The Afterlife: What I Believe

Actually I lied. I did not let my late husband rest in peace, permitting his beliefs to continue untouched. At least when it came to answering our daughter’s questions.

I am a great salesperson if I believe in the product, but I couldn’t believe in Gavin’s stark vision of what happens to us after death: “time’s up, lights out.” And God forbid I let an innocent in my charge come away thinking I believe in a feathery afterlife. (I’ll tolerate it like Santa: if she picks it up, fine, but I’m not going to sell it). O heaven: You are a provocateur.

So when she asked, “Where is Daddy now?” -- when “he’s in our hearts and we can remember him, he’s in photographs and we can talk about him, he left his artwork for the whole world to enjoy” was no longer enough, as the idea of permanence grew for her -- I told her what I believe.

I’d like to tell you I’m a good Buddhist or perhaps that I believe we all are reincarnated as animals, that we fulfill our karma and work continually to complete our missions on earth in another flesh. I love it when other people believe these colorful, justice-promoting stories. They’re getting closer, but those beliefs are just not mine, not now.

After Gavin died, I finally read His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman, a trilogy touted in the New Yorker as an alternative to Harry Potter, a tale of a heroic tween girl, a fantasy that bears a compelling contemporary sort-of-theology.

And it was wonderful for me. Over thousands of pages I was transported, these alternative realities planted the seeds for my starting to date, fomented breakthroughs in all kinds of fantasies. Best of all, the heroine, Lyra, frees the dead, who’ve been trapped by a false religion/science in a limbo land, ugliness and nagging without rest, a gray soup of souls hopeless of connection or change.

I can’t quote because I gave the books to The First at our only Christmas two years ago, but here’s what I recall:

At liberation, the dead from all eras are at last allowed to tell their stories, and they are led up into a world (one populated with wonderful wheeled elephant-like creatures, but no matter, could be any world) where they dissolve into atoms and merge with the environment: sky, trees, plants, creatures, rocks, water. I cried when I read it, happy to find a beautiful solution that suits me.

This vision is no heaven, but a chance to exist, unrecognized, knowing you’re not quite alone, maybe making silent inhuman difference or maybe just observing with the barest dot of consciousness. Or maybe completely dissipated and melded five minutes later. Only slightly less bleak, maybe, but enough for me.

That’s what I’d like to think, which is another way of saying, it is what I believe.

* * * Comments * * *


Jen said...

We scattered my husband's ashes in several beautiful national parks (shhh, don't tell) across the country. Knowing that his molecules and atoms might be reborn into a blade of grass, or an earthworm, or dissolved into seawater, evaporated into the air, and returned as rainwater, was a very comforting thought to me. "Daddy is in nature", I tell my daughter, because it's true.

Abigail said...

Lovely post. Funny, as time goes by my thoughts about death become more and more nihilistic. My question these days is, is our view of death and the afterlife shaped by what we WANT to believe about it; what makes us each, individually feel most at ease at the prospect of our own demise?

There I go, creating my own damned universe again... shoot.

Anonymous said...

HI, I started reding your blog after I saw a link on YWBB. I don't post there or anywhere often(more of a lurker). But, I must tell you that I find your posts thoughtful, and kind of familiar. That is not an insult! After feeling like I am visiting this planet from Mars, it's nice to know that there are others...

Supa Dupa Fresh said...


I believe that belief is all about what we WANT to belief and yes, creating our own universe. We do it in every facet, why not the least tangible one?

I love that your beliefs have changed, and I wonder if they will change again. I'm not sure mine have ever stood still long enough to be described until now.

Pretty human, huh?

Love you!




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