Column: Life after Death?

It’s a nightmare to have a loved one die on your birthday.  I never thought it would happen to me.

This past weekend, as we sat in the theater waiting for a movie to start, a commercial reminded the audience to silence our cell phones. The guy on the screen had to choose between answering an unknown number during a movie or pressing ignore. Because he was worried that it might be his doctor calling to tell him he had cancer, he decided to answer it.

It turned out to be his local drycleaners. The ending message read something like, “Your call’s not that important. Turn off your phone.”

Halfway through the movie, I felt my own phone vibrate and I saw that my auntie was calling. I contemplated walking out and answering, but assumed the family was just calling to say happy birthday. I hit ignore.

That moment keeps playing over and over in my mind.

It turns out my uncle, who had been struggling with the final stages of cancer, wanted to say goodbye. All of my relatives were gathered at the hospital in Vancouver to be with him, and they were all ready to sing me happy birthday over Skype.

By the time we returned their call, we had missed him by five minutes.

If there was ever a time to believe in a Heaven, this moment would be it.

Honestly, I’ve been a mess for the last week. I didn’t go to class, I couldn’t focus on assignments, I didn’t go out with my friends. I just didn’t want to do any of it because it all seemed so trivial next to a loved one’s death.

That’s why I think it’s crucial to believe in a Heaven, whatever that may mean for you.

It’s a comforting thought, the possibility of being reunited with loved ones in a realm where our new bodies are no longer subject to time or space — especially the being-reunited-with-loved-ones part.

In Life of Pi, the main character tells two versions of how he survived in the middle of the ocean after his family died in a shipwreck. One version is supposed to convince the listener of God’s existence. At the end he asks, which story do you want to believe — the hopeful, optimistic one, or the terrible, heartbreaking one?

I get this deep-pitted fear in my stomach, wondering what’s really out there. If God is real, what is he like? Do our deceased loved ones actually become guardian angels? What is the true standard of being allowed into Heaven?

These are questions that we can theorize all we want about, but the answers will always elude us.

What good is arguing over the existence of Heaven when no one can prove their opinion one way or the other? Would you really tell a recent widow that her husband’s cremated body is all she will ever have of him until the day it’s her turn to die and cease existing? Can you tell a parent that their child’s death has permanently severed their bond and that no amount of crying or wishing will ever convert memories into their tangible presence?

Heaven gives us hope, allows us to function in the midst of tragedy without going mental.

If I had just answered the call. If we had just eaten dinner first and then watched the movie later, like my dad suggested. If I had just read my auntie’s text instead of hitting “open” and not actually reading it.

I mean, when someone dies, everyone tells you, “they’re in a better place” or “they’re watching over us now.” But I wonder, where are they really? As a Catholic Christian, I believe in salvation and Heaven and all that, but I don’t think the human mind can even begin to fathom what’s truly out there after we die.

As much as someone’s faith may dictate what they’re supposed to believe regarding the afterlife, the details have yet to be clarified. What would existing in eternity be like? What do we occupy ourselves with when we have forever at our disposal?

It’s quite a jarring experience when you’re plucked out of your normal college routine and shoved into the bigger world — a place where studying and partying can no longer distract you and you’re forced to face real mortality.

JHUNEHL FORTALEZA is so grateful for all of your positive and encouraging emails. She can be reached at jtfortaleza@ucdavis.edu.

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