What Happens When You Die

The Shmata Queen and I have an ongoing discussion about what happens to people when they die. That wacky woman isn’t convinced that anything comes after this. You could sum up her position as life followed by death, end of story.

No heaven, no hell. Just a dirt nap during which time your corpse is eaten away, dissolving into dust.

I understand how and why she came to this position. The afterlife is based solely on faith. You can’t call your travel agent and book a flight. You can’t take a boat or a bus to get there. There is no tangible proof that it exists. She wants hard evidence. She wants a scientific proof to hang onto and we can’t give it to her.

This discussion about death is one that we have had a million times. I don’t try to convince her to rely upon faith. I leave religion out of it. Faith isn’t something that you can teach. You believe or you don’t believe. To me it is a highly personal thing and I can respect that.

So the question is what do I have to offer that isn’t based upon a belief that religious dictates are factual. To me it comes back to our children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and those that follow them. Our descendants and the memories that they carry forward or fail to carry forward are the key.

When I look at my children I see reflections of the past and glimpses of the future. There are physical markers that we can use. For example if you look at my son there are shared features. His hands and feet are virtual duplicates of mine. And of course he has many of my mannerisms and that leads me to hypothesize that some of those are things that really come from several generations ago.

If you watch my father walk through a store you’ll often see him with his hands behind his back. That comes from what he was taught when he was a little boy. Watch my son and I and you’ll often see us do that. So you could argue that something that started in the early ’40s still happens 60 some years later.

But there are other things. Things that my zaide taught my grandfather who passed it along to my dad, to me and then to my son. So we can argue that something that might have started in a shtetl in Lithuania in the 19th century is still with us in the 21st.

In addition there are the stories that we hear about relatives. My maternal grandfather has pictures of his grandmother and grandfather on the wall. They died somewhere in the early ’30s. My mother and aunt haven’t any personal memories of them, but we all know a few stories about them.

We all can tell you the story about the cab driver in Chicago who ran into my grandfather’s grandfather and knocked him down. And we can all tell you about how he picked himself up, dusted himself off and then punched the cab driver in the nose.

Here we are in 2009 talking about a man who was born somewhere around the end of the Civil War.

There are other stories that we know. Tales of family who fled the Cossacks and hid in the fields. Tales of the great grandfather who fought the police and helped tailors form a union. Stories of a great grandmother who loved to go dancing.

The point is that for me that keeps them from being totally gone. Though they might not be alive in the truest sense of the word, they aren’t completely gone.

It reminds me a bit of a conversation that we had when my friend ‘D’ died eleven years ago. Would he be forgotten and left behind, just one more soul who was taken far too young. I don’t think so. While I won’t ever have memories of him as an old man, I won’t forget him either.

And for me that works, it is enough. As long as the stories remain we can stick around. And given the advantages of modern technology there are a lot of tools. There are endless videos that we are a part of and things like this blog.

What do you think?

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