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.”

swallowtail butterflies

Swallowtail butterflies

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?