Author: Ray Brown

Publisher: O-Books (John Hunt Publishing Ltd.)

ISBN: 978 1 84694 418 5

Click Here To Purchase In Unexpected Places: Death and dying ? building up a picture

Ray Brown points out that our information avalanche contains little to help us probe the nature of death. I would agree. Our obsession with longevity seems to preclude it. Not since Elizabeth Kubler-Ross wrote Death & Dying (1969) has there been a widely acceptable context in which to bring up the subject. The Swiss-born psychiatrist nudged us toward hospice care with her analysis of the emotional stages we can expect to go through expecting to die. A more specialized audience welcomed Death to Dust (1994, 2001), by Kenneth V. Iserson, M.D., who wrote about the physical process, which he felt had been treated as a kind of “pornography.

Universities offering studies in gerontology usually include a course named something like the title of the Kubler-Ross book. When my father was dying, I enrolled in one, and found myself among young coeds, mainly. When we were given the exercise of drawing death, several responded with depictions of gravestones flanked by flowers. Sad, indeed.

This author goes beyond the grave with an impressive number of spiritual guides to enlighten us with what might be called an integrative approach. Brown examines death as part of a continuum, not the end of a short period of worthwhile (or not) activity. He bases 16 short chapters on prevalent questions, weaving wisdom from “unexpected places” into each. The reader is likely to have many “aha!” moments.

Brown deals first with the overarching concept of “what happens next.” The biggest divide is between the “one lifers” and those who embrace reincarnation. He reminds us that historic treatises chose images to capture the attention of their immediate audiences, so whether Paradise has fountains and temples, or trees and rivers, is of little consequence. The important distinction among the interpretations of afterlife is the length of time one remains there. For some it is forever after, and for others a mere 1,500 years.

Science has sanctified ancient teachings. We are not solid matter but a formation of distinct molecules, invisible to the naked eye. Therefore, is it not reasonable that when we lose breath we lose our form but remain in existence? Aha!

Still, the big question remains: What is the soul? After bodily disintegration, can personality remain intact? Do we have feelings? Are souls individualistic or do they join pulsating choirs of shared experience?

My favorite “aha!” occurred in Chapter Six (“Reaching for the Self”) where Brown distinguishes between the individual and the Soul or Self. The individual reflects personality, the way we want to be seen, but that changes, while Self is our core identity, based on our ideals. Futhermore, Self is receptive to communication from a higher authority. Brown continues in Part Two to discuss “permanence”, the ability to reach the Self. Permanence requires a journey out of the individual into the realm of the mysterious. He moves on to “reconstruction” (of beliefs); and he discusses good and evil and of making a constructive life to mitigate the fear of death (aha!).

Brown demonstrates that one must put considerable intellectual effort into understanding what it means to die. His focus on the continuum and discovery of Self is especially valuable because most books about death help caregivers cope and comfort loved ones left behind, but rarely expand our imaginations as we come to terms with our own good-byes. In Part Three he urges us not to repress thoughts of dying. Having a clearer idea of what we believe will improve our quality of life.

I have two complaints about In Unexpected Places. One is that it lacks an index, so isn’t a “keeper” unless you mark it up or use sticky notes for those “aha!” pages. Secondly, the author is shy of providing credentials except to say that he has been for two decades close to a spiritual advisor.

The publisher makes this statement about the imprint (O-Books):”We aim to publish books that are accessible, constructive and that challenge accepted opinion, both that of academia and the ‘moral majority’.”

Winchester (where the publishing house is) happens to be the final resting place of many important bodies, including those of Alfred the Great, Jane Austen, and Swithun. The latter was an Anglo-Saxon bishop whose reputation for posthumous miracle-working includes forecasting the weather. I would be more at ease recommending this book if the author were to stand up wherever he legally resides and reveal his profession.

Click Here To Purchase In Unexpected Places: Death and dying ? building up a picture