Quest For The Afterlife
The Journey Begins
What happens to us when we die? This is the question most of us find ourselves asking at one time or another in our lifetime. The question usually comes up during a period of mourning over a loved one we've lost. As we struggle to make sense of our loss, we search for answers that will bring us comfort. We want so much to believe that there is more, that our endeavors will not be in vain, that we can move forward toward a new kind of life.
I've attended many funerals during the span of my life, most of them for people whom I held very dear. All around me the whispers of friends and family could be heard, people attempting to convince themselves as much as the others, that our recent loss was actually Heaven's gain. People who never spoke about anything religious or spiritual suddenly claimed to know that our loved one was now in a place where pain and sadness didn't exist. Pictures of my father, my brother, my grandfather were painted of them sitting proudly next to a God that none of the speakers ever gave more than a cursory nod on Sunday morning.
As a nine year old girl who had lost the number one person of importance, I didn't want to hear that my daddy was in a better place. I didn't believe it. What could be better for him than to come home from work and hold me on his lap? Or take me with him to the firehouse? Or get up in the morning and let me go to work with him for the day? What was better than taking the whole family to the scene of our family's settlement 230 years before, and relaying the history of our family? At nine years old, no one could convince me that there was anything better than what he had just left. To me, their words made it sound like my daddy had traded us all in for a big party in the sky, and I knew he wouldn't do that.
By the time my younger brother had died ten years later, I was not about to listen to silly fairy tales. I was so sick of people talking about a loving God who had taken my brother away from his pain and suffering. Pain and suffering?! David didn't suffer any more than the next teenager trying to get to adulthood. And as for a loving God? Give me a break! How loving was killing a young boy with his whole life ahead of him? What act of love dictated that my family go through more grief and despair than was bearable?
My anger gave everyone something else to focus on. I saw the exchanged looks, the slight shaking of their heads, heard the whispers. I suffered the clueless who wanted to pat my hand and guarantee that if I would only talk to God, He would bring me comfort. Finally, when I could no longer hold my silence, I snapped out at the mother of my best friend. I didn't want to talk to God, because unless he was planning on giving me my brother back, I had nothing to say. Besides, I didn't know their God. I wasn't interested in knowing their version of a God who could be so cruel.
It wasn't that I had no belief in a higher power. I simply refused to buy the package so heavily promoted by those who surely didn't display any examples of their beliefs in their everyday mundane existence. Why would I want to embrace ideals which only led to more questions without answers? From where I stood, it seemed like we were all cattle waiting for the slaughter, but instead of balking at being killed off, we were opening our arms to some great unknown, expecting a euphoric experience we could never prove while alive. I didn't want to be subjected to more gibberish about the mysteries of Him. The way I've always felt; if it's a secret, it can't be good.
My introduction into what I consider a more concrete explanation regarding life after death, can be read in my article titled David's Promise. Having my brother come to me in a dream was a life changing experience. I woke the following morning feeling totally rested for the first time since his death. I was at peace, and unless you've experienced it for yourself, you can not appreciate the actual physical sensations which accompany such peace. However, being given to logic, I could only explain my experience as my psyche taking care of my pain. I accepted that my mind had given me a chance to speak one more time with my beloved brother so that I had some closure. I suppose I subconsciously had grasped the hope that David's message was real and that there would be days when I could actually find a way to contact him and speak with him. I know my first thought upon waking had been that I was elated knowing he wasn't completely gone. I quietly tucked the experience away into a distant corner of my mind, and left it there. I wasn't sure if I would ever take it out and examine what it might really mean. David had said so much about the experience of life after physical death, and me being me, of course, would prompt me to try to prove or disprove his message. I guess I was afraid to look too closely for fear that the result would be disproof. I wasn't ready to relinquish all hope.
After my daughter Lindsay had raised the idea that David was making himself known to her, I found myself doing the inevitable. I began to look for others who had been given the same kind of information. I searched the web. I read article after article. I came to the conclusion that David truly had been there with me. Once I accepted this idea, I was consumed with making another contact. It didn't have to be David or even my father. I just wanted more proof from someone else that my experience wasn't a once and done kind of event.
Lindsay and her husband had come home from his military post in New Mexico during the winter of 2000. She had brought stories of paranormal events with her, including pictures. I gave her the courtesy of hearing her out, but I had my own views on the subject. I wasn't thoroughly against what she was telling me, after all, I still had the memory of my dream experience. I just wasn't certain how it all worked; if we insignificant humans were capable of manifesting our beliefs, or if the essence of who we are in life still lingers following physical death.
Certainly, I had experienced a great number of unusual events for myself. Mostly these events were rather insignificant when taken separately, but when laid out in a sort of time line, the indication to me was that I was headed somewhere into the paranormal realms of experiences. Over the years, from the time I was quite small, I had experiences of simply knowing things. As a child, I had stared at walls to watch the “pictures” on them. For many years, I was under the assumption that what I had been doing was daydreaming. I used to see people from long ago eras standing by my bed. In fact, when I was about six years old, I would see a whole family. Even though I didn't really understand the historical significance, I knew they were slaves. I always thought of them as my family. I remember thinking how badly I missed them. Even then, I questioned the validity of my feelings. It didn't make sense that I should miss them or feel homesick, thinking of them as my family. I was white. I wasn't able to identify my emotions with the feeling until I was much older with a bigger vocabulary. The only way to describe my emotions was melancholy.
