Today I learned that after you die, your brain stays alive for ten minutes. The last part of your brain to die is the hippocampus, which is part of the limbic system that regulates emotions, and is associated mainly with long-term memories. You know how people report in near death experiences that they have their, “life flash before their eyes”? That must be the hippocampus playing a movie. Perhaps, even after death, your brain is still working to end your story with an emotionally tinged review of your life. I’d like to think your brain’s last job, even after the rest of your body is still, is to paint a peaceful picture by recalling the meaningfulness of your time on this earth. This could apply no matter what the circumstances of your death, which I find comforting.
I have been studying the brain lately and see that the hippocampus is part of the temporal lobe of the brain. The temporal lobe is involved in hearing and processing sound. So, the temporal lobe is like “Alexa”- you can ask her to play any music you want! I think after death, when the hippocampus is playing that video of your life, the music is up to your temporal lobe. I personally would request Debussy’s, “Clair de lune” (piano music).
Ash Wednesday falls on Valentines Day this year. On Ash Wednesday Catholics and many other Christians submit to having cross-shaped ashes traced on their foreheads as a reminder, “thou art dust and to dust thou shalt return.” It reminds us that we are mortal, that it is a time to be humble, to be faithful and to reflect on the meaning of life. Though the pressure on Valentines Day to show love with candy and flowers can sometimes feel artificial or awkward, the spirit of the holiday is about giving expressions of love from the heart. It can help us pause from doing other work and focus on extending care to those close to us. This adds to living a meaningful life. Sincere gestures from the heart, no matter how small, may even create some of those precious long-term memories that we hold even after death.
So our brain lives after death to make meaning and we are reminded on Ash Wednesday that our lives are short and to make our lives purposeful. Valentines Day is about giving expressions from the heart that can supply a feeling of being loved in the receiver, which can become part of their precious memories…unless you went to CVS drugstore at the last minute and bought that small purple stuffed animal sitting on a plastic bowl of tootsie rolls (which you should know by now that she hates), instead of getting her those gourmet organic dark chocolates with 70-80% cacao (which you should know by now that she loves).
Happy Valentine’s Day!