As this year draws to a close, I’m reflecting on other endings, chiefly the afterlife. With my mother’s passing, I’ve become preoccupied with questions about death and heaven, if there is one.
The Ukrainian Greek Orthodox priest at my mother’s funeral said she is now beginning her new life. He told the mourners that martyred saints are commemorated the day they die, as that’s the day their true life begins. It’s the beginning of their life in Heaven. I want to believe that, but as I see Jesus Christ as a Jewish reformer and a prophet, I struggle with what this all means. And yet there’s something there.
As a child, I prayed to my guardian angel nightly. But when I grew up, and saw so much hypocrisy in organized religion, and so much anguish on the news—in stories about war or poverty or famine, I began to wonder which God was looking out for which people.
And then, when my husband and I went to Jerusalem two years ago, I felt envious watching Christian pilgrims on the Via Dolorosa walk by with crosses in hand and stop to kiss every station of the cross. If only I had that kind of faith. How much more secure I’d feel.
I also envied the certitude of the Jews who lined up at the Western Wall to insert their prayers in the cracks between the ancient stones. I used to have that deep belief and fervour, but it was wrung out of me over time.
I find it hard to understand how a Jewish carpenter—who said the meek shall inherit the earth—is now represented by men in regal robes in palatial buildings festooned with enough gold to eradicate poverty. I know this kind of practice upset Martin Luther, and the Protestant movement was born. But even there, a hierarchy exists. There are rules and dogma that are not inclusive. As you can see, I’m a little messed up at the moment.
The Film ‘Hereafter’
As Heaven is the reward for many, I was curious to see the film, Hereafter, directed by Clint Eastwood. I found it curious that he made a film about the afterlife without identifying any major religion. Was that why this great film got bad press?
America is largely a Christian society. The fact that Heaven and Christ were not mentioned in this story, did that have any bearing on the ratings? I found the film outstanding. It was beautifully executed and sensitive in its exploration of this larger question—what happens after we die?
I wouldn’t have minded if Eastwood had inserted some teachings from the Bible, the Torah or the Koran. All of them have much to teach us, but he didn’t. Buddhist philosophy was also missing but the spiritual was by no means neglected.
Belief in God
In spite of my confusion, I do believe in God. There is still too much unexplainable on this amazing planet, in this universe and whatever lies beyond. The fact that our universe is expanding, accelerating, and that there are patterns in space, not some randomness, that’s enough to make me believe in a Higher Power.
My Mother’s Passing
There’s also otherworldly events that support the Divine. How else to explain what happened just before my mother passed away? Two nights before she died, I dreamt of a black bird, sitting on a fence. I woke up, thinking someone might die. I worried first about my daughter, who’d been diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer this past year, and was actually relieved to discover it was my mother who’d been taken ill. She was 96, so I could accept that reality better.
A Supernatural Element
The other incident, that suggested the supernatural, was told to me by an evening nurse. She approached me while I was in my mother’s room at the care home taking family photos off the wall. She said, “A funny thing happened the week before your mother died. I saw a tall man in dark clothing go into your mother’s room. I was scared. He looked like the man in that picture.”
She pointed to my father in my parents’ wedding photo and said, “I get chills just thinking about it now.”
I understood the nurse’s qualms. My mother lived on an all female floor. It was after visiting hours, so it’d be unusual to see a man there. In fact, in all the time I visited my mother, I rarely saw a man on that floor, even during the day. Was it my father’s ghost she’d seen?
My Father’s Passing
There was also an odd occurrence when my father died on Sept. 11, 1985. After I’d received a phone call saying he passed away, I ran down the hallway to pack my clothes for the trip out east to be with my mother. I passed our younger daughter’s bedroom and noticed a strange smell. I backtracked, and saw a white lily in bloom on her night table. We had put the lily plant in her room for some greenery, but it was fall, not a time for flowers on that plant. I talked to both my daughter and my husband and neither one of us could recall seeing a bud earlier. So where did that flower come from? As we could not come up with a reasonable explanation, we all assumed it was my father, saying everything’s okay.
An Afterlife? Hereafter? Heaven? I have enough stories to believe there’s something more. What do you think? Do you have stories that make you wonder about the beyond?
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