What Happens When You Die

The Shmata Queen and I have an ongoing discussion about what happens to people when they die. That wacky woman isn't convinced that anything comes after this. You could sum up her position as life followed by death, end of story.

No heaven, no hell. Just a dirt nap during which time your corpse is eaten away, dissolving into dust.

I understand how and why she came to this position. The afterlife is based solely on faith. You can't call your travel agent and book a flight. You can't take a boat or a bus to get there. There is no tangible proof that it exists. She wants hard evidence. She wants a scientific proof to hang onto and we can't give it to her.

This discussion about death is one that we have had a million times. I don't try to convince her to rely upon faith. I leave religion out of it. Faith isn't something that you can teach. You believe or you don't believe. To me it is a highly personal thing and I can respect that.

So the question is what do I have to offer that isn't based upon a belief that religious dictates are factual. To me it comes back to our children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and those that follow them. Our descendants and the memories that they carry forward or fail to carry forward are the key.

When I look at my children I see reflections of the past and glimpses of the future. There are physical markers that we can use. For example if you look at my son there are shared features. His hands and feet are virtual duplicates of mine. And of course he has many of my mannerisms and that leads me to hypothesize that some of those are things that really come from several generations ago.

If you watch my father walk through a store you'll often see him with his hands behind his back. That comes from what he was taught when he was a little boy. Watch my son and I and you'll often see us do that. So you could argue that something that started in the early '40s still happens 60 some years later.

But there are other things. Things that my zaide taught my grandfather who passed it along to my dad, to me and then to my son. So we can argue that something that might have started in a shtetl in Lithuania in the 19th century is still with us in the 21st.

In addition there are the stories that we hear about relatives. My maternal grandfather has pictures of his grandmother and grandfather on the wall. They died somewhere in the early '30s. My mother and aunt haven't any personal memories of them, but we all know a few stories about them.

We all can tell you the story about the cab driver in Chicago who ran into my grandfather's grandfather and knocked him down. And we can all tell you about how he picked himself up, dusted himself off and then punched the cab driver in the nose.

Here we are in 2009 talking about a man who was born somewhere around the end of the Civil War.

There are other stories that we know. Tales of family who fled the Cossacks and hid in the fields. Tales of the great grandfather who fought the police and helped tailors form a union. Stories of a great grandmother who loved to go dancing.

The point is that for me that keeps them from being totally gone. Though they might not be alive in the truest sense of the word, they aren't completely gone.

It reminds me a bit of a conversation that we had when my friend 'D' died eleven years ago. Would he be forgotten and left behind, just one more soul who was taken far too young. I don't think so. While I won't ever have memories of him as an old man, I won't forget him either.

And for me that works, it is enough. As long as the stories remain we can stick around. And given the advantages of modern technology there are a lot of tools. There are endless videos that we are a part of and things like this blog.

What do you think?


Anonymous said...

NOTHING happens. :-) In my opinion.

Jack Steiner said...

Maybe not. It is one of those questions that you can't answer until it happens to you.

V-Grrrl said...

When my parents died within weeks of each other, I came face to face with what I *really* believed, not what I had been taught all my life, not what I openly professed to believe for decades.

All I can say at this point is that I don't believe in heaven and hell, but on a good day I do believe in some sort of life after death. Reincarnation? A shared consciousness? Or dare I say it--a new heaven and earth?

There are inexplicable connections between living beings and I think between worlds and dimensions we've only seen hinted at. How it all works, I'm not sure. All I know is that I believe there's more--but that we should focus on the here and now, living life as if there isn't.

LB said...

I'd really like to believe in some form of afterlife. It's what I've been taught, and I have a hard time believing that someone just ends and that's left are memories, as if people are not much more than just "things."

On the other hand, maybe it's all just wishful thinking. It is hard to think about it just ending like that - and I don't think many people would like that - many of us have a dream of meeting up again with family and friends that are no longer with us. But I'm no sure anymore. Lately, It feels more like pipe dream than reality. I hope I'm wrong.

Anonymous said...

Afterlife makes no sense to me. Clearly I had no awareness in some kind of "before-life" so I think "after-life" is probably pretty much the same.

Your post about memories being passed on was nice...but in reality, those only pass down for a few generations. The further back in history they become, the more prominent more recent memories all.

It is a feel-good way of approaching the topic but I prefer to acknowledge that all things have a beginning and all things have an ending. That's what works for me.

I believe the rest was created by man in an effort to ease the fear of the unknown...and to keep the masses in line.

Jack Steiner said...


I think that if we don't focus on the here and now we are making a huge mistake. Today, right now we know without a doubt what we have. Tomorrow, not so clear.


I hope that there is more, but if there isn't...That is why I try to get as much as I can out of today.


I think we covered this in our conversation- didn't want you to think that you were being ignored.

FlutePrayer said...

Every year when spring blossoms from the dead of winter, I have renewed hope that things that appear lifeless will rise again.

Unknown said...

I am saddened when I read this and read others' posts. You cannot answer that question without knowing the One who lives outside of time, who created the universe, who designed us and offers us eternal life. It is a matter of faith, but not blind faith. The psalmist David said "I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever". In Genesis, "Enoch walked with God...and was taken up into heaven". Many of the prophets talked about God's kingdom. That is where I am going with this short life is over. Yes, I know His kingdom is also here now, but not visible to all. God's son Yeshua offered (and still offers) eternal life to those who choose Him, who seek Him, who accept his final sacrifice, an offering for sin, one and for all. No more daily sacrifices, no more yearly offerings, no more atoning for my failings, the failing of a family or a nation. It's been done! We can freely live forgiven and eternally! You can know the truth and the truth will set you free!
from Sara, a beliver

Jack Steiner said...


Spring is good for promising a sense of renewal.

It is a matter of faith, but not blind faith.


It is hard to argue that it is not blind faith. But let's say that we accept that there is a foreshadowing/prophecy in the bible.

We have very different beliefs there. I do not accept that there was anything after the bible. What you call the New Testament I see as fiction. The prophecies you rely on are based upon distortion and misinterpretation.

I am not trying to be offensive or confrontational, but there is no delicate way to put it. No one has died and come back. So we cannot say what happens once we go. All we can do is rely upon faith and hope.

And ultimately that is why I think what we do now is most important because we do not know if there is a future.

Not Quite Abandoned

I didn't think it had been as many months away from here as it has clearly been. I was certain I had updated this place in December and ...