Have you ever wondered about life after death? Whether our souls go on to some other place or we just cease to exist? I know this is a pretty big topic and makes some people uncomfortable but for whatever reason, it has always fascinated me. I remember contemplating God pretty seriously when I was only 8 or 9, and loved discussing how religions relate to one another with my friends in high school in college. I suppose it’s no wonder this is what I got my degree in- assuming I’d probably never use it as I didn’t think I wanted to be a pastor. But it wasn’t until my dad died about 5 years ago that I really began to deeply examine what I believed in a less theoretical way.
My Dad found out he had terminal cancer about a year and a half before he died. I was so grateful for the time we had to say goodbye and process it. He even got to walk me down the aisle at my wedding which brings tears to my eyes every time I remember. His health went downhill pretty quickly after that, which I can’t imagine is just coincidence. One of the most beautiful things that came out of that whole time for me was a newfound certainty in my heart that life does go on after death. There were some particular experiences that lead to this feeling. I am planning to write a few posts about these experiences, beginning with a book.
I had never listened to a book on CD before- even though I got library books by the dozen, and spent hours in my car each day, I had never wanted to try one. I also read about 95% fiction. But for some reason, that day I felt sure I should go pick out a book on CD, and the one that jumped out at me was non-fiction: Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s book On Life After Death. I didn’t even connect it with my dad when I picked it out, and I had never heard of it. Looking back, I don’t know why I chose that one. Kubler-Ross is a Swiss psychiatrist who spent her entire life studying death. Her book On Death and Dying is known as the go to book on understanding dying and grief. She’s the one who came up with those famous stages of grief- denial, anger, bargaining, etc. She was also a proponent of the hospice system. But I had never heard of this book about life after death. As she continued to dedicate her life to understanding death, this scientist was amazed to find herself feeling sure that there was life after death. Being with countless people on their death bed, watching their last breaths and experiencing their last days, she saw incredible things. She also began interviewing people (over 20,000 of them) who had died for short periods of time and came back to life either naturally or by medical intervention. What moved her (and me) was the consistency of their stories. Regardless of their religion, total lack of spiritual belief, or culture, they had remarkably similar experiences. Often they knew things they literally had no way of possibly knowing.
I remember one story where a child died, and came back to life saying he had seen a few dead family members (not unusual) but also that his uncle was dead too. This uncle-as far as anyone knew-was alive and well in another state. They assumed the boy was mistaken. But of course, they found out a few hours later that the uncle had indeed died earlier that day, but no one had found him until a few hours after the boy awoke. There is literally no possible way this boy could have known that without seeing him in the afterlife. Stories like this abound in Kubler-Ross’ book (and others I have read since.). I will never forget listening to this book tape as I drove to and from the hospital to visit my dad, the scratchy voice of an old Swiss woman telling stories that gave me goosebumps. I began to feel certain that death is not the last time we see our loved ones, and it is also not a bad thing.
You might be thinking it’s no wonder that I believe this- I was raised going to church every Sunday and being told we go to heaven when we die. I also have my own personal fascination with God and all things spiritual. But honestly, I’ve always been skeptical in a lot of ways. I’ve felt the pull between feeling fascinated by faith and energy and miracles but also felt doubt whether it could be real, and fearing that I would find myself being judged as foolish if I did believe. I think that’s why this book was so influential for me. It was written in a way that makes it clear, Kubler-Ross is a researcher first and foremost. I could feel through her voice and words that she came in to this research with similar skepticism to mine. Her curiosity lead to incredible findings, some of which she knew would make people question her credibility. She was brave enough to write about what she found anyway. That inspires me tremendously.
The most consistent thing I have read is of how wonderful it is wherever we go after death. It changes things when you begin to feel sure that your soul goes on. Life is less serious- a treasure to be sure, but also a chance to have fun, take some risks, and see how far you can stretch. While losing people we love and contemplating our own brief life span is never easy, it does feel a whole lot less permanent and scary when you believe that death is not the end and we will be together again.
I invite you to explore one of the following books if you have ever wondered about death, or felt less than certain about the afterlife. Each one has a very unique perspective. I loved all of them.
- On Life After Death (Elisabeth Kubler Ross) – More scientific, good for someone with some skepticism.
- Heaven is for Real (Todd Burpo) – This one is about a young boy who dies and comes back to life. Very compelling but definitely a Christian perspective, so if you have issues with Christianity, this may not be your best choice.
- The Afterlife of Billy Fingers (Annie Kagan)- About a middle aged drug addict dying and sending the sister he left behind messages from the afterlife. Helpful for understanding addiction, pain and how it all fits into our purpose here on earth. A decidedly spiritual option, not about organized religion at all. Really beautiful.