What is your idea of heaven?
When I was a kid I had a strictly child-friendly Catholic idea of it, with white clouds and angels playing harps and the ability to have a one-on-one with the Big Guy whenever you wanted. Eventually I realized that this would be a fairly boring heaven, and changed my idea to something a little more rewarding: a place where I can have ice cream for dinner and the faucets flow with Guinness. Then in my 20s I read a book called Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives. This opened my eyes to the possibility of options. I don’t think the afterlife is a place, necessarily. I think we have choices. Want to go back for a second shot? Reincarnation. Want to retire from the game entirely? Christian-style heaven. Want to watch the world without participating? Ghost!
My husband grew up with a weird sense of heaven. He went to a very strict church as a child, and he was told that in heaven you will live in the light of God and praise him for eternity. Which to him sounded more like hell and led to him getting the heebie-jeebies about anything spiritual. He is most definitely agnostic and has an intrinsic belief system but still says he’s an atheist because he has been so scarred by religion. And so, he has spent a great deal of his life believing that when we die, we just die.
Now, perhaps I am the dreamer of the relationship, but I definitely think there’s more to it than that. I don’t think I have the answer by any means, but I feel, as stated, that there are options. Eventually, Mark developed his own idea of heaven, one that has no palace in the sky, and leaves ones body in the ground, but is still so heartbreakingly beautiful. He believes that we live on in the stories that we tell and create a heaven for other people.
Here’s an example.
We are having a hard week. Mark’s step-father is on life support, and they will be taking him off oxygen tomorrow. This is hard for me as well, because he is dying from the same thing that killed my Aunt Ka over 10 years ago. Mark is taking this harder than he had expected. He always put Tommy in his mind as a sort of bad guy….he was the one who made him do the dishes and who took away his video games and the like. This is the stuff Mark remembered before, but now he’s an adult who sees how the lights are kept on and the rent gets paid, and realizes: this guy did not have to stay. There were four kids in that house and only one was his. He did not need to devote his time and energy to them, but he did. This realization has hit my husband hard.
We were talking about the kiddos, and how they don’t know Tommy, and I said to him that he doesn’t need to worry because his heaven already lives in them. Ask any one of the kiddos what they know about Tommy and they will tell you this “Dad once punched a kid in the face for calling Tommy the N-word.” Because he did. It’s one of his best stories. He was expelled from school but his mother took him for ice cream after. It may be a small and silly bit of information, but it’s something that shows how fiercely Mark once felt about this man, enough to stand up to class bullies for him. Mark seemed somewhat comforted by this, because for him, heaven is in your history.
For my own beliefs, I feel like Tommy will be watching his family as they celebrate his life and mourn their loss. Then I think he will go and make his choice, because we all have options in the end.