The Last Frontier
Exploring Afterlife and
Transforming Death

Julia Assante
(New World Library)
Julia Assante regularly --- and, apparently, easily --- communicates with the dead. She reports back to us that it is not a world of shades, ghosts, moans, hell-fire and brimstone. Nor is it the heavenly acres filled with angels and men in robes, men with white beards and blue eyes. In fact, she reports, it's scarcely different than where we are now. Except that it is far less hellish. "For those who have met death, the recurrent nightmare is finally over."

    When they return, there is no sense of having triumphed over death or having conquered it. How can you triumph over what feels like a homecoming, an escape from jail, or an awakening?

"Survival after death becomes an unshakable truth; the cosmic infrastructure of benevolence, a palpable reality."

Those of us who sit with the dying may find it hard to accept this. One who is on the edge may thrash about, perish in a way "that horrifies those around them." We ourselves may look back on their going with tears, regret, anger or defiance.

However, she assures us, "for the dead themselves, the last moment is rarely that important." Which, she says, "they will tell you if they get the chance." The dead, she claims, are happy to be out of it. They are, also, around us from time to time, trying to get our attention.

They leave clues everywhere: smells, odd sounds, freak occurrences. A bird that hovers too near us. A familiar aroma at home, but one that has no obvious source. The phone will ring, but when we pick it up, there is no one, or only strange sounds. Ill-defined figures hovering about (day or night).

In fact, Assante sees living as the horror ... the coming of death as a pleasure. Our dying and our death are all presaged, exactly played out by us, the living. "We choose when and how we die,"

    a fact that may be difficult to accept for now, especially since these deep, personal choices are very seldom conscious ones.

In our innermost self --- the place some call the "subconscious," the "unconscious," or (for her) "that inner place,"

    the future is known. Just below waking consciousness, we try out probable futures and pick which ones we want manifested. We cannot exist without this future-probing mechanism, nor can we die without it.

She tells of one of her clients whose son died of AIDS. The mother went into deep mourning, refused to leave the house, would not eat or sleep. According to Assante, Al --- her son --- returned to "take control," yelled at his mother to stop brooding.

    He was perfectly all right. [He was] not really dead. No one is really dead.

She speaks of people she knows who have died ... and who end up attending their own funerals. In one case, "Edward was an active presence at his funeral and positively thrilled to be dead."

There is no facet of death and dying that the author leaves untouched. She treats with the death of the very young (she says they usually return quickly, to the same family). She tells of "visitors from beyond," visions that come to the dying. She speaks of angels, and quotes a Christian physician, John Lerma, who does extensive hospice work. He reported that ninety percent of the patients he worked with "saw angels."

    Some of the patients Lerma attended described angels of different colors, gold, blue, and even black, complete with feathered wings.

"He was also reported that up to forty angels could be in the room as the hour of death approached. "Crowded scenes," she says, "are not unusual."

She herself has had visitations from these spirits, but reveals that "they did not fly around or descend from heaven."

    To my vision, they appear in the form of tall, slender humans, all possessing an almost identical beauty, which is delicate of feature, youthful, and androgynous.

There, the resemblance to humanity ends. "They seem to have neither substance nor real color. They appear to be composed of a fluid luminosity, their features traced out in a living ink of shimmering, deep liquid gold." Her thought is that angels appear to set up a sacred space, a "safety zone" through which the dying are able to make passage.

§   §   §

What are we to make of this, the author's infectious if not joyous view of the Great Beyond? I often thought, as I went through it, that they book had been mistitled. It should have been called The Joy of Dying. She herself calls it "the Miracle Cure." For back-up, she refers to us of those who have gone through near-death experience, because "they will all tell you that death is the best thing that could ever happen to anyone."

    The great majority have reported experiences so sublime, so sacred, they cannot find the words to describe them.

Those of us who are dying, that is, all of us, may find The Last Frontier to be reassuring. In fact, as I was reading this, I was thinking of keeping this copy on hand if I had a close friend on the brink of death. For what we have here is a rather bracing vision of our demise as being something to be looked forward to. Or, as Cleopatra had it,

    The stroke of death is as a lover's pinch,
    Which hurts, and is desired.

Ask someone in their eighties or nineties with a thousand aches and pains (plus the loss of so many of their friends and relatives) if they truly think of dying as the worst fate. Perhaps it is "the Miracle Cure."

§   §   §

As for previous lives and the chance that you and I will return ... we must observe that if this is true, then there is no need to invent a hell for the sinners among us. Christianity itself is chockablock full of rebirth (it's called The Resurrection), and for those of us not necessarily of the Christian belief system, having to go through life, here, all over again (and again, and again) should enough to scare any of us straight.

Angels? The dead hovering about? Spirits? Most of my friends have had those weird experiences that cannot be easily explained away. When my friend Hugh died I flew 3,000 miles across the country for his last rites. I got a good cry ... and I suspect he had a good laugh.

Fifty or so of his friends and lovers sat around his living room telling each other what a great guy he was. Smack dab in the middle of this ceremony his lance fell down. It was an old African pike, used for hunting, something he had brought back from Uganda many years ago.

It was firmly nailed to the wall, but after a particularly specious speech ennobling him, praising him to the skies, this not so lightweight object smashed down. Hugh being Hugh --- never wanting ever to hurt any of us --- the spear fell neatly and squarely between a half-dozen people, missing us by only inches ... but, still, missing us. This strong and gentle act was very much Hugh's style to the very end.

--- L. W. Milam
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