On Death and Dying

Our 88 year old friend Doig Simmonds sent us this profound text a few weeks ago, which he has kindly given us permission to share:

"To my friend

I'll try and explain to you what it is like to die.

First, I want you to reverse the way you think. 
We have always thought that being alive was the original thing, that we were not alive before we were conceived. In fact, it is just the opposite. We have been alive all the time. Death is a reunion; life is a separation.

We have imagined a spiritual place consisting of heaven and hell, with god in charge of one and the devil in charge of the other. We think that when we die, we'll inevitably go to either of these 'places' end of story. We also seem to think that we will meet our loved ones again and that there is a sort of everlasting existence in these places.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The truth is that heaven and hell are right here with us NOW. And so are our loved ones.

Death is our becoming part of the universal DNA - part of everything and existing everywhere or nowhere, for both these descriptions are the same, they are not 'places'. As you enter death or as death embraces you, the overriding sensation is one of indescribable joy; it is a returning to - a process of becoming. It is the most exciting LOVE you could ever feel. It even takes you beyond feeling. It is a total absorption. A dissolving into something so big, so universal, that it has no dimension. It is to experience infinity just before you become part of it and therefore transports you beyond experience.

I think you will be amazed.

A colleague of Ruth's prepared for her own death by leaving clear instructions: everybody was welcome to the church service but they were not to come to the crematorium. This last journey she instructed, was to be taken only by herself and the priest. She said she wanted to do this part "on my own". And she left the congregation with a printed slip which said: "Thank you all - for everything, and God bless you all. It is exciting looking ahead to what is beyond our present senses. Love and thanks - Joyce".

Now you may also want to know how I came to be so informed about death. I have died twice and each time it was as I described above. Also my grand father had the same experience. He was absolutely afraid of death, he was ill and failing, and was terrified until the inevitable happened. But - when the ambulance arrived to take him away he was resuscitated. When he came back to consciousness he was frightfully angry with those who had delivered him from death. Saying in a loud voice " why the bloody hell have you brought me back". He too had seen the light and was never again afraid to die which he eventually did a few weeks later.

It is natural for those of us who have had a 'good life' to be sad about saying 'good bye' to it, to all the things we have enjoyed, the pleasures we have had, loves we have participated in, the experiences which have enriched us and the memories where all this is enshrined.

But remember too that sadness and joy are conjoined twins. Each needs the other but in the end they are one.

Yours with love,


Doig Simmonds lived in Nigeria from the 1950s to the 1970s and initially worked at the University of Ibadan, setting up the medical illustration department. He worked with Frank Speed on several of his films and went on to set up the Cape Coast museum in Ghana.  He is currently revising his 1970s book on Adire cloth and making a film on Nigerian pottery.


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