In January, two people in my life died within a week’s time. One was a relatively new friend whose overtures to me were heartwarming and welcome; and one was a longtime warm acquaintance whom I grew to admire and respect. Each of them left something of themselves in me in life and in death.
The first of these friends had a strong connection to an online community, and a large group of people gathered online to grieve. I joined them, and I’ve never experienced anything like it. She was greatly loved, mostly for her affectionate and supportive presence in our lives. Many expressed what they think has happened to her, now that she is no longer on the mortal plane. Even in my grief, it was fascinating to read how people found comfort through their beliefs in the afterlife. Is she aware of how we feel about her, now that she is gone? Is she present in our lives, following what we do and what we think, simply because we loved her?
I, too, believe in an afterlife; but I couldn’t begin to tell you what I believe about its nature—only what I hope. From my father’s death when I was eighteen, I have wondered if he knew what was happening in my life. Every single major event in my life, I have missed him: my college graduation, my wedding, the birth of my children and their accomplishments, the illnesses and terrible moments of pain. Are you there? Do you know? Do you see?
I wonder too about my brother, whom I hardly knew in adulthood. Does he see what his death from AIDS has wrought in my life? Is the small amount of work I do for the HIV/AIDS community just for me—which is enough—or does he see and understand?
I can’t know the answer to these questions, but I find myself deciding that, if they are aware, those who have gone before me would be happy for me in my life because I am basically at peace. My life has changed because of each of these people, and some were aware because I told them so. As much effect as a death has on me, it is given meaning in the life that was lived and the one I choose to live as a result.
And so I am left with some final, unknowable questions: What will be said when it is my turn? And will I hear? All I can say to my loved ones is, God willing, I will be there; I will watch; I will listen; and I will continue to love you with all my heart until the end of time.