Thank you for sharing that experience. I had a longer journey to this realization than you, but the death of my brother - and his life - taught me not to fear.
I was raised in a secular home and have never believed in a supernatural deity. Strangely enough, though, I never feared my own death but was shaken to the core by the death of my brother. He practiced non-theistic Zen Buddhism and was open and comfortable with his approaching death. We were able to speak about it and about his life but he was very focused on the beauty of each day as it unfolded... each minute. He lived intensely in the present and I treasured that experience. When he died, however, I was really thrown into a black hole inside. I had been his caregiver for so long and had defined my existence through this role. That is what led me, in a sense, to monastic life. Not because I wanted to believe in a god and a heaven and whatnot, but because I sought to live intensely in each moment focusing on the inner life. I also wanted to believe that his essence, in some form, lived on. I still believe that but not in the sense of heaven or reincarnation but rather in the play of energies which are at the core of existence which is devoid of essential memory.
I do not fear death. I live each day and try to be mindful of the world around me in each unfolding of the present moment. I practice death by letting go of "possessions," be they relationships or material, and being aware of my interconnectedness with all things and beings. I enjoy what comes into my life and try to release it with grace when it is time for it to go.
I work in hospice and have experienced death countless times over the years. There is something incredible in the moment of death. There is something palpably different in the room during this transition from life to death... no matter how difficult or relatively easy the passing is. There is a deep quiet and peace. It is a mystery, not in the sense of supernatural but in the sense of being a frontier we know nothing about. How can no-thing... a lack of conscious thought be something to fear? "Fear is the mind-killer... the little death that brings total obliteration." A lot of our problems come with our mind's limited ability to grapple with abstractions which creates unnecessary fear.
All that I know is it strengthens me not to dwell on things I cannot know until it is my time to experience them myself. It is an age old question... what we experience after physical death. But it is irrelevant to my life now. I live each moment and walk with those who face death. I learn from them. There is much suffering in human existence (along with the joy) but I see death as the permanent cessation of suffering.
Anne thank you for also sharing your personal experience with death.
Death, like birth is something all living creatures will go through, so why live in fear of it? I found some comfort in the Mark Twain quote for my loss, and as a way to look at death. I do not claim to know the answers, but I guess I will find out in the end.
I've never been too worried about the afterlife. Who knows what happens after people die? Time will show, for each.
I think it'd make sense to recycle the souls, it would be way more economical than living once and throwing the soul/whatever away after. That would be such waste. ;)
Ever thought about the logistical problems about afterlife? When a christian, jew, or muslim dies, they die, and either go to hell/paradise/whatever, or to hell. But when a hindu dies, his soul is recycled and he is born again as a human, animal, plant or a stone. So... is a hindu always born in the next life as a hindu if he happens to live his next life as a human? Or what if a hindu happens to be born as a christian? Will they be born again as something else, or be defined to whatever his christian religion offers him? Or what if lets say a christian could find the reincarnation more appealing, or a hindu would want to go to heaven or paradise? Wondering that around the religious folks usually gets them confused - how could I possibly consider any other afterlife alternative than what they subscribe to?