More than a few years ago I died. Or almost died. An ectopic pregnancy burst a fallopian tube causing internal hemorrhaging. I fell down in a driveway, lost consciousness, and felt life ebbing away. From terrible pain I transitioned into an an ecstatic state of bliss. I found myself floating down that river, looking up to a beautiful sky. Filled with wonder and exhilaration, I remember thinking, "Why are we so afraid of dying? This feels so perfectly safe, so right." Luckily (or unluckily) help arrived and I was rushed to a hospital. Every day since has felt like a gift. But when I try to remember and faithfully transcribe that moment of "death," the experience eludes me.
How to write about death? It is part of life and all around us. Even though our culture tends to obscure ordinary death and glamorize violent death (while hiding its real impact) we rarely confront the truth, even as our grandparents, parents, and other loved ones leave us.
How does death affect the ordinary human being and how does a writer (who strives to depict reality as accurately as possible) write about it? Some writers imagine a conscious afterlife, imagine the person who has exited this world, (e.g. The Lovely Bones) still observing and sharing the tribulations of the ones they've left behind. Othe writers try to imagine the experience of leaving this life and passing on to a version of heaven or hell or other post-life existence, based on their beliefs. Some take a humorous interpretation with angels directing human affairs and leading souls to heaven.
But as far as I know, despite the numerous ghost stories, "near death experiences" and more recent (questionable and optimistic) books such as Heaven is for Real, and Proof of Heaven, there has been no scientific evidence of anyone who has actually died, coming back to tell of the experience.
So how to write about death? If you write in the first person, unless you want to veer off into fantasy, the consciousness ends with death. As an observer, have you had the experience of witnessing death? Of someone you knew? Loved? How did it affect you? Can you describe it in clear-eyed detail without making it maudlin or melodramatic?
Having held the hands of both parents as they died, I've shared in their last moments, yet it is a difficult task to write of their passing. (As you can see, I still need the euphemism of "passing.") My current novel depicts a suicide and another death, and as I struggle to present a truthful picture, I keep in mind the adage that often guides me: "Less is more." As Hemingway suggested I strive to show only the tip of the iceberg. I stick to small specific details and hope the reader is capable of supplying the emotion needed. WRITE ON!