Thursday, January 13, 2011
IS THERE AN AFTERLIFE?
After realizing that Mormonism is a sham, I began wondering about an "Afterlife." Not believing that those types of beliefs are exclusively Mormon anymore (as I was programmed to believe), I have sometimes wondered whether Christian beliefs are even plausible. I've gone back and forth, sometimes calling myself Agnostic because I have not been sure whether God really exists, and if there is a God, I am uncertain as to what his/her form really is - and simply calling myself Spiritual but not Religious since I am very much against organized religion now because I believe it's all about money and power.
My questions about an Afterlife came to a head the night before my father passed away in May 2006. He was 92 years old, but had been in relatively good health up until a month before his death when he had a stroke and began to decline. In mid-May, after hearing how he was deteriorating, my brother Jim, his wife Daisy, and I decided to go to Utah to see him. I had just moved from California to Georgia that January (to live near my brother, his wife and several of their children and grandchildren) so I was living relatively close to them at the time. My father had remarried a year or so after my mother passed away in 1977, and he had lived with his new wife Bonnie in American Fork, Utah since 1978.
When we arrived in Utah, we went to the hospital to see him - and I was immediately struck by how frail he looked. He was paralyzed on his left side and his speech was so bad that it was very difficult to understand what he would say. Of course, his wife Bonnie was there and was very distressed by the situation. While Jim, Daisy and I were at the hospital, my father's doctor asked if he could speak with us. He proceeded to tell us that our father's condition was very tentative, that his prognosis was not good, and that there was very little they could do for him. It was at that point that the doctor recommended that my father be taken home and that hospice care should be instituted. At first, hearing the doctor talk about hospice care was difficult for me, probably because I realized that meant the end was very near for him. But then, I knew that if my father was relegated to living the way he was right then, and was indeed permanently paralyzed on his left side and unable to speak well enough to make himself understood, it would be tortuous for him. He had always been a very active, vital man. He had golfed from the age of 55 until 82 when he was forced to stop because of problems with his knees. Laying in bed day-after-day, unable to take care of himself or even make himself understood did not seem to me to be a life my father would want to continue to live. So after discussing the realities of the situation, we all decided that taking him home and beginning hospice care was best under the circumstances. When we told him that we were going to take him home, he was very happy.
On Saturday afternoon, my father was transported to his home in American Fork. But once he was home, it began to seem that he was improving. His demeanor became much more upbeat, and although he still wasn't easily understood, he just seemed better. Not long after he arrived at his house, his Mormon Bishop and some other men from his Mormon Ward came to the house. After going in to his room and visiting with him for a while, the Bishop took me aside and began talking to me about how much better my father seemed and that it was obvious he was improving - and then he proceeded to tell me that we should not be doing hospice care on him but rather life-sustaining measures should be taken to keep him alive. I remember looking at this Bishop and thinking that he was spouting the Mormon rhetoric as well as the official Mormon position, but he wasn't taking into account the reality of the situation or the quality of life that my father would be subjected to if "life-sustaining measures" were taken.
At the time, I had not been to a Mormon Church for over a year and a half, so I had not had to deal with the rhetoric typically spouted by Bishops and other Mormon leaders. After leaving the church, I had stopped being intimidated by these men and so decided to tell him my opinion - which was that quality of life was extremely important, and that if my father was forced to live the remainder of his life in a semi-paralyzed state and unable to speak coherently that it would be tantamount to holding him prisoner. Naturally, the Bishop didn't respond well, and told me that it was obviously the Lord's will that my father live, so whatever I had to say on the subject really didn't matter. Shut me down quick. Of course, I felt like asking him why he was even talking to me about this since he didn't really want to hear what I had to say, but I decided to end the conversation rather than take it into those avenues.
Finally, the bishop and his entourage left, and just family was left in the house. A short time later, two of my nephews arrived and visited with their grandfather. One of my nephews, Todd, was visibly shaken up by how frail his grandfather seemed, and I was very touched when I saw him in the hallway crying. Not long after that, Jim and Daisy decided to leave to go stay at one of their son's houses for the night, and my two nephews left as well. But I decided that I wanted to stay there with my father and Bonnie, so I asked Bonnie if I could spend the night on their couch, and of course, she said yes. Because of what happened later that night, I am very glad I stayed.
The first event of the night was the arrival of my step-mother's son, Jay Paul. He's a very nice man, and I like him very much. My father had always spoken highly of Jay Paul, and I knew that they had become very close over the years. After arriving, Jay Paul immediately went into my father's room to visit with him, and Bonnie accompanied him. I stayed in the living room while they were in there because I wanted to give them some privacy. They were in there for quite a while, and after they came out, they both seemed very distressed. They sat down on the couch and began discussing whether the right decision had been made, questioning if hospice was the right route. Of course, my step-mother sounded just like the Bishop, almost quoting him verbatim, so I knew that he had confronted her with his opinion as well and made her feel that hospice care was not the right route. I could feel their distress, and I empathized with them totally. After all, this was not an easy decision.
Deciding to stay out of the discussion at that point, I decided to go back into my father's room and sit with him again. I tried carrying on a conversation with him, but it was very difficult since he couldn't communicate very well. So I just sat there, talking to him, nodding my head a lot, and holding his hand for quite a while. Finally, I told him that I needed to go to the bathroom, and I left the room for a few minutes.
