Recently a minister training several student chaplains requested an excerpt from my forthcoming book, Encountering the Edge: A Hospice Chaplain’s Memoir, to share with them. When she polled all of her students as to their favorite theme, they voted for views on the afterlife among the choices I had supplied. Stories about a widow with impossibly romantic memories, a dementia patient who thought the nursing home was her high school, and even hospice humor did not make the final cut. I bet she led quite a discussion with them about why they selected the afterlife.
Perhaps they thought hospice chaplains have a front-row seat at the edge between life and death, therefore getting as close as one can get in the flesh as to what happens in Act 4. Certainly I have had the opportunity to listen to what the patients themselves believe is next. Some go for the traditional Heaven/Hell dichotomy, and just about all believe that they will be reunited with their loved ones in at least a reasonably congenial place. In the end, that too may come down to Heaven or Hell, depending on the kind of relationship you had with your predecessors.
Once in a while, I will hear a novel belief that in turn shapes mine. A lady in her mid-nineties facing the loss of her kid sister talked of what was in essence designer locations for the Beyond. Why limit the options to Heaven or Hell? Perhaps different kinds of places await each person, depending upon their life story, inclinations and so on. Maybe some of us will merge with Nature, others with pulses of energy. Maybe yet others will find themselves in a profound and nourishing quietness. Wherever I happen to land, I hope it includes plentiful love and the occasional dark chocolate gooey brownie minus the frosting.
Addendum: November 7, 2012: My thanks go to Dr. Carol Orsborn, baby boomer personality, who put an excerpt from this post in her weekly digest: http://fiercewithage.com/digest-of-boomer-wisdom-inspiration-and-spirituality-26/