The exploration of life after death, spirituality, offering good counsel, suggesting creative ways to enter into the mystery begins simply and powerfully:
Just after I introduced myself as his hospice chaplain, Charlie recounted the day he heard the news of the diagnosis. He was an active, 60-year-old retired salesman, married 35 years to Belle.
“It was a worst case scenario,” he reported, “The cancer had spread everywhere.” His doctors gave him six months. He and Belle were devastated. They phoned their oldest daughter who lived out-of-state, and told her the news through a veil of tears.
Daughter Susan sobbed and sobbed, and eventually managed to whisper, “but you can’t die … I’m pregnant and due in seven months!” It was Charlie’s first grandchild — the thought elated him. The worst day of his life was also the best.
Rabbi Gary S. Fink has crafted an excellent essay on life after death and its importance even to those who do not believe in an afterlife. He challenges us to expand our notions of life after death–even if we believe “in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.”
Typically, life after death implies going to heaven. A 2005 ABC News poll indicated that most Christians in the United States envision continued existence in a heavenly, other-worldly place after death.
However, the practice of legacy-building expands the way we think about afterlife.
For those whose spiritual worldview may not envision or emphasize a supernatural afterlife, legacy building can diminish existential anxiety about death. Legacy building provides “this-worldly” possibilities of eternal life through the indelible impact that we make on those around us. It provides hope of continuing existence through everlasting bonds or ongoing influence in the world.
I encourage you to read the entire essay “You Don’t Have to Believe in Heaven to Find Life after Death” on The Huffington Post. More importantly let us incorporate our learning into the way we understand and work with our own dying (we are all living with dying whether we will admit it or not). Let our lessons inform and comfort others, too.
For further consideration:
- Hospice Foundation of America (HFA) – resources, conversations, help for those who are dying and those who care for them
- Hospice and Caregiving Blog of HFA – a variety of short pieces to lead you into reflection, questions, new understandings, and encouragement