― J.R.R. Tolkien
I know I’ve touched on the topic of an afterlife before, but I feel it needs a little more attention.
When people ask me if I believe in an afterlife, it is sort of like when people ask me if there are other living beings in the universe. My answer for that question is always that I sincerely hope so because otherwise the universe would be a very lonely place with just us in it.
It’s the same with an afterlife.
If there are little ET’s and Marvin Martians zooming around in space, along with Spock and Worf, why can’t there be spirits residing in Heaven or floating around in celestial planes.
When I think about the afterlife and my husband, I fervently want there to be one. It distresses me to think that maybe everything that was my husband, all the joy, the humor, the love, the intelligence, the knowledge and the essence of him is gone forever.
I want the comfort of knowing that something of him still exists outside of my memories. That his life wasn’t just one large capsule of neurons, protons and electrons that all dissolved when the off switch was flipped.
Many people have different theories about the afterlife. Those can usually be defined into 3 distinct groups: religion, esotericism and metaphysics. I imagine that each person has their own unique spin on it. On what happens, how it looks, where it is, how you get there. I know that my idea of Heaven is most likely vastly different from someone else’s.
When we are children, we are taught what our parents believe. Whether it is Sunday school or Temple or just sit around a meadow communing with nature, we are indoctrinated into believing a certain ideal of the afterlife.
Most religions have some aspect of Heaven and Hell. The Catholics even go one better and throw in a third territory called Purgatory. The premise for most religions is simple. If you are good, you go to Heaven. If you are bad, you go to Hell. If you are Catholic, you go to Purgatory.
But each religion has a different take on the concepts of good and bad and how you get there.
For example, I’m a ‘cradle’ Catholic (meaning I was born a Catholic instead of converting later on) and Catholics are doomed from the beginning. They believe that every baby is already tainted with the original sin, which is why we get baptized right away, almost as soon as our eyes open. We also have confession where we can repent for all the wrong things we do. If we’re really sorry for all the bad things, we can become absolved of our sins, and usually, when one is about to die, you pretty much have genuine regret for any and all misdeeds. This means that we probably won’t necessarily be going downward wishing we had asbestos underwear. But since we’re also not a saint with a ton of brownie points for good deeds, we won’t be winging our way upward just yet. That’s why we usually end up in Purgatory.
The realm of Purgatory is where you hang around for a while, while friends and relatives pray for your soul, adding to your good quota and eventually when a new tally is conducted, whoosh, you are shooting up that Stairway to Heaven.
Well, there is a bit more to it than that, but that’s the general gist of it.
Some religions believe that every action you take directly throws the dial toward Heaven or Hell and where the dial is set at your death pretty much dictates which direction you’ll be heading. I think that one is a lot more stressful because face it, we all do bad things once in a while and if your time is up right after committing one of those bad acts, that’s it. Game over. No redo. No running out to do a couple of good deeds to compensate for the bad ones. Against that, Purgatory doesn’t look so bad.
Some religions believe that we come back as another person. That our soul drifts around until a baby is born and then attaches itself to that kid. That actually sort of intrigues me. It’s like it’s a giant celestial reset button. Of course, a lot of those religions also believe that you don’t know that you are reborn as another person so that really negates all of those lessons learned from the previous life. Maybe not such a good gig after all.
The esoteric ideal has more to do with astral planes and energy balls. I’m not an expert in either esotericism or metaphysics. I pretty much am a Googler on those subjects, so I’m not going to go into those. But they have their own take on the afterlife as well. And even though they would cringe to admit it, these too have the essence of good and evil that is also the basis of more traditional religions. Except, instead of ending up in a designated place, they are more consequence driven. Meaning do good things, something good happens. Do bad things and something bad happens. Which also echoes the religious admonition of “Do onto others…” Seems like these might not be as removed from the Sunday crowd as they thought. Isn’t karma a bitch?
I have to admit, I don’t know what to believe. I know what I want, I know what I hope…but face it…I’ll never know for sure.
When I read on forums how widows have felt their husband’s presence, seen their reflection, heard their name whispered, felt a physical touch I get green with envy and filled with jealousy. I want that. I know that I could bear the loneliness, the emptiness better f I wasn’t…well…so alone.
If I could know that my husband was still here. That our partnership hasn’t been dissolved. That he still has my back while I navigate through all of the pitfalls and speed bumps in life. If I could be sure of all that, then I would be able to handle this much better. Because when he was alive, we could tackle any problem, any trouble, anything at all…together.
Sometimes, I almost feel like he’s there, giving me a hug. But really and truly, that’s more likely my imagination and longing more than he is really standing with his arms around me like we used to.
See, that was my safe spot. My refuge. I would stand leaning back against his chest. He would put his arms around me and rest his chin on the top of my head. I would hold onto his arms and feel secure, knowing that the big bad world was out there, not in here where I was protected.
I find myself sometimes leaning backwards as if he was still behind me. Wanting so badly to feel his touch in reality, not just in memory. I can close my eyes and remember how warm his arms were, how strong he stood holding me up, how he would sometimes kiss my cheek or my neck and tell me that it will all be okay. But that is all in my mind even while I’m telling myself that I really and truly hope it’s real and not my imagination.
I hope that I am actually being held by him and not a memory. I hope that he is somewhere happy, just waiting for me to finally catch up to him. I hope that he is still here…a part of something bigger than we could ever imagine. I hope that he is hanging around watching me, laughing at the idiotic way I try to cook, always ready to give me a hand when I need it, a kiss when I’m lonely and a swift kick in the pants when I do something stupid.
Because how sad would it be if this was all for nothing. If everything we did, learned, sang, spoke, danced and laughed is lost forever the second that we do it, what is our purpose?
Peggy Lee, a blues singer from the 60’s, sang a song called, “Is That All There Is?” I remember hearing it as a child and thinking how sad a song. Because it was so defeatist. As if there was no real reason to do anything because that was it. But that was when I was still in my innocent childhood with visions of angels and pearly gates and Good and Evil with a capital G and E.
Now, I have learned that things aren’t so compartmentalized. That just because it’s on the internet doesn’t make it true. That there are so many things that we really don’t know about and won’t...until it’s too late to pass the information on. That one of the most aggravating aspects of being an adult is realizing just how little control and knowledge we have over the real world.
And yet, I sincerely hope with every bit of my being that when my time is done, I do find myself standing in front of those pearly gates being fitted for those wings while my husband waves to me from inside. That I don’t end up saying - “Is that all there is?”