The perceptions and understandings of life after earthly-death is as varied as the ways we die. A simplified understanding of the various understandings of afterlife can be summed up by the following:
EASTERN RELIGIONS (Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism) = Reincarnation
WESTERN RELIGIONS (Judaism, Christinity, Islam) = Bodily Resurrection
But that is only an elementary summation as there are thousands of different beliefs of what happens after this earthly life is over.
By the 2nd century BCE, the idea of disembodied soul-survival and future bodily resurrection from the dead are present in Judaism. These ideas eventually worked their way in to Christian and Islamic theology during the Common Era.
No one knows. It is a truth just as it is true that everyone will die. My mother knew and accepted her on-coming death although she did not want to and she fought it till the end. She had a fear of death that many people share. Regardless of your faith tradition and upbringing, there is an element of unknown when it comes to our death.
J.S. Bach’s song entitled “Come, Sweet Death, Come Blessed Rest” is a song for solo voice found in his compilation called 69 Sacred Songs and Arias. It is a musical adaptation of the composer’s idea of the journey from this life to the next. Years ago Virgil Fox composed an historic arrangement of Bach’s work and played it on New York’s Riverside Church organ. His version is agonizingly slow and very heart wrenching. In 1946 Leopold Stokowski created the orchestral version of the piece which opens with all strings muted except for a solo cello that plays the melody line. Bach wrote this selection to demonstrate his view of death as something not to be feared but rather as a sweet ending to the sadness and hard life he knew on earth. It is an incredible song of faith and a lesson to be learned and shared.
It was a fear of death and dying that prevented Hamlet from committing suicide after pondering, “To be, or not to be? That is the question.” It is this same fear that causes many people to not think about or consider their own death. Preplanning their funeral and making financial arrangements for one’s eventual death can be a scary process. Fear of the unknown is a natural human instinct. My mother was fearful of what lies beyond but at the end she accepted the fact that she was going to leave this life and there was nothing she could do about it. She was lucky. She was able to say good-bye, able to process for a short period of time and resolve issues from her life. She was able to reconcile relationships and finalize some of her wishes. Many of us will not be so lucky.
So why not start today? I’m not suggesting you make unreasonable or foolish decisions but maybe allow yourself to live a little more than you are today. Buy a better bottle of wine, have a fine steak once in a while, and eat mac n’ cheese off of the good china.
The great American humorist, Erma Bombeck is quoted as saying, “When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, "I used everything you gave me."
Perhaps my favorite quote regarding death comes from the author of the hugely popular 1970’s book, Jonathan Livingston Seagull; “Here is the test to find whether your mission on earth is finished. If you're alive, it isn't”.
Regardless of our viewpoints on the end of life and what happens after we leave this journey on earth, we should decide to live today. We should embrace the idea that our work is not done. We were given talents and a purpose and we should continue to fulfill that purpose every moment we can. Embrace each new day as a gift and work hard to make that day the best day you have had to date. Take the opportunity to help others see the same. More importantly, take time today to define your mission in life and then spend the rest of your days bringing that mission to fruition.