A good friend of mine just lost her significant other. He was only fifty years old when he died, and he left behind a five-year old son. As you might imagine it’s a very sad situation.
The other day my friend posted a few pictures of their family on Facebook as a memorial, and two of the pictures in particular really touched my heart. The first was of the little boy wearing some kind of worker vest or fishing vest; something like that. His dad was kneeling next to him as the two read what looked to be directions for something. Maybe they were assembling a piece of furniture together, or maybe they were getting ready to go fishing. I’m not sure, and the specifics don’t matter. Whatever they were doing, the picture gave me a glimpse of a father bonding with and teaching his son.
The second picture was even more gripping. According to the caption, it was apparently taken just a few day’s before the boy’s father passed away. In it, the little boy is lying on top of his dad and the two are hugging each other for dear life as they both look up at the camera. In a different context, the image would have been wonderfully heartwarming.
The boy’s father had been very ill and may have known he was nearing the end. As I looked upon these very moving images, I started thinking about you and me. I wondered what might have gone through my own mind as a parent if I had lay dying when you were only five and I had the chance to hug you as a little girl one final time. Would this last moment of intimacy have to carry the two of us through all eternity?
Like most people, sometimes I wish I knew what happens to us after our time on this earth is done. When we go to that great beyond, where exactly are we going? What is the next kingdom we hear so much about? Is there life after death? Is there reincarnation? Is the soul truly immortal? Will we be able to keep a watchful and loving eye on our loved ones from up above? We have more questions than answers to say the least.
The last question troubles me the most. Jamie and Heather are now fully formed adults. Of course your mom and I want to savor them, help them, hang out with them, and share experiences with them for many years to come. But at least I take some comfort that irrespective of me or your mom, Heather and Jamie are positioned going forward to make their way in the world just fine.
It’s a little different with you, my sweet daughter. Although we often joke that you’re ten going on twenty-five, in the end you’re not yet fully developed or able to fend for yourself. You still have a lot to learn cognitively and emotionally. Your mom and I want to be here to protect you and teach you, and naturally we plan to.
But what if we couldn’t be here for you? My fervent prayer is that Heather, Jamie and other friends and family would step in and you’d end up just fine. But would your mom and I be able to help you, or guide you, or experience you in any way from the other side?
Virtually every religion addresses the notion of an afterlife that encompasses either reincarnation, the immortality of the soul, or both. Historians, theologians, philosophers, and other people much smarter than me have been debating the afterlife, or the possible lack of it, for thousands of years. There are more explanations and theories about what happens after we die than you can imagine. They’re all equally likely or unlikely depending on your faith, your hopes, and your spiritual needs.
The one theory that no one seems to think is particularly likely, however, concerns the conscious mind as we know it. In other words, can our soul (or spirit, or whatever you choose to call it) maintain a consciousness of its everlasting presence? When my time on earth is done, I would like to be able to look upon you, your sisters, and the rest of our family and recognize our connection.
I guess that’s an earthly yearning and not a spiritual one. Maybe in the end our spirit is infinitely more evolved than that. Sometimes I feel your grandma’s presence with me and she’s been gone almost a decade. I’ll remember something she said to me that makes me smile. Or I’ll be feeling down and the memory of her will pop into my head and cheer me up. But is that really your grandma reaching out from some other place or is it simply memory association here on earth?
Many years ago, the night my Granny Goldberg died (your great-grandmother), I had an overwhelming feeling as I drifted into a fitful sleep. It was as if her spirit was urging me to come with her and I was trying to get out of my body to follow. It scared the bejesus out of me, and that night I barely slept a wink for fear I might die too. The sensation was all too real. But was the spirit world really beckoning me, or was my heart and brain simply grappling with the notion of losing my grandma, with whom I had been very close? I have no idea.
Here’s what I do know.
Life is fragile.
Our time is short.
Any given hug could be our last.
If there is a great beyond, I hope I can recognize you in it. Until then, I will love you in the here and now and count my blessings each and every day.
All my everlasting love,