Working in an interfaith, spiritually centered Hospice affiliated with a Catholic Hospital, I hear many people talk about what they expect after death. They say with certainty that they know they will see their loved ones again, or they joke that the husband, mother or father is up there (pointing to the ceiling) having an argument with Aunt Elsie, or driving everyone a little crazy. It's a comforting thought for believers.
I've also listened to grievers who are troubled by their beliefs. Some worry about their loved ones, for whom they put so much time and desperate effort in trying to keep comfortable. One man said he spent most of his time praying for his wife, because he feared that she needed him. This week, a woman said, weeping, that she had the unnerving feeling that her husband wanted her "up there" with him. It felt like a pull in his direction and was very disturbing. She was not interested in harming herself in order to get there but she had this very clear feeling and was troubled by it. This was in Group and several other members offered comfort and suggestions for her. I asked her if she could turn it around and ask him to be present with her here, and she again said that she thought he wanted her to come to him.
In my spontaneous Sagittarian way, I blurted out without thinking, "well, it's not very nice of him, is it!" The woman, along with everyone else in the room burst out laughing. I feared I had been too provocative, but really, it seemed to me that she is alive and should be free to live fully, after his death. If there is some presence there calling her, where is he expecting her to go? It seems almost rude of him (if it IS him and not a turned around thought about giving up) after all those years of care she gave him. It would be nicer for her to find ways to re-engage in her life now, despite the sorrow and loneliness.
I have been thinking a lot about Life after Death myself lately but not in the same way. To me, life after death is what you do with your life after your loved one died. Life is not a passive place in which to wait, although grief often feels like an empty room in which everything is askew. It is up to us to embrace life, reshape it, re-invest in activity, new endeavors, new friendships and maybe even new relationships. Immediately after my husband died, I heard a voice in my head saying, "your life has radically changed. Now WHAT?" This has been the motivating thought even when I had no answers about how to live and walked around for years in a life that felt like an alien landscape.
It is not easy to rekindle a desire for living when all you can manage is the most minimal of activities. But over time, life begins to be more comfortable, even interesting. There is life after death, and it can be whatever you want it to be. It is yours to shape. Make it beautiful, full and fun.