Last week, my husband, baby and I flew back east because there was a death in the family. My husband and I wrote the eulogy. We ended up speaking to a lot of people about what happens after we die. Everyone had a different opinion. Some believe in the heaven they were taught of as children. Others staunchly believe that nothing happens after we die, or as my father used to say, “We’re eaten by worms.” Some believe in the second law of thermodynamics: Energy can’t be created or destroyed. There was even a cousin who sees ghosts and told us everything the ghosts around us (there were many) were saying.
For this Sunday’s List, we asked the Entropy community for their thoughts on the afterlife.
I believe in ghosts. I have talked to my wife’s ghost many times. She is in purgatory because of the suicide. She has told me that the afterlife is run by aliens, pleasant, yet slightly boring. I can’t speak for other people’s dead because I can only communicate with the dead I have a connection with but I have also felt my grandfather’s ghost in my 97 year old grandma’s house where he died. He walks the halls of that house that he built at midnight when the grandfather clock toles. My grandfathers ghost is lingering around his wife in her twilight years waiting for her. He loves her very much, as my wife loves me. Ghosts exist after we die, that’s all I know about the afterlife.
I’ll tell yah when I get there.
When I was a teen, my Dad said he was sure that it was like that last glow you used to see when turning off a TV late at night that had been on all day. He is now in his 70’s and fears that blank metaphor as strongly as he once swam in its glistening metallic logic. My cousin at 14 was a deep philosophical soul and I asked her at Thanksgiving “So…what happens when we die?” She paused and answered, “Well, something must spin the planets and give breath to move asteroids and comets, this is the soul in return.” She then handed me the gravy and that was that. I was born dying (umbilical cord around my neck they said), almost ended it all at 17 and was almost killed by a rare infection at 30. I hope for old pets hugging at the entry to some endless space or returning as an ant but choose what my cousin said. Let me spin planets when my time is done.
I’d love to know the answer to this. I worked as a gravedigger, putting people in the ground, and I have no idea. I like to tell myself that something happens, but at the same time, I can’t help but be overwhelmed by the thought that that last moment any of us have (and in the case of the death closest to me, my grandmother, where she was telling me to turn to TV off even though it was already off a half-hour before she died) is it. And then there’s blackness. Or maybe not. I don’t know. I wish I knew. I really wish I knew. Not that I would necessarily change it if I could, but, just to know.
When a friend died very suddenly a few years ago, I talked to him for weeks afterwards. It was a time I was driving long distances to work. At the time it truly felt like we were conversing. That he was there, answering what he could. I believed in his ghost then. I don’t know what I believe now.
David S. Atkinson
I’m sticking to a “wait and see” approach. I just don’t know enough to know what to believe, and what I believe probably won’t change what happens much.
I think about death as being the greatest release from the greatest pain. For this reason, I always assumed I’d break some long bones just before dying. Not like snapped, but more unseated, broken and crushed. Afterwards, I’m running, in spite of not having ankles or knees, and when I try to laugh at my joy my teeth float out of my mouth. But this to me is the greater crush…that when someone dies you don’t only lose that person, you also lose the self you became when you were with them, a self that was only ever that self in their presence. My hope is that in dying I’ll see those thousands of me who are gone from me. And maybe we’ll be nervous. Well, that’s coy—the coy me. We’ll be scared out of our minds just like our limbs are scared right off our bodies. My hope is that one of me will say to another of me, “just because you can’t dance doesn’t mean you don’t love the ballet.”
Dead beings literally live on in our nervous systems. Ghosts are imprints who are asking to stay. They’re asking to be seen and narrated. It’s very physical. I can feel the memory of a dead friend in my heartbeat or in a smell that I remember from a shirt they wore. The opposite and the absence proves the presence. I am sure the same regions of my brain light up that did when they were here and my heart was beating at them or my nose was sniffing at them. Ghosts are a metaphor but they also have a physical manifestation right here in our living bodies.