For many it is scripture and religion, and for me that is true to some extent. But it is also the lessons taught in life, and part of my life is literature. In times of loss, my sanctuary of late, outside of my family and church, has been a single work by Richard Matheson, one of the legends of speculative fiction—his novel, What Dreams May Come. After I saw the 1998 film with Robin Williams (also a loss to all, R.I.P.), I read the book and it is the one novel I feel everyone should read who has suffered a loss.
The 1978 novel is a masterpiece about the afterlife. The story is based on a manuscript communicated by the narrator’s deceased brother, who provides his account of the great beyond. Matheson considered this book the most important he had ever written. It is the most thought-provoking, spiritually satisfying, and comforting novel I have ever read about death, the afterlife, and, as the title states, “What dreams may come.” I recommend this book to everyone. Here is my favorite passage from its final chapter:
Life on earth is only a panorama of vivid observations which seem real to you.
Why should afterlife seem less real?
Let me not confuse you though.
It will seem real enough to you.
And, please, my brother, do not fear it.
Death is not the king of terrors.
Death is a friend.
Consider it this way. Do you fear to sleep at night? Of course not. Because you know that you will wake again.
Think of death the same way. As a sleep from which, inevitably, you will awaken.
True life is a process of becoming. Death is a stage in this progression. Life is not followed by un-life.
There is only a single continuity of being.
We are part of a plan, never doubt that. A plan to bring each one of us to the highest level of which we are capable. The way will be dark at times but it leads, assuredly, to light.
– Richard Matheson, What Dreams May Come