My name is Katherine. Most of you would call me a ghost, or perhaps an angel. I am you see, what most mortals call "dead". In fact, today is my funeral. I hadn't really planned on dying. I'm only 21 years old. I had just returned from the spring formal dance. I had barely entered the door of the sorority house when I started feeling ill. My head started throbbing. The room started to swirl as I collapsed and everything went black.
I woke up lying on my back. I was on a table in a brightly lit room. Several men and women in hospital uniforms were putting away equipment and collecting spent supplies. In spite of the bright light, the room seemed to be filled with an ethereal mist. The people all seemed to be moving in a slow, stiff, almost surreal fashion. They all seemed to be ignoring me.
I sat up, climbed off the table, and followed one of the doctors (I assumed they were doctors) out of the room through a set of double doors. I don't really know why I did this. It just seemed the thing to do. Somehow I felt that there was an answer waiting for me if I followed.
The doctor lead down a corridor, then through another door into a small waiting room. My mother and father were the only ones in the room.
I rushed ahead of the doctor, "Mom! Dad! " I rushed ahead to greet them, overjoyed to see familiar faces. " What are you doing here? What's happened? Where are we?"
They looked right through me as if I wasn't even there. Instead, they turned to the doctor. The look on their faces was one of anxiousness and fear.
Without waiting for the question that was written on their faces, the doctor spoke.
"Mr. and Mrs. Johnson? Please sit down. Your daughter suffered a major cerebral aneurisim. In layman's terms, a weak section in one of the major arteries in her brain swelled and burst. There was nothing we could do. Your daughter is dead."
At those words my mother went white, then collapsed, sobbing, on my father, who simply stared blankly, disbelievingly, into space.
My first thoughts were " What kind of bad joke is this?" "Why are you telling my parents I'm dead when I am obviously standing right in front of them plain as the nose on your face?"
After a few minutes, my mother composed herself enough to speak. "I want to see her. I want to see my baby"
"Certainly" said the doctor " If you feel you are up to it, I will take you to her."
My parents rose slowly and with a stiff, robot like walk followed the doctor back through the double doors and down the hall from which I had just minutes before emerged. They turned into a room marked "Emergency ICU - A"
I recognized the room as the one from which I had emerged into the hall when I had first followed the doctor. The room was vacant of medical staff now. The equipment had all been removed or neatly stored against the walls.
In the center of the room, under a bright overhead light, was a table on which lay a female form, covered with a thin white sheet. I began to have a very sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. For the first time the thought entered my mind that maybe this was no joke.
But it had to be. How could I be lying there covered with a sheet and standing here watching at the same time? It must be a mistake. They will pull down the sheet and it will be someone else. It had to be someone else!
My parents followed the doctor, hesitatingly, to the table. Gently, the doctor folded down the sheet.
There I was. I was standing here, but I was also lying on the table. The me on the table was still dressed in the pink satin dress I had worn to the dance. I looked to be asleep. My mind raced, grasping for any fragment of hope. I had read about out-of-body experiences. How someone near death felt themselves leave their own body. Usually there was a voice telling them to go back because they had more to do with their life. I was only twenty-one. I certainly had more to do. I had almost a whole life ahead. I was just getting started. I don't hear any voice. But that doesn't matter. I just lie back down on the table, merge back into my body and wake up. The doctor will be dumbfounded. Mom and dad will be overjoyed. I'll spend a few days in the hospital and go on with my life.
I didn't really think about how one climbs back into ones own body. I just went over to the table and lay down. I closed my eyes and placed my arms in the same place as the self on the table. I opened my eyes expecting to see the surprised expressions. But dad just continued to stare disbelievingly. Mom was stroking my hair and sobbing, just as before.
Finally they turned away and the doctor covered my face with the sheet.
"No" I screamed, " I'm not dead" I flailed by arms, kicked my legs and screamed again. But all my efforts went unheeded. What ever I was now, I was invisible and inaudible to the world I knew. I really was dead.
By the time of my wake I had still not fully accepted the idea of being dead. The funeral home sent a car for mom and dad. I really didn't like the thought of being on display, but I was curious to see what they had done with me.
A crowd had already gathered when we arrived. I followed my parents into the home, passing through the crowd unnoticed. The room where I lay was filled with flowers. My casket lay on a low table. It was glowing shining white with gold handles and trim. The lid was open.
I hesitated once again. I knew that what I would see would only add to the weight of a reality I did not yet want to accept. I also knew I had to look. Slowly, I stepped up to the casket.
I gazed at the dream-like scene before me. The other me, the me that lay in the casket, was dressed as for her wedding. Mom had promised me her bridal gown for my wedding. Instead, she had given it to me for my burial. A white veil covered my face like a fine mist. A large bouquet of calla lilies lay in my arms.
As I stared at the casket, I began to focus on the peaceful face, my face, beneath the veil. My field of vision seemed to narrow, as if, without taking a step, I was moving closer and closer to the face within the casket. Suddenly, I was no longer standing before the casket, but lying inside; looking up through the misty veil that covered my face. I felt the cool satin of my wedding dress turned burial gown. I smelled the fragrance of the lilies.
I sensed the sides of my casket close all around. I remembered seeing a horror movie once about a woman being locked into a coffin by some madman. The image was of a casket as a prison, locking her inside. But now that didn't seem right at all. I felt as if I was in a safe, warm bed; not a prison, but instead a perfect shelter from the world.
I became aware of people passing by. Some paused but a moment then went on. Others stood or kneeled before the casket, seemingly lost in their thoughts. I could hear whispered prayers. While I could not understand the words somehow I knew the words were unimportant. The love they represented seemed to take form as a shimmering light that grew in intensity with each offered prayer. I felt wave upon wave of the cool silver light surrounding me, flowing over me, filling me. I felt as if I was losing myself, willingly, in the overpowering radiance. I felt both a growing elation and a sense of total peace greater than anything I had known. I felt myself floating, flying, lifted ever higher, deeper into the light.
Then all went black. I felt as if a mountain had crushed down on my soul. I opened my eyes and the light was gone. I was standing in the visitation room of the funeral home. All my friends and family were gone. The funeral director was fastening the latches on my now closed casket.
This morning I rode in the hearse as they carried me to church. I watched as they placed my casket on the bier at the front and placed the flowers all around. All the guests have arrived. The church is packed. I never realized how many people cared about me.
The service is just beginning but already I see a shaft of the ethereal light surrounding my casket. It is already stronger and brighter than at my wake. I suppose that is because everyone is praying together. I know that all I have to do is step into the light and surrender to it and I will be swept away to somewhere wonderful beyond imagining.
I know what will happen here. In a little while the service will be over. They will carry me, that other me in the casket, back to the hearse. They will drive me to the cemetery, say a few appropriate words, and then they will lower me into the grave that even now is open and waiting.
If I stay I fear the blackness will come crashing down as they shovel the earth over me. I feel the light reaching out. I sense its peace. Its time for me to go.