What happens when we die? What is on the other side? Is there another side?

These are questions that sooner or later we all must face and we all must answer. In my younger years, part of my professional life as a spiritual caregiver, was to walk with people to the edge of life into death. Ironically, it was in those relationships rather than my family’s terminal state that I began to explore the relationship between death and life.

Benjamin LoveI would ask them, “What do you think will happen to you when you die?” I would absorb their replies with my full attention for they were not speaking of some theoretical proposition. This was as real as it gets. The answers they gifted me revealed much about them and much about life. It was there that I found out just how significant of a role death plays in the living of life.

I believe that what someone believes is going to happen when they die has a profound influence on how they live their life. Up to that point I had thought how we lived influenced our belief in the afterlife or lack of afterlife. In these conversations I found the opposite.

I was doing spiritual care for people of all faiths and beliefs, including those with no belief, no faith. The most intriguing part of the conversation was when we explored the life they had lived in the light of happens after death. It was there where I came to a different understanding of the relationship between the Afterlife and the Afterloss. For everyone who has to face their own mortality is living where the distance between the Afterloss and the Afterlife is razor thin.

I did not start this conversation to stimulate a discussion on spiritual beliefs. It’s okay if it does, but my intent in sharing this experience is to look at how powerful belief is.

Belief in what happens beyond death can be incredibly comforting or excruciating. Belief can haunt or heal.

What we believe also holds us together or rips us to shreds in times of loss. Not only does our belief shape how we live, it also shapes how we navigate our loss. My beliefs have changed over the course of my life. My beliefs in what will happen after I die have also gone through a series of metamorphoses. There is no need to share those beliefs here. They work for me and they color and shape the landscape of my Afterloss.

The reason I am hesitant to share what I believe is that I want in this forum to offer what unites us rather than what divides. Anything that defines what it is has just defined what it is not. Division and separation is not where I want to live. My world of the Afterloss wants to transcend us/them, good/bad, right/wrong, you/me…. There is a place in my Afterloss where there is no separation, where nothing lives in isolation, where there is only love.

I have no need to change anyone’s belief system. I don’t need to defend or justify mine and I want to give anyone I share space with the same opportunity to be who they are without judgment. I just want to encourage everyone to reflect on just how powerful belief, especially belief in what happens after death, shapes how we live and how we live in loss.

When Lydia was a few weeks away from dying I asked her what she thought was on the other side. Here was a strong woman with great dignity and grace, a mother of tremendous love and wisdom, confronting her impending death. She had buried one child and was leaving another to be buried after she left. She would not be there to hold him and comfort him. Lydia had weathered more than most. We had known each other for twenty-four years, married for fourteen and I had witnessed her in the changing seasons of her life. And now we had come to the end of her life in this dimension.

Lydia’s answer to what she thought lies beyond these borders of time and space was, “I don’t know. All I know is I’ll know my babies.”

Her belief in what happens in death shaped her life, too. Lydia believed there was more than just this dimension of life, but she didn’t have to define it. She believed she would know the ones she loved deepest. And throughout her life Lydia loved deeply, not just her babies, but the world around her. She started a house for children with HIV. As a nurse she cared for HIV+ children and before HIV entered her life she cared for those on the fringes of society.

Lydia lived to give. At one time she had a belief system that had the answers. By the end of her life she didn’t need to know the answers anymore. But Lydia knew love and how to love deeply. She didn’t need to know any more than how to breathe her last breath. And my belief is when Lydia exhaled for the last time she went into the Expanse, a dimension where there is only love.

And as far as I’m concerned, she knows her babies.


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