After David died, I began to experience great moments of clarity about the events coming to individuals close to me. It wasn't something I could control. It wasn't something I tried to do intentionally. There simply were moments when so much information poured into me about a specific event that I felt compelled to act on it. This happened several times until I guess I turned it off. I had my own life to lead. I was busy trying to raise a family. I sure didn't have time to be getting involved with other people's lives to the degree my knowledge seemed to require. I wasn't sure why I received the information. I guess I was trying to remain humble because at that time, there was a wide belief that these abilities were special gifts. I didn't feel all that special in the scheme of things so I had difficulty accepting the reality. On one hand it was kind of neat, on the other hand, I sensed that it carried great responsibility. At that time in my life, I was up to my ears in responsibility. I just didn't need or want anymore.
Lindsay and I decided to plan a trip for the coming spring or summer. We both lived in Carlisle, a town about 30 minutes from Gettysburg. The battlefield had been a favorite place of mine since my father had taken me there at the age of three. Every year we would take a family trip to Gettysburg and spend the day playing around the monuments and cannons while my father related the history of the place. I carried the tradition on with my own children as I had grown up to be a history nut. The pull of Gettysburg has never left me and I continue to visit as often as I am able.
We decided to make our visit on July 1st as it was the 138th anniversary of the battle. I had purchased a new digital camera and was anxious to try it out. I wasn't sure I would like going digital so I had bought a really inexpensive model without a flash or even the ability to use external memory. I wanted to make sure I would like digital before springing for a couple of hundred bucks. The idea was that we would take a few pictures to see if we could capture any of the images so many other people were claiming as spirits of the deceased.
Personally, I didn't care whether we got anything or not. It was just as good an excuse as any to pay a visit to my beloved battlefield. Lindsay and I tramped around the fields following the movement of the battles fought so many years ago. She had a regular 38 mm camera requiring her to get film developed which would take a few days. I was able to download my photos as soon as I got home, but with the coming darkness, her flash was a convenience I didn't have.
We were in the Devil's Den area as dusk approached. We walked across the little bridge spanning Plum Creek to make a stop at the restroom. When we finished taking care of our needs, we were gathered in the small clearing by the edge of trees along the creek. I peered down the dirt path running perpendicular with the creek trying to decide if we should venture any farther since darkness was almost upon us. The darkness was too thick under the canopy of trees so we opted not to go any farther.
Lindsay stepped forward into the darkness and snapped several photos, her flash lighting up the area like fireworks. Feeling a little punchy after our long day, I made the comment that I was too poor to afford a camera with a flash, so if anyone was there, could they please be gracious enough to show up anyway? I set my camera to “burst” which would allow me to take five consecutive photos with one push of the button. Now that it was completely dark, we headed for the car and prepared for the drive home. We meandered through the winding roads for another half hour, just enjoying the warm night air before heading for home.
We rushed to my computer to download the images on my camera and were rewarded by much more than either of us had expected to find. The most unexpected images came from the burst of five taken at Plum Creek. Though I did not have a flash, though there was no scrap of the waning daylight strong enough to pierce the tree canopy, I was looking at a reddish mist often referred to as ectoplasm, on a totally black background. Somehow the mist had taken on the color given off by the teeny tiny little on/off indicator light glowing red on my camera.
Each of the successive photos showed the image moving off to the right. The second photo actually looked like the mist had scattered and spread out. The third showed a small amount of it move farther to the right of the frame. The fourth and fifth had still less of the image and moved to the extreme right. We were able to make out an individual in the first photo. The second one has been subject to much conjecture. Depending on who is looking at it, different images are seen.
I was now deeply intrigued by what I was seeing. I had not made the trip with any particular anticipated outcome attached. I was going to need to take some time to digest what I was experiencing. I had taken a picture in total darkness which should have only recorded the thick black of night. I had verbally made a request for an image to appear even though it was an illogical request and physical principles, as we know them, would dictate that no image would be seen. I was left with two choices. I could either adopt the stance that it was a fluke, the result of a malfunctioning camera and merely a coincidence that the malfunction had happened exactly when it did; or...I could accept that this was an image of an entity quite capable of interacting with me, such as honoring my request in the face of the absurdity which surrounded the request.
I only knew that I was looking at some strange images on my computer. I could not swear them to be the spirits of deceased people. I only knew that this was just the beginning. My journey had begun in ernest. I was now on a quest for the afterlife. I wasn't out to prove anything to the world at large. I only wanted to know for myself. I innately sensed that all I had experienced and all I had seen up until this point in my life, was interconnected. I needed to find out the purpose for experiencing these things, the purpose for us to go through the machinations of living and achieving, only to disappear with the wind when, without a warning, our time was up.
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