When I returned to my father's room, it was as if I was walking into an entirely different world. My father was looking at an area just above his bed, was holding his right arm out as if he was touching people, and was speaking (albeit incoherently) to what seemed to be spirits hovering above his bed. When I entered the room, I went over and sat down in the chair by his bed again, although he seemed to be unaware of my reappearance in the room. As I sat there watching this for quite a while, I was convinced that there really were spirits visiting him. As he spoke to these spirits, he would smile and laugh - his signature very robust laugh that I remember so well growing up. He seemed so much like his old self again, and it was very endearing.
After sitting there observing this for what seemed like a very long time, I got up and went to find Bonnie. Jay Paul had left, so now it was just me, Bonnie and my father in the house. I told Bonnie what I had been observing and asked her to go to my father's room with me. So we both walked back there, sat down and watched what my father was doing. After 10-15 minutes, I reached out and touched my father on the arm, startling him. In fact, he was so startled that he seemed perturbed with me that I had interrupted something so important. Then Bonnie spoke to him, asking him what was happening - and he just stared at the two of us for a minute or so. It was very evident to me that we had brought him back from another place, perhaps from the threshold of the spirit world.
Finally, Bonnie began asking my father to whom he had been talking. Of course, since it was very hard to understand him, we couldn't make out what he was saying. So Bonnie asked him whether he had seen my brother Bobby (who had passed away in 1961 when he was 14 years old) - and he nodded yes. Then she asked him if he had seen my mother - and he nodded No, looking a little bewildered. Then Bonnie asked him whether he had seen Bonnie's mother (who had passed away a few years earlier), and he again nodded yes.
After that, Bonnie and I walked out into the hallway and talked for a little bit. We were both awestruck by what was happening and didn't quite know what to make of it. I told her that it was obvious to me that my father was at the brink of the spirit world, and that people he knew who had passed away were coming to visit with him, possibly as a precursor to his passing away. Of course, she didn't want to believe that he was being drawn that close to the spirit world because that would seem to mean that his death was imminent. At 92 years of age, though, and particularly after a month of struggling physically following a severe stroke, it was apparent to me that his death was most likely very close. Bonnie is a very dear person, and she was a wonderful wife to my father, always taking care of him very well, but she is also 20 years younger than him, so there was always the possibility that he was going to pass away long before her life is over. But she always seemed unwilling to accept that fact.
After we finished talking in the hallway, I walked back into my father's room and sat down beside him again. As I sat back down, it became more and more apparent to me that he was disappearing further and further into this other world, seeming not to even notice my presence again. But regardless of that, I spent the next two hours sitting there, watching what was going on. It was 1:30 am before he finally wound down and fell asleep. And he never woke up. The following afternoon, he passed away.
When I relayed this experience to my brother and his wife, I found their reaction to be very interesting. They immediately started telling me that this experience was confirmation that Mormonism was true and that I needed to go back to church. Basically, they asked me how I could continue to turn my back on the Mormon Church when I had witnessed such a miraculous event. Of course, this is a typical Mormon response since according to "them," any type of spiritual experience is inherently Mormon in nature.
At first, my Mormon programming began to kick in. Hearing them talk about this experience that way made me almost begin to believe them, and I began to ask myself the same questions they had posed. But then, almost like an epiphany, it struck me that this experience doesn't mean that Mormonism is true - it simply means that after this life, we will go to another place, whether you want to call it an Afterlife... or the Spirit World... or Heaven... or whatever... and a person doesn't have to be Mormon to either recognize those facts or go there.
Looking back at this experience now, I am still struck by the feeling that there is indeed an Afterlife of some sort. Of course, since I know that Mormonism is not true, the Mormon view of an Afterlife or Spirit World or Heaven cannot be accurate - and perhaps Christian views in general aren't accurate either. After all, those who die aren't coming back to talk about it (even though some people would disagree with me on that, believing in mediums and seances). Also, people do occasionally speak of Near-Death Experiences and seeing a bright light that they feel drawn to walk toward. While I do not claim to understand what exactly it is they have seen, I do find the details of these types of experiences to be very interesting.
But regardless of what Mormons, Catholics, Episcopalians, Buddhists, Muslims or any other type of religion may teach, and putting all "religion" aside, I still believe that our spirits continue to live after we leave our mortal states even though I cannot claim to know the form or nature of that Afterlife. Atheists, of course, disagree with me on this -- and claim that this life is IT. Nothing more. When we die, we go into the ground, and cease to exist. I guess that conclusion is simply too sad for me. It seems to me that the implications of that conclusion are that our lives here have no purpose, no meaning, no reason for being. So futile and moot. Not a mindset in which I feel comfortable.
For me, it all boils down to watching my father the night before he died. And since I don't believe that he was hallucinating, I have to believe that he was indeed conversing with people on the other side. That experience answered a lot of questions for me. And no, it did not make me realize that Mormonism is true.
Death is one of two things. Either it is annihilation, and the dead have no consciousness of anything; or, as we are told, it is really a change: a migration of the soul from one place to another. ~Socrates
I believe that when death closes our eyes we shall awaken to a light, of which our sunlight is but the shadow. ~Arthur Schopenhauer
Death is not extinguishing the light; it is putting out the lamp because dawn has come. ~Rabindranath Tagore