Today I am journeying to the funeral of my father-in-law’s first cousin.  She had a relatively short battle with cancer, and recently lost her fight on Wednesday morning.  She was a very young 60 years of age.  She was a larger-than-life woman who embodied a keen intelligence, practicality, stubborness, and that outspoken nature typical of the Dutch.  She also had a strong sense of family and was a loyal friend.  She was vibrant and witty, with a sense of humour and a zest for life for which she once told me in the Netherlands they have their own special word. 

 At the time, I likened it to the English word, “jovial.”  She didn’t respond, but I immediately knew it wasn’t the same at all.  She was a particular person.  She was usually right, and she knew it.  She was the go-to girl. 

Now, I’m left pondering; what was that word anyway?  My first impulse is to whip off an email to ask her…but she’s gone.  I can’t ask her another question again in this lifetime.  She wasn’t my best friend, but her absence feels very strange, even just to me.  She is still very much alive in my mind.

What happens when we die? 

At 17, I lost my father to cancer.  I remember acutely feeling like I couldn’t believe I was still here on Earth, when he was gone.  The death of my parent abruptly thrust my teenaged psyche into a solitary stance. 

“Without you, I still go on.” 

The paternal umbilical cord was precipitously cut.  There would be no pictures with prom dresses, no late night calls from university, no potential fiancé’s nervous request, nor proud and tearful walk down the aisle. 

The difference between 3:11 a.m. and 3:12 a.m. meant my father would never hold my daughter.  He would forever be nothing more than the stories I whisper to her in the dark, as she falls asleep.  She would know nothing more than, “What her grandfather would have said,” as I seize each opportunity to bring him to life for her.  I was blessed with a mom who stood up and filled all in the holes that she could.  Thank God for Mom.

What happens when we die?

Science states that permanent death occurs four to six minutes after the body systems shut down.  The heart and respiration stop, followed by brain death.  There is absolutely no evidence to support the existence of the afterlife, despite thousands of accounts supporting it.  Neurologists assert that the same underlying biology, as well as similar cultural experiences, account for the continuity between personal stories of near death experiences.  It’s only natural, it’s argued, that this dreamlike state would render images of lost loved ones in a nirvana-like backdrop.  Some neurologists say that, during the near death experience, the brain hovers in a state somewhere between a waking and REM consciousness.  Since REM consciousness activates the visual systems in the brain, this accounts for the intensity of colour and light in the reported experiences.  It’s all quite scientifically explainable.

Unless you believe.

I believe. 

I bore witness to this intensity of light and meeting of loved ones as my dad took his last breath.  He raised his arms up in the air and shielded his eyes, as his face took on a look of incredible awe.  Whether the product of oxygen starved cellular death or REM consciousness, I know he saw something more magnificent and overwhelming than I have ever been blessed to see in this world.  He whispered, “Mommy…” and took his last breaths as we held him and said our goodbyes.

I believe.

I bore witness to my two year old daughter pointing to the rafters in Lowes and asking her father and I, “What dat lady doin’ up dere?”  We looked to the ceiling and saw nothing, but she insisted, pointing and saying, “Right dere!  What she doin’?  Why is she up dere?” 

We still saw nothing but metal trusses, but she was clear that there was a woman hovering above us all, as clear as her parents right in front of her.

Our daughter has always insisted that she “picked us” for her parents and has even spoken of her memories of my own childhood, “Before daddy was with us,” such as when my mother would tickle my back to help me get to sleep. 

Our daughter has shared knowledge of items in our home that once that belonging to loved ones, long since passed.  As a toddler she stood in a tray that was made by my great-grandfather and, to my amazement, declared, “I in Bumpa’s tray, Mama!”

I believe.

One of my favourite lines comes from a movie directed by Steven Spielberg, titled Always.  It was a remake from 1943 film, A Guy Named Joe.

Audrey Hepburn plays the role of Hap, a guardian angel who is given the job of teaching recently deceased aerial firefighter Pete Sandich how to be an angel.  She tells him that the word “inspiration” comes from the Latin “spirtus”, meaning “divine breath.”  She tells him that what human beings believe to be inspiration is actually just the angels whispering in our ears.  “They hear you inside their own minds,” she says, “As if it were their thoughts.”

No, I can’t explain it, but I believe it.  There may never be the scientific evidence to give it academic credence, but I’m satisfied to know there are angels looking over my shoulder and whispering in my ear.

Goodbye Loes.  We are all grieved to bid you go, but I know we are blessed to count you among our many guardian angels.  

Whenever you are ready, I’m listening.