What Do You Think Happens When You Die?

Yesterday, I went to the beach with three female friends.

We ate cheese…

…and swam in the warmer-than-expected water.

We broke in our summer sandals

…and slept in beds with NINE PILLOWS EACH.

And, over rosé in the evening, the conversation drifted to life and death.

“My six-year-old keeps asking me what happens when people die,” said my friend Alison. “So, I told him, ‘It’s something that every human has to do, it’s part of being alive. People believe different things about what happens afterward, and I strongly believe that there’s goodness and peace. You don’t have to be scared because Opa will be on the other side waiting for you, and I’ll be there, too, waiting for you. You don’t ever have to do it alone.’”

How heartbreakingly lovely is that? Apparently her speech was comforting because during dinner with their neighbors a few days later, her son stood up and made an announcement: “I’ve been really scared about dying,” he said, “But then I talked to my mom and she made me actually excited about dying.”

Score!!! Haha.

Did you ever read Rob Delaney’s beautiful memoir about his late son, Henry? He imagined them reuniting after death: “There is no physical paradise where he’s waiting for me, and for that I’m glad. I have to imagine that would get boring after a couple of centuries, for him, for me. For you. Rather, I suspect I am a glass of water, and when I die, the contents of my glass will be poured into the same vast ocean that Henry’s glass was poured into, and we will mingle together forever. We won’t know who’s who. And you’ll get poured in there one day, too.”

This past weekend, my sister and I saw the Chekhov play Uncle Vanya. The script was often funny, and they made it RAIN on stage. But overall the play was bleak — the takeaway seemed to be “life is suffering and then you die” — and the final words by the niece Sonya were darrrrrkkkk. “What can we do? We must live our lives. Yes, we shall live, Uncle Vanya. We shall live through the long procession of days before us, and through the long evenings; we shall patiently bear the trials that fate imposes on us; we shall work for others without rest, both now and when we are old; and when our last hour comes we shall meet it humbly, and there, beyond the grave, we shall say that we have suffered and wept, that our life was bitter, and God will have pity on us. Ah, then dear, dear Uncle, you and I shall see that bright and beautiful life; we shall rejoice and look back upon our sorrow here; a tender smile — and — we shall rest.” The catch is that she doesn’t sound convinced by her speech. She then adds, wearily, “I have faith, Uncle, fervent, passionate faith.” But does she? Must she?

On a sweeter note, during my grandmother’s funeral last year, the English vicar told us that she had now joined my grandfather “in the church yard, or wherever they are within the great mystery.” I loved that wording. The great mystery, indeed!

So, I’m wondering, what do you think happens when we die? Anything? Nothing? How does religion or culture inform your beliefs, if at all? I would love to hear your perspectives, if you’re up for sharing.

P.S. How to write a condolence noteand when I turned 40 and had a tiny little death freakout.


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