Is there life after death?

By Herbert Vego

ON Wednesday (Nov. 1), no doubt millions of us Filipinos will trek to the cemeteries to pay homage to our departed loved ones. It’s All Saints’ Day.

It is also a reminder: “To everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under the heavens: A time to be born and a time to die…” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-2).

That reminds me of my own mortality. As a senior citizen, I am grateful to have hit the septuagenarian decade (now age 73), hence enjoying bonus years.

Scientists agree: By the time we reach 70, we will have yielded to diseases and distinct physical deformities like wrinkled skin and graying or balding hair.

In the Bible, King David propounds that men who had gone past age 70 have gained extra life: “Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures; yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away (Psalm 90:10, New International Version).

“The origin of All Saints’ Day,” according to the Encyclopedia Britannica, “cannot be traced with certainty, and it has been observed on various days in different places.”

The same source says that the Roman Catholic Church first celebrated All Saints’ Day on May 13, 609 during the reign of Pope Boniface IV to enable kinsfolk to pray for the souls of the faithful dead in order for them to attain full sanctification and moral perfection before entering heaven.

By the way, has anybody gone up there and returned to tell us what paradise is like?

There are stories about them written in books, such as Life After Life (1975) by American psychiatrist Raymond Moody. It tells about 150 people whose heart had stopped beating but returned to life to narrate their “experiences in another world”.

With due respect to traditional beliefs, however, the Bible does not say anything about the souls of the dead waiting to be visited in their graves. On the contrary, as stated in Ecclesiastes 9:5, “For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing.”

“His breath goeth forth, he returneth to earth; on that very day, his thoughts perish” (Psalms 146:4).

Other Christian sects hold the notion that the dead are truly dead but only temporarily because the dead in Christ are destined to be resurrected. To quote the late American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, a Unitarian Christian, “Life is real! Life is earnest! And the grave is not its goal. Dust thou art to dust returneth was not spoken of the soul.”

Unfortunately, Christianity offers no crystal-clear description of post-earth existence. There are cases when what is not written is more acceptable to certain believers than what is written. Indeed, while most Christian theologians say that Jesus will come again to resurrect the dead, their followers embrace the contrary belief that the soul immediately leaves the body at death and meets up with Saint Peter for a key to heaven, hell, or purgatory.

Other religions hold different afterlife beliefs. Hinduism, for example, teaches the cycle of death and rebirth in accordance with karma. When a person dies, he may be reborn in a different body, even in animal form.

I would like to retell a story about the death of my late father, digested from a longer one I had written two years ago

My father Juan contracted lung cancer at the age of 72 in 1992. Though we. his children, had not told him it was “terminal,” he told our mother one morning, “Acay, I think I will soon die.”

He waited and, a few days later, died in a hospital.

Nanay whispered in his ears a Kinaray-a goodbye, which was like “See you later.”

Soon after his burial, we opened his briefcase which contained his documents, including a clipping of this anonymous quotation: “Come view the ground where I do lie. As you are now, so once was I. As I am now, so must you be. Prepare for death and follow me.”

It was not until 15 years later that Nanay followed him.