In early February an event occurred which led to a brief relapse in my spiritual journey. The ‘First Lady'(for those unfamiliar with the term it means a pastors’ wife) of a church I briefly attended in my late teens passed away suddenly. She was very young and she quite literally dropped dead. She was out for a walk and collapsed from a brain aneurysm and was pronounced deceased upon arrival at the hospital. Just shy of forty seven, she was the exact same age as my Mom was when she passed in 2005.
When a friend called me to inform me of the First Lady’s passing, I was completely shocked. Though it had been years since I’d seen her, in my mind she was still the same outgoing and bubbly woman. Finding out that she was now gone completely floored me! You always assume that people will live to a ripe old age but sometimes that just isn’t the case. The fact that she was in great health and was so young made me think of death and question my own mortality. It’s so easy to just get up everyday, going through your routine without thinking about the grave. Then someone dies and it makes you reflect.
Before my Mom passed I certainly had experiences with death. But it wasn’t until she passed that my own mortality was finally brought home to me. I can still remember the day of her funeral. Afterwards I laid on my bed in my old room, looking up at the ceiling dry faced and thinking to myself: One day I am going to die too. I am going to die, and when I do my daughter is going to experience the same pain and loneliness in her heart that I am feeling right now! The thought was both sobering and disturbing for me. Sobering because it out things in perspective. Disturbing because it was a reality that I couldn’t do anything about.
So last week I ended up back in the same place I was when I buried my mother: thinking of my mortality and trying to come to grips with it. I wondered about the First Lady-what she felt at the moment her soul left, if anything. And where was she now? Was she simply unconscious, ceasing to feel anything at all? Depending on what one believes in terms of spirituality there can be multiple responses to that question. But none of us can say for sure. It’s all just guessing and we won’t find out for sure until we experience death ourselves.
As I reflected some of my old fears returned. What if there is an afterlife? What if Hell and the Lake of Fire are real? I am so ashamed to admit it, but all of those ‘hellfire and brimstone’ sermons from my time in the church came back with a vengeance. The thought of being thrown into a Lake of Fire and burning for eternity gave me panic attacks three nights in a row. When I’d take a deep breath and calm down, I’d realize that I was being silly and was simply letting my indoctrination get the best of me. The idea of a Loving and Merciful God committing such a reprehensible act as burning His creation for eternity is contradictory and irrational. And my mind knows that. But old beliefs die hard. My experience last week has shown me that I still have a way to go on my road to recovery from religious indoctrination. I’m not free yet, but I will still work at shedding those chains.