the warning very seriously and made an emergency appointment with my doctor, and alive today because of it.

When the mind becomes aware the body is weak and defenseless, like the body, it projects primordial contents and archetypal images on to the conscious to “signal” a warning. It does this independently of anything you will it to do – the same way the body in the throes of Anaphylaxis will disperse your blood wherever it is most needed so you can survive and nothing you do can stop it. It was a “spooky” experience to me because it was the first time I became aware of how my body was trying to quicken my “spirit.” My spirit was thus totally separate from these actions. I was powerless to control the force within me, and it warred against my complacency, knowing that if I gave up, its purposes would no longer function or serve any purpose and thus die.

I surmise too then it is difficult to die; but I wanted to share this because when ill I also noticed I was sensitized to my surroundings, which was my mind’s attempt to keep me aware of potential threats, recognizing as it did that my defenses were down from illness. I had “keener” sight of others while ill, keenness I do not possess today because I am now well. I could feel others emotions when I was ill, particularly family members, even when they projected everything to be okay on the outside. But I wanted to share this experience because we all know or will know of someone close to us that is dying or will die, and that if the dying person you know says anything or you feel they can read your mind, you might have a glimpse of what it is like to be them, and a better understanding of the thoughts that occupy them to give them comfort and help them feel safe.

© 2012 Cynthia Taggart

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  • cynthtggt profile image
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    Cynthia Taggart 4 years ago from New York, NY

    Oops! My mistake, Ms. Dora, I do still have the comment about my brother-in-law beneath my most recent comment. I thought too to add that in the National Historical Archives it is a matter of historical record that during the Civil War at the battle of Gettysburg, the Confederate soldiers, before the bloodiest battle, ALL saw a man on a pale white horse gallop across the field. Well we know what happened in that battle. The Confederate soldiers on the bottom of the hill had to know that their chances of dying were so very great being in the vulnerable position they were in (at the bottom of a hill). The "collective" state of consciousness of that fact produced the archetype of the "Apocalypse" of the man on the pale white horse, that the psychologist Carl Jung is famous for defining as the "collective" experience of an "Archetype" of the "collective unconscious." Don't mean to get deep here but this interesting fact about Gettysburg was recalled by the few survivors and is part of the National Archives. Of course it's not the Grim Reaper (which is also an "archetype" of the unconscious); however, like the man on the pale white horse, the Grim Reaper is a common motif and dream of many people and is regarded by psychologists as something signifying an "unknowing" or willful disbelief, as in not wanting to face the truth. I know of a story of a woman who felt terror and had a dream of the Grim Reaper. Later, it was revealed that she was being "stalked" by a man. Her fear produced the warning in a dream that she would not let her conscious mind realize. My point? The Grim Reaper is simply an archetype in a dream signifying to the dreamer a deep awareness already embedded that the individual does not want to accept consciously.

  • cynthtggt profile image
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    Cynthia Taggart 4 years ago from New York, NY

    Ms. Dora, thanks for stopping by. One of the comments missing here (I don't know where it went!) was my reply about my dying brother-in-law. In the hospital upon seeing me before he died, he knew what was going on in my life. Not all details, but some. My deceased uncle, a doctor, also encountered this kind of thing in his dying patients. I was near death in 1993 with sepsis from a burst appendix. I was between life and death, literally. People do dream of warning signs when they do not want to admit to their conscious selves they are very ill. In any event I'm not nuts. I did not imagine this dream. I will remember it the rest of my life because it saved my life - but unless one experiences near death they perhaps cannot understand. Many have near-death experiences and some have "after life" experiences when they die and are resuscitated. Again, I appreciate your comment. God bless.

  • MsDora profile image

    Dora Weithers 4 years ago from The Caribbean

    Cynth, I do not doubt what you say/write here. I cannot say that I know how it feels but I know that when the brain (mind) is losing control, it can go in any direction. Thanks you for sharing.

  • cynthtggt profile image
    Author

    Cynthia Taggart 5 years ago from New York, NY

    I thought to edit this piece. I thought to add at the end what I witnessed when my brother-in-law was dying. But then I thought it would better to put it here as a comment.

    While in the hospital, shortly before he died, his eyes went wide and he looked at all of us around him, the entire family. He said, "Everyone suffers so much." I was overcome and had to leave the room. That is because it was the truth. NO ONE gets through this life without pain, and it doesn't matter how much one has or doesn't have. My brother-in-law saw beneath the facade we all keep up for the world.

    Shortly thereafter he died, and only then was he ready to go. We set balloons into the sky in tribute to him and his fight to keep going. We knew he saw it.

  • cynthtggt profile image
    Author

    Cynthia Taggart 6 years ago from New York, NY

    Thank you for commenting. It surrounds a very complex situation that relates to other topics I've written on.

  • AnnaCia profile image

    AnnaCia 6 years ago

    Interesting article. Very complex topic.

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