I've been pondering more about the afterlife, but not in the way you think. Often when someone dies, we often wonder about where the spirit resides and what it is doing. Before Isaac died, I thought I knew and understood a lot about the afterlife. When he died, I began to realize that my knowledge and beliefs are not sufficient to make me feel like I truly understand what Isaac is doing and what his capacity is in my life right now.
I'm LDS, also known as mormon. In our theology, we believe that our spirits are eternal meaning that they have always existed and will continue to exist. This means that we lived as spirits before we came to earth where we received a physical body. We often reference what we call the "veil." The veil means that when each of us was born, the knowledge of our prior existence was veiled so that this life could be a test of our faith. The short version is that the purpose of this life was for us to be removed from God and put in circumstances that allow us to choose between good and evil, thus proving our true devotion to God. If we remembered everything from before we came to earth, we wouldn't really have a choice. It would be more like having your boss looking over your shoulder so of course you would choose to do what's right. God wants us to prove our hearts. Anyway, I'm not trying to teach you about my religion but it's important that you understand these things if you are to understand what I'm talking about when I talk about the "veil."
I was listening to NPR, like I always do, and Amy Cuddy was speaking about her book. During the interview, the interviewer asked her to talk about an accident she had and her traumatic brain injury. Cuddy shared about her recovery and explained that her brain injury hadn't just changed her IQ, it also changed her personality. She told about how people would comment about how she was different now. At that time, she realized that she had been focusing on getting back to her old self. She then knew that she had to embrace her new self, whatever that was. At that moment I realized that I needed to shift my focus. Although I had used language like "moving forward" to describe my grief journey, I realized that there was a very real part of me trying to put the pieces back together. But that puzzle was my old life. This is a new puzzle, a new life, my afterlife. Sure, Isaac has an afterlife but so do I. The difficult part for the grieving persons left behind is that so much of my life looks the same. The same people, the same job, same possessions. But all those things are different now. My relationships have changed. When Isaac died, some friends that had been couple or playgroup friends became my deepest confidants. My relationship with my in-laws has deepened. Before, a lot of my relationship with them had been through Isaac. Now it can't be. I'm still a therapist, but my grief has deepened my understanding of pain. Isaac's death has also expedited my return to school for my doctorate. My belongings are the same but rather than being things, they are symbols of memories and moments with Isaac. It is so tempting to want to "fix" it when all the same pieces are in play. I just want that piece back.
I realized that this afterlife requires a type of rebirth on my part. As I pondered rebirth and birth, I longed to have a veil. I thought, "Well, it would be much easier to move forward with my new life if I couldn't so vividly remember and feel the comfort of my life with Isaac." Isaac's death was sudden and because of that it has taken time to adjust to feeling like this is my life. Now, of course I don't really want a veil because I don't want to forget Isaac. Yet, this experience of having a shift in my life, that requires a sort of rebirth, makes me recognize the uniqueness of the grief experience. Grief doesn't let you forget the past; It alters your future, and awakens you to the knowledge that all you truly have is the present.
It's almost been 10 months. I can't believe that it has almost been a year since Isaac died. There has been more sadness, more tears, more headaches than I've ever known. Yet, I feel so blessed. Every time I look at my life and think about how hard this is, I also can't help but think about how truly blessed I am. Maybe it's because I'm a therapist and I sit with suffering people so my trials always stay in perspective. Maybe it's because I was born happy--no literally, I didn't cry when I was born. Maybe it's a gift from God. Maybe it's the strength of all the people in my life that hold me up when I'm down. It's probably all those things, and I'm grateful. I'm grateful that I am still able to see all the beautiful and good things in my life even when I lost the best thing in my life. Good things are happening. Beauty is all around. And my altered future is still bright, filled with the most amazing family and friends.