Do you believe in life after death? I do. I always have. I couldn’t believe that, when someone dies, the essence of who they are just disappears into nothingness. To me, this cannot be true. I believe that those who have passed do communicate with us, stay around us (although not all of the time), and do move on while keeping watch over us.
(I am in the middle in black. Janna is to the left of me with the long blond hair. )
When my sister died in a car accident in 1993, she was just shy of her 28th birthday. Vibrant, smart, funny, beautiful, compassion, driven, caring, Janna was all of these and more. My family was devastated. All of us were shell-shocked. She had touched every person who’d known her those last few years in a positive way. She made people laugh. She exuded peace, and there was an inner glow about her that last year or two. The radiance of her spirit shone through her human form, and she looked timeless. She was… amazing.
In some ways, I envied her. Her confidence, her humor, her wit, her beauty. (I didn’t begrudge her any of it, and I celebrated her successes. I just wished I could be more like her.)
I remember the call on that fateful day. Dad, Mom, and I piled into the car and raced up to the hospital in Modesto where her husband waited. My brother and sister-in-law met us there. Janna lay in a comma, unresponsive. There was swelling on the brain. The doctors didn’t give her any anti-inflammatories; they’d decided she was beyond help. As we grieved for this beautiful person, the organ harvesters circled like vultures, urging her husband to donate her organs before her heart stopped beating. It felt as if they weren’t trying to save her, that they just wanted her organs.
I was angry with them, and equal parts resigned and defiant. Part of me knew, had known as we traveled to her side, that she wouldn’t make it. Another part of me denied it could be true. She had to live.
But, then, sitting by her bed, I looked at her–she didn’t look like the Janna I knew. Her face was swollen beyond recognition and the light was gone. I held her hand and said, “It’s okay, Janna, you can go. I’ll see you again. This isn’t over between us.”
It wasn’t okay, it really wasn’t, but I said it because I knew that if she needed to, if it was her time, I couldn’t hold her back from her destiny.
As I sit here typing this, I am crying. More than twenty years have passed, and I still miss her. She was my best friend.
But her death confirmed my belief in the afterlife for Janna’s spirit was strong. She communicated with us in the most amazing ways… a lot.
On the day of her funeral after the service, everyone came back to my parents’ house. It was summer and warm. The doors were open, and swallowtail butterflies filled the air. There were literally hundreds of them… everywhere. Inside, outside. They clung to the walls in the house; they landed on and clung to people; they fluttered by and brought smiles to everyone’s faces. I’ve never seen anything like it before or since. To us, all of us, it was a sign. Janna was saying, “Hey, it’s okay. I’m still here. I’m not stuck in your form anymore, but I haven’t left. I’ve graduated to a higher one, and it’s amazing.”
She came in dreams. Her favorite perfume would surround us when we walked into an empty room. Songs that I sang at her wedding, and funeral, would play over the sound system in restaurants just as we entered. That first Christmas, everyone was at Mom and Dad’s. Ice skating was on TV, although I don’t think anyone was watching it. All of us, but Mom, were in the living room/kitchen. Mom walked in and suddenly “All I Ask of You” from Phantom of the Opera started playing. Seven years after it’s popularity had waned, and a skater had chosen it to skate to the song that I sang at her wedding. It just happened to play when all of us were in the room. We knew Janna was just telling us she was there with us, celebrating, if only in spirit.
Those were dark days, but she made her presence felt. That helped. It helped a great deal.
So, yes, I believe in life after death. And while I wish Janna was still here on earth in human form, I know she’s with me in spirit. It’s not quite the same, but I am grateful to have known her.
Do you believe in the afterlife?
Yes, I believe there is some thing/where beyond our mortal selves. I’m just not prepared to define it. I’ve felt the presence of people I’ve lost, as if they were comforting me.
Just yesterday when I was subbing, I had a free class and on the way back to the classroom I passed a room where a boy I’d subbed for a lot last year, sat at a computer without noticing me. I used to think he didn’t like me, but once I took the opportunity to chat with him, I realized he’s just a mischievous boy, but smart and well-meaning. When I’ve subbed for him this year he greets me with real pleasure, saying he’s glad to see it’s me there for the day. I thought about leaving him to his classwork, but once I passed the door, I doubled back, thinking, “No, I’ll just go say hi to him.”
Once in the classroom he jumped up like he would hug me, but I stiffened (he’s 16, I don’t want to be accused of any “funny stuff”), and he didn’t. He and I both sat and he asked me “How’re things?” I said ok, then asked how he was doing. He said not good because he has a funeral to go to on Thursday. I asked if it was a relative. Yeah, HIS DAD! Turns out parents are divorced, but he and his younger sister spent every other weekend with Dad, who died in a car accident not his fault. I offered condolences and found out that he hadn’t told anyone at school, though it happened the previous week. And when his Mom suggested he talk to counselors, he told her he didn’t know any of them, and what would he say, what could they offer?
Having lost both of my parents in the past 5 years, I talked with him about the stages of grief, and how he should share his loss with his teachers, so they will cut him some slack. I told him to be gentle with himself, as he works through the pain he’s still not really acknowledging yet. When he told me he has to be “the man” for his mother and sister, I reminded him that he’s also still a child, and he has to talk to his Mom and other adults, to let them help him grieve.
All of a sudden I realized, and told him, that his father must have pushed me through the door that hour, knowing that his son needed to begin the process of healing, and needed someone to listen to him. I told him I’d hug him, but didn’t want to embarrass him. He jumped up and said, “So?” holding out his arms. We hugged, and I told him that getting hugs is a big part of healing. I treat all of the teenagers I sub for like they’re my children, since I’ve raised my 4 to their early 20s. I really believe you can never have too many “moms” who care for you.
Thanks for sharing the beautiful picture of your family. Your sister was indeed a beautiful woman, but then so are you. My atheist Dad used to say the only way we lived on is if someone remembers you, with love. I’d respectfully quote old “Will” to him: There are more things on heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
I believe you were led, Fiona. That young man’s father was watching over him, and you were his angel on earth. All teachers need to be more like you. I am surprised you are still a sub, unless that’s your choice.
And thank you. I’ve always thought Janna was prettier than me. She’s what we called a pocket Venus. She had the curves; I had the height. She wanted height; I wanted both. LOL
BTW, my father was an atheist until she died. At that point, he couldn’t accept that someone so vibrant could just no longer exist.
No, I’m a sub because I’m too old for the administrators to see as a viable candidate anymore. 11 years ago, in my mid-forties, I thought I might have had a chance to get hired, and I did get a couple of interviews. Now, 3 districts later,when other teachers my age are retiring after their 30 years, I don’t even get interviews. The kids love me, and I’m loathe to stop subbing since I get energized by spending time with them. And I keep thinking that somehow I’m supposed to be there for them. But the money is puny and sporadic, and even the janitors get more respect from the admin. Oh well…
My Dad was an atheist to his last breath. He insulted the priest who tried to counsel him when he was bedridden in the assisted living home. He warned me that if I let anyone say any religious words over him he’d find a way to get back at me. So I didn’t…didn’t want to take any chances.
Ah… Ageism at its finest, Fiona. And herein lies some of the problems with our schools. I bet you would make a fabulous full-time teacher.
As for your father, I’m sure his soul has discovered the truth. (G) Ironically, him saying he’d come back and get you shows that a part of him did believe in the afterlife. (g)
I loved your blog and the picture of your family
Thanks, Audrey. 🙂