Today, I woke up to a phone call informing me that a friend’s mother had passed away.
It’s never easy handling the news that anyone you know is now gone; less so before breakfast. There’s this desperate reflex cliché grasp at hope that usually invites us to think that he/she is in a ‘better place’. And while I’d like to believe it, I cannot reason it out. I’m extremely religious and believe but I’m also extremely logical and fail to understand it.
How can ‘Heaven’ or this ‘better place’ be applicable in all contexts – let alone any context – in such a way that we can properly comprehend it?
If you’re an apostate or an atheist, then you probably don’t believe in Heaven or Hell, and consequently consider death to be of no ultimate consequence to the deceased other than to balance out an equation started off by birth. Logically, if you didn’t ask to be born, you can’t choose to die, so the only people impacted by the death are those you touched with your life.
If you’re religious, then it’s dicey. You may believe in reincarnation, in which case, I have to wonder what being in a better place really means. Seeing as one is oblivious to the transition, all the relative connotation behind ‘better’ is really fallacious. I think I’d much rather be a sick cow in a familiar setting with the rest of my cow friends wallowing in my poop than have to start anywhere, from scratch, unaware. I think it’s the fear of losing everything dear to us that makes it hard to imagine something better after death.
If you’re part of the larger religions that believe in the afterlife, then the logic is that if you were good, you ascend to Heaven and if you were bad you drop to Hell. Maybe I’m a skeptic, but I never pretend to know how many lives anybody saved in their days on this blue marble. Likewise, I can’t feign to keep count of how many corpses one may have shoved under their beds and how many rotten skeletons were then transferred into their closets. By that logic, I like to stick with the principle that none can judge man but God for He knows all. That said, isn’t saying ‘He/She’s in a better place’ kind of…judging a person? Or is judging only applicable when it’s negative? What guarantee is there for those who believe their loved one was good? What consolation is there for those grieving for the wicked? The ‘pain’ argument is fickle. In fact, I think saying ‘he/she is no longer in pain’ is exactly how suicidal thoughts began being nurtured. Life is pain.
I guess the point I’m making is that we can’t understand what comes next and we don’t try to. Many times we’re just left with blind faith.
Very recently I was discussing Jeffrey Lang’s Even Angels Ask with a friend and we both reached a dead end while discussing the following quote.
“I can believe in Hell because there’s plenty of that here on Earth. But Heaven? I can’t conceive of it.”
Neither could we, objectively. At the end of the day, we have profound judgmental shortcomings as human beings. Our perspectives are so limited, selfish and uneducated that we can never be able to fathom ‘Heaven’. When you’re a baby, it probably involves pacifiers, food, soft blankets, tons of toys and multiple mothers. When you get less young, you increase the toys, lose the food and the blankets and a few if not all mothers and then add some candy and lots of friends and TV. As a teen, whatever would’ve been Heaven is utterly retarded. Past that age, it changes everyday until you plateau and have this idealistic simplified, myopic oasis fueled by the stress you’ve endured in the dystopic world you dwell in. And each next chapter in our definition of ‘Heaven’ will be as contextually narrow-minded as the last.
I pondered all this as I sat by my phone wondering if I should call my friend who’s mother just passed.
What do I tell her? It seems we as a species are hard wired to lie in order to make people(ourselves included) feel better and tell the truth when we know it’ll hurt. Sometimes, the truth hurts less. Sometimes that hurt is necessary. Most times it’s hard to say. Instead of lying, I think I’ll tell her that “Her life was fully appreciated. Her impact was fully felt. She’s moved many people’s worlds. She’s accomplished in ways we can only hope to be in a lifetime. We shall miss her.” Vague, practical and safe.
While still typing this, my phone rang. It was her. She spilled out the heartfelt pain of losing her mother and her deepest hopes for her peace and exaltation in the life after this and I managed to say something that was not only true, but also spiritually relevant.
“I have faith that she is in a better place. While I can’t explain it, I do believe it. And I do wish it for her with every iota of strength in my person. Be strong.”
Hug those you love. Life is not promised.