My dad's cousin Peter died on a Monday. I knew he was sick, but got the call from my father in the afternoon. I'm not sure if they're telling Pete's mothers. She's old, in her eighties, sick and frail, and no one's sure if she can handle the news.
He was only 62 years old.
He had kids in high school and college. My prayers go to them, their immediate family, and to his parents generation (which my grandfather is a part of). I know they're taking this hard. I didn't interact with Peter's family much throughout my life, but I saw them at functions every few years. Peter had a vibrant and eccentric personality. He would crack everyone up. Apparently he got really religious the last few years too (his brother would jokingly call him a priest).
I learned recently that my father was close with him during their childhood. Pete and his parents came from Greece, through Canada, and to my dad's parents house for a summer as they were finding a place. Apparently him and my dad would get into all sorts of trouble. I heard they climbed through some sewers as pre-teens and got busted by Yiayia Irene. It sounds like the shenanigans Stephen and I would pull, but not recorded through digital cameras.
It's funny to think of my dad as having a "stupid kid" phase (with Peter as his partner in crime).
The phrase "stupid kid" has a special significance to me. As early as I can remember anything, I remember my dad giving me a manila folder with black sharpie scribbled on it. It was a collection of newspaper clippings, of kids dying doing incredibly stupid things (like sticking your head out of bus windows, or playing "Open Chest" with your friends, a game where you take turns punching each other in the heart.) Any time my brother, cousins, or I did anything remotely stupid, out came the "stupid kids" folder. The lesson was to not become an article in the folder.
This random summer from the 1970s was before my time, and it only exists in my imagination. Despite the sadness of recent death, it triggers in me a kind of lens where I see people at all ages at once, rather than just their current state.
I think of Peter's kids and Peter's great-grandfather, Kosta, as the same age. There's a whole generation of 50+ Greek-Americans, who all trace back to Kosta. I've only seen pictures of Kosta as middle-aged man in a military uniform with a Hitler-style mustache. Despite that, I know that at one point in his life, he was a seventeen year kid at the beginning of the 20th century. He was living a rustic lifestyle, starting a family, struggling, and blind to the hyper-technological future his offspring would burst into. Most of all, he was blind to the fact that he would personally spawn a full reception-hall of people that would each experience the full spectrum of life.
Beyond sadness, death has the potential to trigger two things, a mystery that shoots both backwards and forwards: a mystery around our roots, and a mystery around the future.
Antibody Dependent Enhancement
Pete has a minor heart complication, but was relatively healthy otherwise. A few weeks ago, he got a COVID booster shot (his 3rd vaccine). He became sick almost immediately and was hospitalized within 24 hours. He got progressively worse over two weeks and died on a ventilator.
No one is quite sure what happened. What's strange is that he tested positive for COVID soon after he got the shoot. My fear is that something called "antibody dependent enhancement" (ADE) occurred. I can't say for sure. But I've been researching this phenomenon on-and-off for a few months. I told myself, it's not worth obsessing over, but if signs of it start showing up, it's worth paying attention.
I'll try to explain ADE in a short and non-medical way. It's complex and loaded term that's hijacked by anti-vaxxers. Basically, it's a kind of reaction that's possible when multiple variations of a virus exist among a population. We can understand it through Dengue fever, a virus that has 4 stable variants (let's call them A, B, C, and D).
- If you get B first, you get a minor flu, recover, and build anti-bodies.
- If you get B again, you're protected.
- But, if you have antibodies for B, and then get strain A, C, or D, you're in trouble.
Antibodies from B aren't just ineffective at stopping other strains, but they trigger something called a "cytokine storm." It's an immune system overreaction that stems from the antibodies being non-neutralizing. It works like a chain-reaction. It can get you hospitalized within 24 hours.
So to summarize, ADE is when the antibodies of one strain trigger a reaction with a new one, that results in the rapid-onset of symptoms. I wonder if Pete somehow contracted Delta right before he got the booster shot (which was likely the original variant of COVID). I'm sure with a bit more information, this can be debunked. Regardless, what happened to Peter doesn't fit the mold. It was an unusual reaction to a vaccine, and it's worth questioning.
I know that from 2003-2019, when there were efforts to develop a "pan-coronavirus" vaccine, the risk of ADE made their prototypes unsuccessful. I also heard that the recent round of booster shots were denied by the FDA (could this be ADE related?) There aren't any signals of COVID-induced ADE yet, but given the rapid pace of mutation, it's not hard to imagine it suddenly arriving. If the word "ADE" starts making it's way into news-cycles, it's a sign that an unexpected and unimaginable phase is on the verge of erupting. I hope we don't have to experience that nightmare.
