After The Beep
Though no one can say for sure, what do you think happens to someone after they die?
Life After Death?
Death? Why this fuss about death. Use your imagination, try to visualize a world without death! ... Death is the essential condition of life, not an evil.
-Charlotte Perkins Gilman-
Every time someone dies, you either wonder what happens to them now or you don’t. Not having a definitive answer as to where exactly they’ve gone, you can’t say for sure where you should be looking when you speak to them. Should you look up because that’s where Heaven is supposed to be? Down because maybe the qualifications for Heaven were a little too extreme? Around you because they never moved on? Or if you do know, what exactly do you know? What really happens to someone after that final beep/breath of life? Though I can’t say for certain, I have repeatedly heard four different theories and will share them with you now.
I am aware that various religions believe in a form of Heaven. However, as I’m only familiar with the one the nuns told me about in Catholic school, I unfortunately can only discuss Heaven in that regard. I’m sure though that there are similarities between what I’m about to write and what someone raised in another faith would write.
When someone dies, you believe that an angel or a departed loved one comes to collect them. They are then walked towards the light, the light that brings them to St. Peter and the gate to Heaven. At this point, St. Peter looks in his book to read about the life of the person before him. He measures the life by how much good he/she has done against how much evil they’ve committed. He asks them questions, giving the recently deceased a good shot at getting in. With all of the information collected, he then decides to either open the gate or send them elsewhere.
Let’s say they get into Heaven. They are reunited with everyone they have lost with hugs to follow. (For me, this is the main reason why I want to go to Heaven.) As they are without illness and pain, they can be active again. Without time constraints or obligations, they can finally relax and be how they want to be. For some people, they envision Heaven to look like all of those paintings. There are chubby angels flying through the air. Harp music is played 24/7. You sleep on clouds. You wear only a white robe. For others, it’s less artistic.
I have always considered Heaven to be Earth without hatred, destruction, pain, bigotry and all of that other stuff that we try to brush under the rug. Heaven looks like Earth only much cleaner. We still work, but not for money or with the goal of out doing each other. We work because we enjoy it and because we know that the end result will always be positive. Our job is more of a hobby so it isn’t mind numbing or negative in the least. Food is plentiful and free, but it doesn’t make you gain weight. You can sleep if you want to, but you never get tired in Heaven.
Ever since I saw the movie What Dreams May Come, I have viewed Heaven in that regard. Heaven is your own personal paradise because you dream it into existence. You never get tired of it because you can change it with your mind. It’s the way your life should’ve been and could’ve been if other people hadn’t pressured you or gone for the same prize as you. Still, Heaven isn’t Heaven until you decide that it is. If you can’t see the beauty in this Heaven, you need to make one that resembles your Heaven.
Let’s say though that St. Peter sends you elsewhere. You either need to work out some things and are sent to Purgatory to think before your next interview or you are a lost cause and are sent to Hell. To someone who always dreamt of going to Heaven, both are a major let down.
Purgatory, to me, is a large waiting room. It is like the family waiting area in a hospital. You keep looking up, hoping that the doctor will appear with good news. With each second, you wonder more and more about what got you here. You promise yourself that next time things will be different. You keep praying that things will turn out all right. You don’t know how long your wait will be, but you know that eventually it will end.
In Catholic school, you are taught that Hell is a place where Satan is a red guy with horns and hooves. He is big and mean and orders his henchmen to do not nice things to you. He orders that you be chained to a wall and set on fire or some other form of torture. You can’t hear your screams over the screams of everyone else. We’re taught to believe that Hell is for people who refused to accept God into their lives, for people who committed crimes that not even God can forgive and for suicides.
In my opinion, Hell isn’t as dramatic as that. Hell is more of a feeling than a place. It is the waiting room without a chance of release. It is all of your bad days rolled into one. Hell isn’t being whipped or tortured. It is more so being overwhelmed by all of the wrongs you committed without the hope of ever being redeemed. It is knowing that you could’ve prevented this outcome, but were too self-absorbed to care. Satan is there, but he doesn’t have a pitchfork or a malicious smile or laugh. He is just a regular guy, sitting at his desk, crunching on some chips, talking on his cell phone, playing with his keys, telling you someone will be with you shortly and telling you the bathroom is out of order. You think he’s the devil, but he’s just a guy named Satan ordered to watch over you. Hell is Hell because you are reminded every second that you got yourself there and that there is no way out.
Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines reincarnation as “rebirth in new bodies or forms of life ; especially : a rebirth of a soul in a new human body.” I further believe that we are reincarnated based upon how well we did in our last life. By this, I don’t mean that if you were rich you are born rich in your next life. What I mean is if you were a good, decent person, you are rewarded in the next life. Let’s say that you always wanted to leave your life situation, but you never had the means to. In your next life, you may be a bird. Birds, unlike humans, have the ability to fly from place to place whenever they please. They don’t have to book a flight and empty their wallet. All they do is flap their wings. For someone who never was allowed to feel freedom, they are finally free. On the other hand, for example, I have always believed that someone who abused an animal is reincarnated into an abused animal. They get to feel how horrible they made another creature feel.
I believe that when you die someone, maybe even St. Peter, decides if you will be reincarnated and what you will be reincarnated into. With each new life, we retain some traits of our former self. (This would explain why people claim to remember past life experiences.) Combined with our past knowledge and the knowledge we are currently acquiring, we are given the means to live a decent life. If we decide to stray from the path, it will only hurt us (in this life and the next). Yet, I believe, we are given a limited amount of lives. When someone (a higher power) decides that our soul has had enough, we are finally allowed to rest. We must make each life count.
I have never questioned the existence of ghosts. Considering how attached we all are to our lives, it isn’t hard to imagine some of us not being able to let go. We think of ghosts as scary beings who like to tease us and as these flying white sheets that clink chains and howl. In truth, ghosts are just people who can’t leave this world behind. They don’t know they are dead and are waiting for someone to tell them what is going on. They died traumatically and need to see their killer brought to justice before they head for the light. They resent that they were taken before they could say goodbye and/or watch their loved ones age.
I believe that we all are ghosts for a period of time. We watch our loved ones decide what is to be done with our body. We attend our wake, funeral and burial. We stick around to see how people cope with our loss. Ideally, we move on soon after things are settled. However, some people can’t and this is when you get a “haunting.”
Though I’m definite culprit when it comes to bugging ghosts, when I think about ghosts in the way I just described them, I feel a little guilty. In a sense, when I go to a place that I know is “haunted” I am barging into someone else’s territory. It would be like someone opening my front door and coming in for a peek. In this light, it is a rude thing to do. Still, many people go ghost hunting not only as a means of entertainment, but out of a genuine need to know that something does exist after death. It is a way for them to cope with their own mortality. We all will die just as the person we caught a glimpse of a second ago did.
There are people who believe that once someone dies that is it. They do not go to Heaven or Hell. They do not have a next life. They do not become a ghost. All they have achieved in this life is all that their soul will ever achieve. For some people, this is out of a belief that we are given one shot at life. By not being promised an after life, we are motivated to be the best version of ourselves. We live life to the fullest because this life is all we have. For others, this belief is out of punishment. An evil person does not deserve an after life. They belong in the grave where they cannot harm anyone else. Still more people believe that no hope of an afterlife will keep people from competing/buying their way into Heaven or feeling entitled to an afterlife.
I believe that all three opinions are meant to make this life feel more valuable. You are motivated to do good not because of the end result, but because it makes your life and the lives of the people around you better. By not having to wait for a reward, you end up living a more fulfilled life. You live healthier too because, with nothing to look forward to, life is truly precious.
Regardless of what you believe happens after death, we all agree that one day we shall die. When we lose someone, we like to think that we may one day see them again. On a bad day, we can almost feel our loved ones patting us on the back, telling us that all will be well. Talking to a perfect stranger, we see something familiar in them and we start to question if we may have known them before. And there are days when things are so good that we can’t imagine there being life beyond the one we’re living. We all are entitled to our own beliefs. Whether you believe your deceased dog is waiting for you at the gate or that once you breathe your last, the lights fade forever, it doesn’t matter. All that matters is that you have your own beliefs and that you can find comfort in them during your darkest moments.