My son has become very interested in Heaven lately. Perhaps it was the book he read, “Heaven is for Real.” Maybe it was seeing the movie by the same name. Maybe it was the passing of his beloved grandmother a few months ago. Whatever the reason for the sudden spike in questions, he’s interested.
It never really occurred to me that there wasn't a Heaven. I know not all people believe in it, and that’s fine, I suppose. But I just don’t know how you could live on this earth and in this life and watch people move in and out of it and NOT believe that there is something on the other side.
I guess I just assume it’s there, up in the sky, beyond the clouds somewhere. I mean, I know it’s not technically THERE. I know we humanize all this stuff we can’t explain so we can attempt to logically wrap our brains around it. Maybe that’s why some people don’t believe – because they can’t rationally explain it. And if you can’t rationally explain it, it can’t exist, right?
One of the worst moments of my life was walking into the hospice room where my mom lay, minutes after she had passed away. Of course the normal reaction is to take her hand, which I did. But I didn’t necessarily need to. I knew she wasn’t there anymore. Same at the visitation. That wasn’t her. “Her” was gone. And I was completely convinced that she was looking down on us already, probably pleased that her hair and makeup looked so nice and we had picked out an outfit that complemented her skin tone. It just didn't really occur to me that she was in this kind of "holding cell" somewhere waiting for the green light to move along.
I was raised Catholic, and I knew about purgatory. It was my understanding that if you were a good person but did some bad things, you might go to this limbo place until at such time God decided that you were “good” enough to enter the Pearly Gates. I guess it didn’t occur to me that EVERYONE would go there. I thought it was just for maybe criminals that had done bad things then reformed, or maybe it was kind of like Santa’s “naughty” list, where you may get coal one year but the next you get that shiny new bike you’ve always wanted.
One day my dad mentioned that Mom was probably hanging out in purgatory – that she wasn’t in Heaven yet. I’m not gonna lie – this caught me off guard. I guess I just ASSUMED Mom was already in Heaven. And if there was a purgatory that she had to endure, it would have been the six weeks in the hospital, the six months in the nursing home and the five weeks in hospice for God’s sake. She lived a good life. She lived a Christian life. And she fought through the last year like a champion. Purgatory? Um, I don’t think so.
According to Catholics, there is a purgatory. The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines it as a "purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of Heaven," which is experienced by those "who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified." It notes that "this final purification of the elect . . . is entirely different from the punishment of the damned." I guess it’s technically never really mentioned verbatim in the Bible, but “alluded to,” which, of course, is open to interpretation, which Bible readers love to do (and rightly so.)
I guess what it comes down to is this: I gotta believe what I gotta believe. And I gotta believe that my mom is in Heaven. Why? One, because I think she served her “time” here on earth – even though that decision is obviously not up to me, and two, because I obtain an enormous amount of comfort in knowing that she is looking down on my children. I feel that so much that it just has to be true. And when my son asks me questions about Heaven and purgatory, which he does frequently these days, I'll tell him exactly what I think.
What you believe is what you believe, and I would never try to discount that. But in my heart of hearts, I have to know there’s a place beyond here. A place that we’re all working toward. A place where we’ll be reunited with our loved ones. A place where I’ll see my mom again.