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As a child, I was taught an easy answer to the question about life after death. There were two clear-cut options: Heaven, a place where a soul enjoys an eternal vacation at the most luxurious of resorts, and Hell, a place of unspeakable horror.

As an adult, I’ve come to understand that our human minds are unable to grasp the whole of cosmic reality, and that any ideas we hold about the afterlife—such as Heaven or reincarnation—are limited and distorted. But I do believe with 100% conviction that after my human body breathes its last breath, the essence of me, the most important part of me, will continue to live on.

I believe there are countless phases of my soul’s existence, each one carrying me ever closer to full unity with the source of my being. I believe that traveling in this human form is only a fraction of my total life. I’m pretty sure it’s the most difficult phase, a rigorous training program, something like boot camp for the soul.

As I grow older, struggling with the difficulties of the body as we all do, I look forward to what comes next in the life of my soul. Eight years ago, I was in an accident that could have been fatal. Exiting life in human form is often a drawn out and messy process. I thought about how easy it would have been to depart from this life in an instant, through an accidental death. For some time, I felt disappointed that my accident had not provided a portal to the next phase of my soul’s existence.

But it didn’t, and I’m still here. That tells me that I still have lessons to learn in this stage of my journey, and that I still have work to do on Planet Earth.

I intend to live my remaining years in this body as graciously as I can, and I hope to die just as graciously. I look to my father as an example. Throughout his life, he carried himself with quiet dignity, doing what he believed to be right, never shirking his responsibilities. In 2004, at the age of 88, he was diagnosed with cancer. Knowing full well that he was dying, he maintained his dignity and kept up with his responsibilities for as long as he had the strength to do so. In his last months, he drove himself to radiation treatments and then came home and mowed his lawn. One of the things he wanted to do before time ran out was to give his deck a new coat of paint. Sadly, his body gave out before that task got crossed off his list.

In his last weeks, when he became so infirm that he could no longer get around, family and friends came to visit him, hoping to impart blessings and comfort. They inevitably walked away from my father’s bedside having received more than they’d given him.

The gracious way my father departed from this world makes him a hero in my eyes. With my dying breath, I hope to bless all the loved ones I am leaving behind.

Several weeks before his death, I wrote a letter to my father, expressing gratitude for all he’d ever done for me. I sat with him while he read it. When he was finished, he looked up at me and said, “I didn’t know I was that kind of man.” I was so glad that I’d told him. In that moment, I knew writing that letter was the best thing I’d done in my entire life.

In my last days with my father, the strength I felt in our relationship convinced me that physical death does not sever connections between souls. Although I can’t begin to speculate on how this happens, I believe relationships continue in other phases of our soul’s journey.

My experience with my mother’s death in 2009 bears out that idea, but in a different way. Here on earth, my relationship with her was tumultuous, so much so that it took a great deal of willpower on my part to remain engaged with her.

Several weeks prior to her death, my mother suffered a massive stroke that robbed her of cognitive and motor abilities and left her in a vegetative state. I knew I’d never be able to achieve with her the same type of beautiful closure I’d had with my father. But I felt a deep conviction that if I didn’t do everything I could to transcend the conflict in our relationship, I would be burdened with regret for the rest of my life.

At the time of her final illness, I was living four hours away from her. I had planned a weekend trip to go down for my final visit, but my sister called me at work two days before that, saying, “Mom’s taken a turn for the worse. If you want to see her, you’ll need to come today.”

So, I left work abruptly and drove from Michigan to southern Indiana, where she was a patient in a hospice facility. On that frantic trip, I repeated, over and over, “Just hang on, Mom, until I get there.” I was determined to end our relationship on a peaceful note.

Thankfully, she was still alive when I arrived. I stood at her bedside, stroked her face, and told her how much I loved her. Because she could no longer speak, she was unable to respond with the unkind words I had so often heard from her. I felt satisfied with my one-sided closure, believing it was as good as I could get.

Truthfully, I wanted our troubled relationship to be over and done with, forever. Case closed. I wanted to breathe a sigh of relief, dust off my hands, and get on with my life.

However, my mother didn’t seem to be done with me. One night as I lay in bed, I suddenly felt her energy lovingly envelope me, like a warm blanket. I can’t begin to explain why or how such things happen, but it seemed as if she was still attempting to relate to me.

Here’s one thought I have about it. When I had stood at my mother’s deathbed, transcending anger and insisting on love, her spirit must have sensed my overture. Because she was unable to respond on a human level, perhaps she attempted to reciprocate with a loving gesture from a different plane.

A year or so later, my mother paid me another visit. In a surreal moment, her face popped up in the middle of a dream. She was vivid and beautiful and radiant, as if coming to me from an otherworldly realm. And she said the most remarkable words to me: “You need me as much as I need you.” Then she was gone.

I’ve pondered her words ever since then. I’ve come to understand that the relationship with my mother didn’t or couldn’t end with her physical death, even though I’d wanted it to. I could not say, “Case closed,” brush the dust off my hands, and be done with it. Somehow, somewhere, in some way, my mother and I are destined to achieve the full potential of the loving relationship we were unable to manifest while in human form. Apparently, both of our souls need that.

And so, I remain open to the mystery of life and death, drawing no conclusions now, looking forward to greater and greater understanding as my soul travels ever onward to reunite with its source.

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