I STILL remember finding her that morning: cold, still, and lifeless.
Her eyes were open and her belly bloated. My dad said she probably died trying to give birth. I was in shock. I couldn’t believe it. Fluffy, whom I loved with all my nine-year old heart, was gone.
I went to school in a daze. I couldn’t focus. I thought of how she would come dashing towards me the moment I stepped out of the house and called her name; how she would scratch my pants and jump at me when I came home from school; how I would invent imaginary conversations between the two of us as we played and rolled on the floor, until my parents or one of my sisters spoiled the fun by telling me to go take a bath because I smelled like a dog already.
I went home from school and the reality of her absence hit me when there were no joyful barks to greet me. I went to my room and cried. I had crying spells for the entire week. I asked my dad if I would see her again in heaven but he said that animals don't have souls and they don't go to either heaven or hell. That made me very sad because I very much wanted to see Fluffy again. I scoured my Bible looking for a hint that perhaps there were animals in heaven after all, but I found none.
Nevertheless, I still believed that she was there waiting for me. One night, I dreamed of her floating amidst the clouds and I was there as well, and we were floating, playing, and chasing each other in white paradise. I woke up and felt content, sure that this was God's way of telling me that despite what other people say, Fluffy was indeed in heaven and I would see her again someday. That calmed me and took away some of the grief, and I slept better after that.
Today, I believe in neither heaven nor hell, but that experience of extreme sorrow gave me a glimpse of why people since time immemorial have invented different tales of the afterlife. Knowing that a loved one still exists somewhere, and is at peace and happy, has a soothing effect and takes away some of the sting of loss.
I have been to few funerals the past year and in all of them, the phrase “at least, he/she is now in a better place” inevitably crops up. That is how the faithful comfort each other and give each other hope to go on and continue living.
The unbeliever has no such source of comfort.
At worst, death is the end, the cessation of chemical reactions in the brain that gives rise to one’s consciousness and self. At best, death is a mystery and if anything at all happens beyond it, we still have to find good evidence for it.
Some people have ventured to me that it is because of this hope in the afterlife that they cling to their faith, because the alternative is unpalatable. They think life is meaningless if it simply ends. I think that is mainly why people tenaciously cling to some belief in life after death -- whether it be some sort of paradise, reincarnation, nirvana, and so on.
However, I cannot bring myself to think that just because of this uncertainty, then I must necessarily cling to a story that has no conclusive proof. Even the numerous testimonies of near death experiences have scientific explanations and usually involve images that reflect the religious traditions the person has been exposed to. In short, they are most likely hallucinations or dream-like visions created by the person’s own brain (but hey, don’t take my word for it -- do go and do your own research on the matter).
We go back to the question of meaning. What is the meaning of life it simply ends?
I have come to look at it this way -- that life has meaning precisely because it ends. Every good story has an ending. Can you imagine watching a movie that just goes on and on and on? That would be a meaningless story. And in the end, we are all stories whose meaning is intertwined with all those whom we share a connection.
Maybe we have grown so self-centered that we think our lives mean something only for ourselves. But no, our lives have meaning beyond ourselves, and when we are gone, it is the others who are still alive who step back and look at what that we have accomplished, how we have touched them and made their own more beautiful. That their lives or the meaning we have created for them is temporary does not make it any less meaningful. Whoever said that meaning has to be eternal for it to be meaningful?
Death may be the next grand adventure -- or it may not be. Whatever the case, it doesn’t matter for me. I have a family to love, friends to cherish and a weekly column to write. I have too much to do in this life to be worrying about the next one, if there is one at all.
Andy Uyboco is currently busy playing in the clouds with Fluffy. You may leave a message at firstname.lastname@example.org.