I don’t know what happens when you die.
I’m not even sure what I believe happens when you die. I do know what I don’t believe, though—I don’t believe you go to heaven. Raised as a the-Bible-is-the-literal-word-of-God Baptist, it was clear even as a child that the Bible is at best, an unreliable narrator on the subject. Do we go straight to the afterlife the instant we die, there to be judged? Or do we “sleep” until Christ returns and raises the bodies of the faithful? (In which case, we are fucked, because my son was cremated.) And why are we judged? Isn’t it supposed to be that those who are “saved” go right to heaven? Except, it seems that there are also hierarchies of heaven, with different crowns and jewels? (In my church, we were taught that if you were saved you went to heaven, but your experience there was based on how good you were on earth.) And what about kids? Do they go to heaven even if they aren’t “saved”? The Bible is incredibly vague on this subject.
In any case, I long ago left the church of my youth because I’ve never been able to stand hypocrisy. I left the god of my youth behind because after careful study, I decided that while faith is necessary for a fulfilling life, I was only going to have faith in worthy concepts. And the God of the Bible I know seems to be at best angry, jealous and petty, and at worse suffering from multiple personality disorder, with his loving side (Jesus) completely at odds with, and subject to, his vengeful, blood thirsty side. (Please don’t get me started on people who say “It’s for the best, God has a plan.” I reject the God whose plan includes the death of my sweet boy.)
But I’ve never found another religion or belief system that works for me, on either an emotional or logical level. The Summerlands and Paradise are similar to heaven. It’s appealing, this idea of being with our loved ones forever. I really like the idea of reincarnation or merging with the great Light; it fits in with the idea that energy cannot be destroyed, only transformed (until the eventual heat death of the universe, which honestly, is a problem for Future Me).
Death happens to everyone—and it’s truly the last frontier, the great unknown. Beyond functioning as social constraints and constructs, religions help us make sense of death. Even if you aren’t religious, the idea of an afterlife brings comfort. We need to believe we won’t lose the people we love. We won’t lose ourselves.
I read about the idea of our universe as a hologram, and that the linear nature of time may be artificial, imposed by our meat prison. It’s actually comforting, because it reminds me that we know so little about the nature of reality. So many things are possible, including an afterlife, even if it’s not what we have imagined to date.
But I just don’t know. And I’m comfortable saying I don’t know. I’d like to believe that a light as strong and lovely and wonderful as my son cannot be extinguished. That it is him—not just a memory, not just the manifestation of my bone-deep longing for him—that visits me in my dreams. That he—not just the energy that was him, but his essence, his soul—still exists, somewhere, somewhen. And that we will be together again.
I have faith.