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What People Don't Realise

A short story by Andrea Snyman. Some stories begin where you think they end.

What people don’t realise is that death isn’t what they think it is.


You find yourself in a waiting room…Sitting comfortably on the couch. It’s not too cold, it’s not too warm…It even comes complete with old school elevator type music. They probably figured a setting as familiar as a doctor’s office would be calming, but then they never met my orthodontist. He is still very much alive and torturing little children with braces and head-gear. Only the good die young. You know that someone will be with you soon, and not just because that is what the sign on the door says…but because you instinctively know that a waiting room, is for waiting.

This is a strange story you have stumbled upon. Have you ever seen the movie “Sliding Doors” with Gwenyth Paltrow? This story is a lot like that…but instead you’re dead, and the movie DIDN’T suck.


What people don’t realise about death is, that instead of being a creepy looking hooded figure, with bony fingers…Death looks a lot like your run of the mill, hair bun and pearl wearing therapist. She has a poster framed on the wall saying “nothing is certain except therapists and taxes.”

I have many questions, but for some reason it not the big questions about life and the universe and how it all came to be, which you always thought would be the questions you’d ask when you got to this point in your “life.” Instead you wonder about the small questions that are more specific to your life and decisions you have made…about things that were in your power to affect. Things that you made better…things that you made worse… Things you were too scared to try (and those haunt you the most.) She explains to you that whatever you discuss is completely confidential, and that there are no right or wrong answers. I just smile since I come from a Human Resources background and we told people that all the time – but it is a lie. There is always a right or wrong answer.

I find out that everything I have said and thought and done will not be revealed to anyone else, unless I want it to be. The things I have said and thought and done that I am not proud of…those die with me. I am relieved to hear that. What purpose would knowing all of those things serve but to hurt someone? I come to understand that dying is nature’s way of ending pain and suffering rather than causing it – something very hard to grasp while you are alive. I get that now. Dying has already made me a better person.

Death offers me three things: the opportunity to revisit some choices I have made in my life; the possibility of “visiting” my loved-ones in spirit to set my mind at ease that they are doing fine; and coffee. I take mine with Condensed milk – I really did know how to live!


What people don’t realise about death is, that similar to life, it’s a journey of self-discovery. If you weren’t thorough, or all that good at it in life, then you get to be in death. Death walks me to the elevator. There isn’t an “Up” or “Down” button to press, and she laughs when I tell her I was hoping to deduce from the button whether I am on my way to heaven or hell. She explains to me that this journey is not about good or bad, right or wrong, saving or condemning. Nothing in life, or death, is as black and white as we were led to believe.

We step into the elevator and the doors open somewhere that seems familiar to me. The air is warm and dry. I can smell the iron rich soil and I hear all the familiar noises. This is my childhood, my little mining town – almost too small to be on any map in those years. It’s good to be back here, but I am confused. At this age and stage of my life, adults made decisions FOR me – I am not sure what I could learn about myself here.

We sit on the grass near the spot I used to play with my friends on the school yard. The break-time bell rings and children start flooding from classroom doors. My eye catches a little girl that I immediately recognise by the ribbons in her hair, her plump pink cheeks and her laugh. What a strange sensation, looking at yourself from the outside. I must be about ten and I don’t seem to have a care in the world. It’s been a long time since I have seen a little girl that relaxed and happy. Why do we think that as you become older you find yourself? Watching myself, I am convinced that as we become older we lose ourselves instead.


What people don’t realise about death is, that we die a little every day. We die a little each time we say goodbye to someone we care for without telling them we love them. We die a little each time we promise ourselves “I will, tomorrow.” We die a little each time we don’t dance or sing along to a song that moves us. We die a lot each time we judge someone without trying to understand them. 

I sit beside myself on the warm, green grass – watching as I play and listening to the overactive imagination I had. Apparently my friends and I are Ninja Turtles, and the little cobblestone footpath that runs through the lawn is lava that you aren’t allowed to touch. We pretend our sandwiches are pizza, which we get to enjoy after defeating the bad guys. A person standing behind us casts a shadow over us – I remember this day. The school yard bully has had his fill of picking on other boys, it seems. I proudly look at Death and tell her to watch what happens next, as the school yard bully underestimates me and he ends up with a bloody nose. Everyone is laughing at him – they saw how the feisty little girl, with pink cheeks and ribbons in her hair, half his size, stood up to a bully.

The feisty little girl wasn’t particularly hungry – and had she been asked she would have probably shared her sandwich – but it came down the principle of the thing. She didn’t negotiate with terrorists and was told that a show of strength was how you responded to bullies. It achieved the desired result…The bully was embarrassed and one for one, others stood up to him as well. I don’t know what happened to the bully – he stopped coming to school and I heard he went to prison years later.

Death asks me if I believe that a small, seemingly insignificant action could change the course of an entire life. Initially I am slightly annoyed at Death, who hasn’t given me a pat on the back or a high-five for what she just witnessed, but I turn my attention to the question I was asked. I don’t have an answer ready, as I have always been in two minds whether we have a predetermined destiny or create our own. 


