Chit-Chat on Death Gives Life to my Pen

By Peter Duffy

Just a word of warning before you join us in this booth. You may find the topic we’re discussing unsettling. I know I do, and it was my idea in the first place.

We’re talking about the scariest topic in life – death.

I’m having lunch with Darryll Walsh, the Halifax author and ghost hunter. He and I met 18 months ago and hit it off so well that he let me tag along on two of his haunted house expeditions.

When he’s not writing and ghost-chasing, Darryll, 37, lectures on the paranormal at the local community college. His next session starts mid-March and includes physical and psychological processes of death.

That’s what prompted me to call him and ask for this interview. The older I get, the more I catch myself pondering the Grim Reaper, not to the point of dwelling on it far from it. It’s more that I’m well, um, curious.

So I phoned Daryll and asked if he’d share his thoughts on the topic, given that he’s going to be lecturing on it.

The ever-affable Darryll readily agreed, and so here we are, meeting for a late lunch. (He orders fish and chips; I settle for a coffee because I ate earlier.)

Before we begin, I apologize for taking his time. Death is death, right? Perhaps there isn’t all that much to talk about, after all.

Don’t be too sure, he replies, pointing to several large textbooks he’s brought with him.

“Death has always fascinated me,” he admits. “I guess it’s why I’m chasing ghosts.”

And so we get into it, goosebumps and all.

“What do you suppose is going through the mind,” I ask him, “right at the moment of death?”

“Someone going through death,” says Daryll, “how they lived, their preconceived ideas of what happens after, their religious beliefs, their family, it all comes together at the moment of death – as long as they’re not killed instantly.”

His research suggests there are four different kinds of dying. There’s instantaneous death; there’s acute dying, which make take a few moments and follows, say, a heart attack Then there’s dying in shock, where there’s not enough blood to keep all the organs going, so they shut down one at a time.

The last kind, he says, is the one we all would like to experience. Lying in bed, surrounded by our loved ones.

I interrupt. But in each case, is death instantaneous?

There’s no clearly defined answer, he replies. Death may actually occur over half an hour, depending on the cause.

He says that the brain goes quickly, within 10 minutes, The heart, however, can take three times as long to come to rest.

Darryll’s meal arrives, and he digs in. I sit, pondering all he’s been saying especially that bit about having time to gather our loved ones around us.

“But how do you know when you’re dying?”

Darryll lays down his knife and fork. You know, he replies, because the brain knows. The brain is constantly monitoring our internal systems at a subconscious level.

“It knows when you’re dying …. It knows you’re not going to get better.”

The subconscious speaks to the conscious, he continues. “It says, ‘If you’ve got anything to say, say it now!’”

That explains the sudden rally some people have just before the end.

“It’s almost like the body (says), ‘Not yet, I’ve something to do’”

Again, I interrupt. “At this point, is it the soul that’s speaking?”

“There’s so much to it,” he replies. “The word ‘cortex’ doesn’t really explain it, (but) a soul would want to say good-bye.”

The body isn’t the soul, he reminds me. The body is the receptacle, prone to disease.

“The soul doesn’t get cancer.”

That’s a comforting thought, I tell him, one I sometimes forget.

“What do you suppose makes up the soul?” I press him.

Darryll brings up the subject of the brain and the mind. Some people believe the brain takes care of the physical aspects of the body, whereas the mind is an extension of the soul.

“The mind is the instrument that the soul uses to communicate,” he suggests.

Does he believe in an afterlife?

Darryll, who’s Catholic, shrugs. “It’s a 50-50 proposition,” he replies. “If there isn’t, you don’t have to worry about it.”

And if there is? Again, a slight shrug. “I’ve tried to live a reasonably good life. I believe in God.”

And no, he doesn’t think there’s a hell of fire and brimstone waiting. He does believe, however, in purgatory, a way station where souls are purged or punished and made ready for heaven.

“The Being puts you through a life review,” he says. “You’ll feel what they felt, every other person you’ve helped or hurt.”

Darryll doubts near-death experiences give a true insight into what haven is like. There’s always some impediment, he says, some boundary in the way, like a bridge, a river or a wall.

“But many people who come back have a bit of an idea,” he muses. “Death has changed them for good.”

Whatever it is, he says, it shouldn’t be feared.

Darryll finished his meal and leans back.

“And you were afraid you wouldn’t have enough to talk about!” he chuckles.

Silly me.

And now, wiser me.