What is the afterlife? And whatever the afterlife is, does it somehow overlap with this one? With our present life? I’ve always had my own interpretations of what might happen after we stop living as we are and move on to something else; but, of course, none of us can really know until we experience this transition ourselves, right?
A lot of people believe we rejoin our loved ones who’ve already passed. Personally, I never really bought into this idea. As I’ve grown, my thoughts moved toward the notion that our energy, in a more scientific sense, simply moves from one state to another, taking whatever new form in the universe most fitting to the positive or negative energy we each dwell in while we’re here, on earth.
As a pastor, this belief has always been sort of inconvenient—especially when it comes time to lead a funeral. See, a lot of people hold a lot of hope in the thought of being reunited with the people they love, after death; and it’s my place to nurture hope, not to raise blood pressures and suffocate souls with pessimistic fear. So I’ve always kind of kept my personal beliefs about the afterlife to myself.
And it’s a good thing I did, because I think I might have been wrong.
Something happened the other day to change my mind. To make me doubt what I thought I knew, in the face of new belief.
Just to give you a little background, my grandma, Annie, died in 1998. After she passed, both my mom and my aunt reported having seen her sitting at the end of each of their beds, in the middle of the night. I did not see this, though I believed what they said was true. After that moment, neither of them reported any sense of her.
My grandpa, Frank (her husband), died just a little over two years ago. His presence was strong after his passing. He came to visit many of us, in not only the days following his death, but months. I actually had an experience of him, too. Given my profession, I was asked to speak at his funeral and help lead the ceremony. There were questions amongst the family as to what should be done for him, during the service. Some said it would be too difficult to find someone to play Taps. Despite the fact that he was a WWII veteran, they were all nearing the conclusion that this piece wouldn’t be performed. That day—the day he died—I was out and about, and out of the blue, a man walked up to me and asked what I did for a living. I thought the seemingly random question quite odd as I stared into his piercing blue eyes and shaved head (the features most prominent in my own grandfather, btw). Still slightly shocked, I told the man I was a minister. He immediately went on to tell me he was a military chaplain. After these words, he told me the two most important things to do for a soldier after passing are to 1) play Taps, and 2) commemorate their passing with the folding of the flag. Then he just walked away. Not another word.
I hadn’t told him my grandpa had just died. I hadn’t told him I was supposed to help lead his funeral, or that the family was presently asking questions over those exact matters.
Still gives me goosebumps, remembering.
Other things happened to other family members, lasting over the next several months. Then, he just seemed to fade away—maybe heading off to wherever he was going.
None of this changed my mind about whether or not we’re reunited with our loved ones after death. I considered these things to be moments of transition before that more scientific journey took place—before his energy fully transformed to that other state.
It was only last week, when my thoughts were forced to change.
I was sitting at my computer, working late. My husband was out, and I was alone in the house. Of course, most of my work requiring the computer, a lot of times I wander away to Facebook for a moment (or two, or three) … and while I was there, I changed my profile pic to one taken of me at my little brother’s recent wedding. I was waving my hand in the picture; and as I shared it, immediately my aunt (my grandmother’s daughter) chimed in, telling me the photo reminded her of the way I used to put olives on my fingers and wave them around, when I was just a little one. I typed back to her, talking about Grandma Annie. About the way black olives always reminded me of her, and how I still sometimes put them on my fingers, to this day, just to remember her. As I typed the words, the song she’d played over and over and over again, just before she died, started playing through the speakers. I was not listening to this artist, or any music of his category, prior to this moment. This was the song she told all of our loved ones, very pointedly before she died, that she wanted each of us to listen to, to remember her, after she was gone.
The sound of her song filled my ears, and tears filled my eyes as I communicated with her daughter over this picture of me, her granddaughter, at my little brother’s wedding (always her favorite grandchild)—a wedding I’d known she’d missed, and one that would have made her life feel complete in being a part of, if she were still here.
From that moment on—through nearly the rest of the night—I felt strangely overwhelmed by the sense of her. I can’t explain it. But at the time, I couldn’t escape it—as if I was smelling her perfume and cinnamon Trident gum all around me, the sense of her was so strong. Past this, I felt wrapped up almost entirely in a sense of my grandpa’s company as well. I looked around at my study, and realized how powerfully they were both still with us. All around me were signs of the ways their lives had impacted my own, and still guided me to this day. And I was washed over with a knowledge that they were proud. But most of all–together. And that they were happy. Then, at one point, close to midnight, the feeling just went away. Suddenly. Like a person walking from a room, they were gone.
Now, again, I can’t logically explain any of this, okay? Nothing like this had ever happened to me, before. I don’t think myself some kind of Jennifer-Love-Hewitt-Ghost-Whisperer, alright? I consider myself a very logical and level-headed person. I prize myself over the fact, actually. And all of what I just described is easily reasoned away by the idea that I just missed my grandma after typing those things back and forth with my aunt, right?
… But here’s where things get weird.
That sense of my grandparents being together—and being happy—had washed over me so powerfully, that I actually texted my mom, knowing it was the middle of the night but hoping she might wake up, so I could share this very strange and unusual experience with her. She didn’t pick up the text (having an iPhone, I can see the date and time she reads them).
The next morning, I got a call from her. Three, actually. Back to back. Then I got a text. I was heading off to Sunday service, so I couldn’t answer; but when I finally spoke to her, her voice was rattled. Shaken. Astonished. Apparently, she’d woken up with that very same overwhelming experience which had also overtaken me, the night before. She told me she’d opened her eyes to a sense of her mother—and father–together. My mom explained to me that she was so overwhelmed by this sense, in fact, that she actually had a long talk with my dad about what she was feeling, over coffee, being surprised to have such an experience so long after her mother’s death.
She hadn’t read the text I sent her.
She didn’t know I’d had the exact same experience myself, until after she’d stood from the table and finished talking with my dad about this sense of them she couldn’t shake away. At that point, checking her phone, she saw the text I’d sent, explaining to her what happened, and she nearly dropped to the floor.
What does all of this mean?
I have no idea.
But it makes me wonder if maybe I was wrong about what I’d believed, before. It makes me wonder if some part of who we are remains in tact, always, from one life to the next. If maybe some essence of us holds on to what we knew and loved in this life, as we move into a new way of being, somewhere else.
I know this blog is already ridiculously long, but oh well. I hope you’ve enjoyed it, and that some of your own experiences allow you to identify with what I’m saying.
The holiday we celebrate today—Halloween (aka “All Hallow’s Eve”) was once known as “Samhain” by those first responsible for its observance. This time of the year was believed to be a time when the spirits of recently passed loved ones return to their families for one last visit, before going away. The reason we now pass out candy, comes from the original celebration in which families would take all of the food from the year’s harvest and spread it out through their kitchens, so that when these loved ones came to visit, they’d see everyone was still okay.
This recent experience of mine, however inexplicable it was, reminds me of the value of these thoughts and traditions we share.
Tonight, let’s remember those we love. Let’s embrace the spirit of their lives, and reflect on the ways we still feel them, still sense them, still live with them as our own lives continue on.
Today, I wish you many happy hauntings, my friends. God bless you and those you love.