I find myself at a house I have never seen before. It’s very different from the one I grew up in. The lawn is dead and dusty, the wooden windows and porch are cracked and falling apart, and the paint is peeling off the walls, inside and outside. Not all of the windows have curtains and none of the furniture matches. The house smells of cigarette smoke and there are no toys lying around. There is no music or laughter, or wonderful smells wafting from the kitchen from things being cooked or baked. I recognise the figure as the front door slams behind him – it’s the schoolyard bully. He walks to the kitchen and searches through some drawers and cupboards…I wonder what he is looking for? I realise they are all empty. He must be starving since he did not take anyone’s lunch today. It’s a warm day like always here, and he removes his school shirt revealing many bruises and wounds. He walks to what I assume is his room, which he clearly shares with many other siblings, and he starts to punch at a drywall, adding a couple of fresh holes to some existing ones. I have never seen a boy as young as him with so much anger. 

I feel slightly ashamed as I admit to Death how I was convinced I am the hero in that story all my life…but perhaps I was the villain instead. Death smiles at me, telling me how I was neither. I was just a little girl, standing in front of a little boy, asking him not to take her sandwich. We laugh, and I appreciate her knowing that humour has always been a way to get through to me. I ask whether responding with kindness that day would have made a significant difference.


We are back on the warm, green grass. A person standing behind us casts a shadow over us. It’s the school yard bully. This time I tell him he is welcome to have my sandwich, but only if he would be willing to pretend that it is pizza, and if he can manage to “escape” our Ninja Turtle gang. He plays along, although he has never seen the cartoon. The day after that I share my sandwich with him again, and invite him to watch the cartoon at my house, on the other side of town from where he lives. It doesn’t take long for us to become best friends and for Mom to pack me two lunches to school each day.

The young boy became less and less angry. He became a wonderful husband and father, and had the most beautiful green lawn, a warm and inviting home filled with toys, laughter and mouth-watering smells wafting from the kitchen.

I tell Death what a great plot this would be for a movie, and how I would love it if Emma Stone played me. I would add a plot twist off-course… that you become reincarnated as a person you misunderstood or wronged, until you eventually become the best version of yourself. She makes a note on her little notepad as she peeks at me over her spectacles and says, "Wouldn’t that be something?!” We talk about some of our all-time favourite movies... Did you know that Death is a huge fan of Kevin Smith movies? We laugh as she quotes a line from “Clerks” saying, “I wasn’t even supposed to be here today??!!” Classic.

We travel to many other times and places during my life, mostly to moments I thought were insignificant but I learn that they weren’t.


What people don’t realise about death is, while you are alive you are writing with pencil, and death writes with a pen. Nothing is permanent and can’t be undone, until you are in her waiting room.

We visit profound moments as well, those you full-well know shaped who you are with no uncertainty. Some of those moments you would rather forget – losing a loved one at a very early age… or losing some of your innocence and self-worth as someone takes advantage of your trust. Death helps you to understand that a shorter life-span doesn’t translate into receiving less love; there is no need to feel cheated. And surviving a situation where you were powerless teaches a person empathy… Those who once had very little power understand the responsibility of having it, and not abusing it. Without learning empathy you can never become the best version of yourself.

We also travel to moments I enjoy reliving – there are many! I sing “Love lift us up where we belong” by Joe Cocker, apologising since she has probably heard that one a thousand times in the elevator. “Not as often as you would think” she replies, which I take as approval to continue with my performance.

As we visit all of these times in my life which I haven’t thought about in years, I find myself becoming whole, I feel myself understanding. Seeing things as they are, and as they could have been, doesn’t make you happy or sad, doesn’t bring relief or regret – instead, you just understand. Certain things are infinitely simpler than you imagined, and certain things are considerably more complex. I have always thought that everything and everyone is merely a part of a much larger whole and that it all comes down to quantum entanglement. Particles can become linked and remain connected and one affect the other, even when separated by great distances. I have never understood much about science, but that has always made sense to me. I ask Death if she believes the law of entanglement, to which she replies that anyone who has ever met their soul mate would agree with me.


What people don’t realise about death is, that death isn’t the opposite of life, but an extension of it.

I am back on the couch in Death’s office. It’s been a long day but instead of tired, I feel revived and, strangely enough – alive. Death tells me that this is all the time we have for today, and asks me if I have any questions for her, which I of course do… I ask her those questions about creation, how big the universe is, are there alien civilizations, or a secret base on the dark side of the moon? As she answers all of my questions my mind is blown! Wow, we were way off!!

She reminds me that if I ever need to talk, I know where to find her.

Death smiles at me and says how lovely it’s been to meet me. Under different circumstances we could have probably been best friends, she says…but she is always working. I shrug my shoulders and say “Such is death, right?!” This is where we must go our separate ways – the next destination I travel to without her. She shakes my hand and I get back into the elevator. After a little while the door opens and I take a look around….I just smile to myself as I think: “I knew it!”


The End







This story is protected by International Copyright Law, by the author, all rights reserved. If found posted anywhere other than with this note attached, it has been posted without my permission.

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