Coping with Death & Thoughts on the Afterlife
Coincidentally, before I got the news, Liz and I talked about coping with death and the afterlife on our morning walk.
We usually have expectations for how long our relationship with given people will go on for. Accidents aside, my wife and I can picture ourselves growing old and dying together. If something takes one of us in the next 1, 5, 10, or 20 years, it will be an unexpected tragedy.
I find it helpful to remove our expectations on the length of our relationships. Take time out of the equation. Regardless if someone is deceased or out of touch, we can be grateful for the fact they overlapped with our life at all. At the scale of the trillion-year cosmic clock, there's no difference between a 5 and 50 year relationship. It's a thought experiment easier thought than done. We underestimate how much of our identity is shaped by our co-existence with others. It's a mindset that takes work and consistency to develop, but it leaves you with appreciation for the little moments you have with people, and it honors the mystery of being.
Our talk naturally dovetailed into the "what happens when you die" question. I've had a whacky theory since I've heard about DMT. It's probably a re-mixed version of a Terence McKenna theory, but here it is:
The Christian model of the after-life sees heaven as another dimension where all baptized souls go to. It's like a post-biological Metaverse for angels. It's spatial. It's invisible, but it moves in sync with the same time-wave that our reality is in. This lets passed-souls "look down on us," send us messages, and guide us.
What if heaven is a realm of consciousness that is experienced solely within each persons mind? What if heaven is near-eternal for the experiencer, but ends 10 minutes after biological death?
DMT could be the culprit that makes this possible. Apparently it's responsible for dreams. It's a plant substance and toad venom, that if congested, sends you to a weird hallucinatory world outside of space-time. Whitecoats say the brain is active for 10 minutes after death. Neuroscience lore says that at the moment of death, the pineal gland floods the brain with it's full reservoir of DMT. It's the trip of trips. The mega-trip. The last trip. The odyssey. It's perhaps a phase of life that's more substantial that our stable homo-sapien existence.
Could DMT be the agent responsible for an afterlife? At the moment of death, it could unlock a kind of biological virtual reality. The transition from physical body to sheer mental plane is a kind of metamorphosis. We move through our human-life like a caterpillar, accumulate karmic experiences, which then blossoms like a butterfly into an eternal dream.
A few implications:
- The deceased are no longer with us in the spatial or temporal sense. Soon after their death, they experience an evolution of human consciousness that we can barely comprehend. The very next day, before their funeral, their odyssey is already over. While this sounds sad, we should celebrate the moment of passing as the moment they escape linear time.
- Even though the past are gone from our reality, we carry their essence with us into our own afterlife. They will appear there, just like they appear in dreams and trips. Even figures we haven't met, such as Jesus, could materialize, as if they were flesh, right in front of us. These figures in our dreams aren't agents of free-will, but they are autonomous, almost like an AI-powered-ehteric-tulpa, trained off our life experiences. While it isn't them, it's a recreated image of them that can be just as emotionally powerful. I think it's uplifting, and points to the truth of "eternal love."
- In this model, karma holds true. Your relationships, your values, your guilt, your identity - all the material from your life will be the source material that the afterlife is built from. That being said, this place isn't bound by physics or matter. It's a realm of imagination. While your memories serve as the foundation, they will sublimated into non-human, non-rational scenarios.
- Psychedelics, dreams, near-death experiences, meditation - as a society we ponder the purpose of theses states. Maybe they are a way to preview what happens after death. It's a preview of the place we will permanently find ourselves lodged within. This means that temporarily experiencing these states during our life might be the most important thing we can do. Becoming a psychonaut, while scary, is a way to build a ship that helps you navigate the post-life odyssey. When you escape linear time and disappear into a hypnagogic void, it helps to know how to swim.
- If this afterlife is a function of the brain, then the way you die might have an affect on the nature of it. We can think of dying as a kind of birth, a kind of meta-morphosis of our consciousness into a new mode of being. Like physical births, abortions are possible. Perhaps this kind of DMT-powered afterlife isn't an experience that is automatically granted to every living thing in the physical plane. What if the way you die matters? Imagine how a nuclear bomb would disrupt the metamorphosis process. If your body and mind are instantly disintegrated, perhaps the "blink into darkness" model of death holds true. Perhaps hardware is still required for this kind of afterlife.