The Afterlife: Do You Believe?

by Donna Kirk on March 20, 2014

When you’re dead, you’re dead. Gone, never to be heard from again. No funeral for me please or celebration of life. Those words have become a cliché to me and the celebrations are awkward. What does one talk about after the first ten minutes?

Before he died Dad said, “Throw me in a ditch. I don’t care what you do with me. I’ll never know or care.” I echo his sentiments. But others have definite ideas about honouring the remains and what, if anything happens after death.

My mother cared about what happened to her husband after he died. Dad lay in a shining wood casket for two days of visitation at the local funeral parlour, followed by a proper church dedication. No open coffin though. We knew he wouldn’t want anyone staring at him when he couldn’t talk back.

Dad was only fifty-four when he died of a sudden heart attack in 1965. My parents had been married for twenty-seven years. I can remember them embracing in the kitchen. “Have I told you today?” he asks. She wiggled from his arms, embarrassed because I was watching.

Since his death, I’ve had a recurring dream. He is still alive. He chose to leave us; his serious cardiac condition barring him from family life. He resides elsewhere in a place unknown to us. Every once in a while he returns, moody and remote, standing silently in the hallway of my teenaged home. He’s dressed in a white shirt and black pants. I’m hurt and angry that he can callously desert us. The dream makes no sense to me because he loved us so much.

In 2002, thirty-seven years later, my mother lies beside him in the plot she chose many years before. Same funerary routine, except she had only one visitation. At ninety-three, most everyone connected to her is gone. I add her name under Dad’s, and myself as daughter of the above.

Before she died, she kept pointing to Dad’s picture. “Soon I’ll be joining him.” I had my doubts, but for her sake, I hoped she was right.

With both of them gone I dug out some framed family photos and decided to make a grouping for the wall in my guest bedroom. To get the effect, I arranged three pictures on the bedspread. The first was me as a pudgy two-year old, grinning for the camera. The shadow of the picture-taker nearly covers my white Mary-Jane shoes. In the second one, Dad is sitting on the running board of a vintage Chrysler between two hunting buddies. Their shotguns are in their hands, a row of pheasants at their feet.

I placed one of Mom, a nineteen year-old flapper with a choker of pearls around her slim neck, in the middle. I lined up the photos, tops perfectly even and each separated by an equal distance. I’d hang them tomorrow.

The next morning, hammer and hooks in hand, I was shocked when my simple arrangement had been altered. The pictures of Mom and Dad were tilted, their edges touching.

Were they trying to let me know they’d been reunited at last?

In 2010, eight years later, Matthew, our forty-year old son who endured developmental disabilities and mental illness, died of pneumonia. I held him in my arms, “Where have you gone, Honey? Please let me know you’re okay.”

Nearly a year after my final words to him, Matthew came to me in a dream. One person accompanied him: a tall, rather portly man with black wavy hair, wearing dark pants and a white shirt. Matthew wore summer shorts and a brightly coloured T-shirt I recognized, along with socks and running shoes; not the clothes we’d chosen for his burial.

Matt approached me, flashed his captivating smile and wrapped his arms around me. We embraced for many moments. I closed my eyes, savouring the touch of his body and inhaling the familiar scent of his skin and glossy hair.

The companion stood far in the background, leaning against a wall, silently observing the scene.

Finally, Matthew withdrew his arms and smiled into my face. Then he and the man vanished.

I remembered my old recurring dream and realized the companion resembled my father. After Matthew was born, Mom and I often remarked how much Dad would have loved him and been his champion.

This new vision, unlike anything I had ever experienced, satisfied my longing to communicate with Matthew and see him smile. I’m no longer the smug skeptic. Now I contemplate an absorbing possibility: perhaps Dad, Mom and Matthew live on somehow – healthy, safe and loved.

Maybe when you’re gone from sight you’re not altogether gone. Maybe you do go somewhere. I’m not counting on it, but I’m leaving the door open.

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Sue Shipley March 20, 2014 at 6:52 pm

I love to hear your no nonsense voice underneath a sentiment of discovery and wonder Donna; I’m happy you are listening to your sub-conscious, it will provide you with so much amazing evidence, you’ll wonder how you ever got by without it. Great post! If you ever want to chat about the strangeness of life – let me know; we can have coffee one day.


Donna Kirk March 20, 2014 at 7:02 pm

Hi Sue,
I’d love to have coffee with you – catch up and hear about your writing… When are you available



SC Skillman March 21, 2014 at 10:26 am

A brilliantly-written, very thought-provoking and touching post. You captivated me with this, Donna.


Donna Kirk March 22, 2014 at 8:09 am

Thanks SC. Your comments are much appreciated.


jennifer mook-sang March 21, 2014 at 10:33 am

that was just beautiful donna.
thanks for sharing.


Sherry Isaac March 21, 2014 at 1:30 pm

Donna, I echo Sue’s comments. Matthew is ready to guide you on a journey of discovery and wonder. If you doubt God, then trust your son.


Crystal March 22, 2014 at 1:44 pm

Reading this story also gives me hope that our loved ones reunite with whom they also loved and are gone. I believe your mom, dad and Matthew are together and very much happy, wherever they are.

Such a touching and insightful post


Karen Neill March 22, 2014 at 4:32 pm

Donna, your writing is so open and honest, it captivated me. My mother passed away this fall. I used to be like you, very skeptical about life after death- if any part of us remains. Since my mothers death though, my view has changed. I felt a very strong presence of her in the room shortly after she passed. And my sisters and I, simultaneously decided it was time to go home- none of us discussing until later that we had all felt her presence leave the room just beforehand. She’s visited me I my dreams many times. It’s very rare for me to see the face of anybody I know in my dreams- if they are a ‘dream person’, I see their face, with a ‘real person’, I know who they are, but I never see them. Except my mother, I see her face in great detail. Perhaps she is somewhere, perhaps that somewhere is only in the loved ones she left behind. It’s wondrous to hear how others view their loved ones after death. Thank-you for sharing!


Donna Kirk April 2, 2014 at 7:28 pm

Thanks Karen. I never had premonitions of this before I lost anyone. Interesting how people “come back” to us.


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