My brother and I were talking this evening about the hand of death not reaching into our family very often. Our grandparents lived full lives and have passed slowly over time. I have seen several students die due to health issues, accidents or personal choice not to live. All tragic and difficult to experience. Not the same experience as a close family member.
In the past week, our extended family has been touched by the hand of death. A woman we have grown to love over the past 16 years died of cancer related issues and our family now enters a time of mourning. In the Sociology of Death and Dying course that I completed during university I learned about Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, a woman whose life's work began listening to those who had lost loved ones. Her listening ear lead her counselling career and eventually to a foundation. She identified the stages of mourning that loved ones who remain experience after the loss:
1. Denial and Isolation
It is up to the individual to proceed through all the stages so that the end result is not happiness about the loss, but a feeling of peace and calm. Much, much more difficult than words on a screen.
This part is may not be considered sensitive to the deceased but these are my real thoughts. Strangely part of me is jealous...jealous that the deceased knows. KNOWS. Not wonders, hopes, believes, trusts, desires, postulates, but KNOWS what happens after death. We through our various ideologies, ideas, books, leaders religions and thoughts hope we are right about what we think we know. For example:
Jewish people do not believe that death is the end of human existence. Some secular or liberal Jews believe in reincarnation as the Jewish theology does not say a great deal about the afterlife. More orthodox or conservative Jews believe in the World to Come (Olam Ha-Ba) or the Garden of Eden (Gan Eden). There is a hell (Gehinnom or She'ol), and you go to either depending on the punishment and purification process after death, the life you lead, and the living people pray for you and do good works for you after your death.
The Hindu's believe in that life and death are all part of an illusion. Life and death does not control or liberate the soul, these are just parts of being (jiva). Reincarnation is the place between death and the next life of the spirit, during which it recuperates, reassembles and makes a plan for the new life in order to reach its goal of a liberated state. Once a soul is liberated it lives with its favourite other souls and favourite dieties.
Buddhist beliefs are similar to Hindu ideology about the afterlife. Buddha added that our desires keep up returning to the earth and that we must fully extinguish all desire to become liberated.
Christians believe in heaven and hell. You are good most of your life, follow the ten commandments of Moses, remain charitable with love and you go to heaven. You are mean, selfish and evil and you go to hell. Different sects of Christianity have complicated the division of good and bad but ultimately God decides, and Jesus has the chance to interceed on your behalf to help you earn a spot in heaven.
I have met, talked with and been part of groups that really think they know, but the living can really only speculate, promise, hope, wonder, dicuss and desire to know what happens after death. For my part, I want there to be a consciousness after death. I want part of me to live long after my body is in the ground. But this is my hope, not my knowledge. In the end, we simply hope, deep down, that we know.
Most importantly we will miss those who know. Those who are dead. Shirley, we will absolutely miss you.