Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Afterlife

When Grandma died, I was about 15 or so. I asked my mom if she was worried her mom might haunt her, and she said: "You know, that'd be okay with me." After Mom died, I understood what she meant - as waking to find the spirit of my mom perched at the side of my bed wouldn't be scary. It would be weird, mind you. But not scary.

All of the conversations surrounding death seem to be about the person being in heaven now, which has churned around questions like a big washing machine. I have a deep faith in divinity and an afterlife, but I was burdened with a rambling mind - so my confused thought processes want more specifics. The simplistic categorizations of Heaven vs Hell don't quite make sense to me. Not because I don't believe in God, but perhaps more so because I do. My thoughts about God have evolved and exploded so much since my high school days, and now...simplistic categorizations no longer click with me. As Steve and I say, "If God is really God, wouldn't he be WAY too big for us to understand it?" Which makes us agnostics by definition, I guess, although United Methodist church goers. Previously, being an agnostic would have scared me because I confused it with an atheist. Now I see that it fits my religion of Really Big God that I can't completely pin down.


So, now I have someone who has joined the Afterlife, and I'm soooo curious to know what's on the other side. I've experienced giving birth and I've now watched someone die, and know beyond any shadow of a doubt that there is something very, very, very magical about life and the soul.

Nanoseconds after emerging from my body, my children looked up at my eyes with a complete sense of soul. They were Who They Are. If there were words for their first moments, Jack's was: "Hey there." Just blinking calmness. Andrew scrunched up his face and said telepathically: "Can someone turn out these damn lights?" And Simone looked up at me with an "Oh, there you are," and immediately started to nurse. No questions asked. Just happy to be there.


Steve and I are deep into Emerson and his ideas about God, and I'm really clicking with the idea of Him being a majestic force of divinity that permeates everything. I've never understood how deep belief in a divine being doesn't just make you want to love everyone and care for everyone. By personifying God and deciding who He likes and dislikes, it seems to undermine the divinity to me. I can only shrug at the notion of Big God and say: "I have no clue how big you are. But I'm really, really impressed." And feel small and humbled, but also really empowered to be a part of this whole spiritual fog we get to experience.

As Suzanne said, which resonated with me: "There's just got to be something more!" I totally agree. So here are my questions I'd love to ask my mom, if she decides to haunt me:

(1) Are we still our Earth individuals? As in, is she still Lynn...daughter of Nell and Leo...mother of David, Sarahbeth, and Craig...wife to Mike? Or do we shed ourselves down to our most basic of souls...the part that shone out of my brand-new baby children?

(2) Is there a divide of Heaven and Hell, and if so...how does it get decided? Good works...the Jesus Christ message...something different? Is it honestly about a fallen angel demon figure and fiery pits and then the flipside...sitting at God's feet and singing? I can't see how it isn't far more intricate and complex than that.

(3) Does the Actual Divinity of God have anything to do with the image of Him passed around on Earth? Or is Real God just laughing at our perceptions and simplifications?

I just read something today that said, "The soul lingers after death." Perhaps this is just loony, and I'm always open to the fact that I'm loony. But here are the things that have intrigued me surrounding my mother's death and dying:

- When we left on our 3-day road trip, I was crying and talking about my mom almost immediately. Less than a mile from our house, there's a business that has an electronic sign that displays job openings or other things. There was a screen that popped up with a background of clouds and it said, "Crying on the outside means healing on the inside." So strange. WHY would a business say that? My first thought: Are other cars seeing this too? It felt like Field of Dreams.

- Day 2 of our road trip, Steve went into the gas station to buy juice. They were having a fundraiser for Muscular Dystrophy. I haven't seen one of those gas station fundraisers for MD since I was in college, a decade ago.

- Day 3 of our road trip, I was thinking about symbols of my mom that reminded me of her. I was thinking about how she loved yellow flowers, and wondering if it was possible to estimate how many guests would attend her funeral and have a yellow rose for every guest. No less than 5 minutes from that moment, I saw a big billboard with a picture of only a yellow rose. It was for a garden center. I was a bit freaked out and yet calmed at the same time.

-When my dad was putting together the photo boards, he included a photo of us all at the zoo. In the picture, my mom was in her wheelchair, and she was away from the rest of us (we were checking out another animal). I told my dad that Mom wouldn't have liked that picture, because she looked a bit alienated by her wheelchair. He decided to keep it, for a couple of reasons, and so we left it. When we got to the church, ONLY that photo was missing - out of 50 other pictures adhered the exact same way. I joked to Steve that my mom's spirit probably plucked it off that board, and we replaced it with something else.

- Right before her funeral, I was out doing errands by myself. On the radio came the song, "I Can See Clearly Now." I felt this overwhelming sense of joy listening to it, because it somehow connected me with peace about my mom's death. This reassurance that now she was released from the painful part of living. I half-wondered to myself if we should play it at her funeral. I didn't think of it again until the next day when I was running errands with my dad. I'd run into a store alone, and came back out to him looking fascinated. He'd been listening to an Anne Murray CD my mom used to like and it was playing that same song, "I Can See Clearly Now." When he stopped the CD, the same song was playing on the radio.

Perhaps these are all just quirky things, and perhaps grief just makes you see things. Not sure. And I'm also not sure if it matters to me. Whether we impart meaning on the incidents or they actually HAVE meaning, they still serve a role. Those little signposts on the road trip kept me feeling like things were going to be okay, no matter what happened. That somehow, my mom was present even if I didn't get back in time. They felt magical to me, even if there was no real magic. And as Einstein said, "There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle."

I do love mysteries about life, because it reminds me that there's so much more than we can see.

This is my mom at age 3. Wouldn't she make a beautiful little angel?

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