A woman struggles in the afterlife as she grieves for the family she left behind.

This story came to me when I woke up this morning. It doesn’t get any fresher. I have often pondered the afterlife. Pure being. What does that mean?

Enjoy the short story!

Heaven Ain’t All Joy

Bob Gillen

I am so disappointed. There was no pearly gate. No St. Peter with a clipboard to welcome me. I’m here, for sure. It’s been maybe a month in your time. Here, there is no time. I measure it by watching my family. 

I miss my family so much. I ache for them. My dear husband Matt, who cared for me to the end. Ryan, my high school senior, set to graduate in a few months. He already has a black band he will wear with his cap and gown. Katy, my fifteen year old. She lives on the autism scale. I know they are grieving. I can see that. But it makes it even harder for me. I grieve them.

Breast cancer nailed me. Nailed me in my prime. A great job as a home health nurse. A schedule I could work around important family events. I was happy. And then, my annual mammogram. Downhill from there. 

So, I’m here. Not at all what I expected. I was so fearful of dying, of going to the afterlife. What would I do there? Sit around and feel joyful? Not my cup of tea. I don’t sit around. I move, I do things. And here I am, dealing with my own afterlife. 

They used to say, after death you are pure being. I am still grappling with that. Still not sure what I am feeling. One thing relieves me. I can see my family. Not too many other people. A few relatives and friends. But not everything going on back there. And not the future. I have no idea what the future will bring for my family. And I don’t appear to be able to influence their lives in any way. I can simply see them. Watch their routines, see the empty space where I should have been.

I miss them like crazy. It’s almost too hard to deal with. Is this some kind of purgatory? Do I have to deal with my own grief? And will it last until they’re all here with me again? I have no answers. And no one here has offered any help in that regard.

I met my parents. We talked. I found out it was not my mother who manipulated me away from my group of friends when we graduated from eighth grade, and pushed me towards a more desirable crowd. I guess I feel okay about that now. It’s like, being here, part of me doesn’t care.

I see people who died before me drift by. Relatives, friends, associates. Some merely nod. Some don’t appear to realize who I am. We don’t communicate in any way.

I saw JFK the other day. The other day, your time. He was smiling, talking to Marilyn Monroe. I did not see Jackie.

And I saw Gov. Dewey. Remember him? Thomas E. Dewey, declared the winner prematurely in the press in the presidential race, only to lose to Truman. My father worked for his law firm for a few summers when he was in high school. He passed Dewey in the hallway back then one day. He said, ‘Good morning, Governor.” Dewey replied, “Good morning, son.” My dad always talked aout that moment.

Okay, I’m saying it again. I miss my family. Are we supposed to grieve up here? I sure am. It hurts like hell. It’s like watching the people you love on television, but you can’t reach out to them.

Ryan plays basketball. A great team. He’s a starter. They have a chance at finals this year. I am so proud of him. Katy, with her autism, loves theater. She builds dioramas of stage sets. She has been constructing the stage set from Hamilton for months. Almost finished. She posts her progress and her completed sets to Instagram, where she has a strong following. A couple of local theater people have encouraged her to create a calendar from her images and sell it online. She’s not ready yet, but I think with Matt and Ryan helping her, she could do it. She has a neurological issue, has to wear earplugs for large, loud gatherings. We had attended mostly local theater, black box theater. Not so difficult for her. She wore her earplugs when we went to see Hamilton. They helped her through the performance without her missing out on the experience.

Matt, my dear Matt. I didn’t thank him enough for the care he gave me, for being at my side till the end. He supported the kids so well. I wanted cremation. They have not been able to decide where to scatter or bury my cremains. Matt wants our backyard. Katy says no, what if we ever moved. Ryan wants the beach, but it’s not legal and there is always someone at the beach who would spot us. As of now, I am in the living room on top of a bookcase. My guess is I will stay there. Okay with me. I’m here. That’s no longer me there. Only bone fragments. 

I am grieving. I said that already, didn’t I? Why? If this afterlife is supposed to be all harps and joy, I don’t get it. I talked about this with my hair stylist one day. She said she knew a medium who had the belief that the afterlife is a series of adjustments, learnings. You are constantly growing as you learn more about life in all its forms. Maybe she was right. I am certainly adjusting. If that is what they would call grief here. Not sure yet about the growing. 

There are people I want to meet here. So far I have not seen them. My eighth grade boyfriend Spin. One of the friends I lost when we all went off to different high schools. Spin, me, Patty, Frank. We were a tight group. I had periodically Googled them in the last few years, but I found no mention of them anywhere. Maybe it just takes time here. Wait, there is no time. I don’t know how to measure anything. 

Do I somehow have to be ready to meet them? Or, this just occurred to me, maybe some of them are not here yet. Duh! I made it to almost fifty. Young for hitting the afterlife. Yeah, most or all of them are probably not here yet. How would I find? Is there a registry? Is there a Google for the afterlife? Search for people who are here? The more I think about it, there are many people I know preceded me that I would like to connect with. I already meet my parents. But so far we have not discussed their earlier lives. I never knew how they met. Where they went to school. What secrets were buried with them. 

My maternal grandmother is here somewhere. She came over from Ireland as a young girl from County Waterford, passed through Ellis Island. Married, lost a husband and a son, remarried. I have not seen her yet. I’d love to know her story about immigrating to New York. I’ll watch for her.

My head is spinning. I have much to do, after all. Watch my family. Try to communicate with them (although that does not seem possible, at least not yet). Look for people here. Look for answers to questions that puzzled me all my life. Was there a conspiracy behind JFK’s murder? How did Marilyn Monroe really die? Yes, I was something of a true crime follower. Always fascinated by questions that had no obvious answers. A high school classmate who disappeared on prom night. Never found. Did she run away? Is she dead? I saw a story recently about a woman who was assumed dead, who turned up very much alive in Rio twenty years later. 

Well, that’s my story for now. I am grieving. Did not think that would happen here. I am struggling to find my way. No one has stepped forward to guide me. I may be on my own for this journey, this sojourn. Only time will tell. Except, there is no time here.