It is interesting to me that in a secular culture which often vilifies faith, there is still a profound fascination with rising from the dead, with eternal life, and with the afterlife. Zombies, vampires and ghosts, oh my. AMC’s The Walking Dead now has well over 13 million weekly viewers. Penny Dreadful is the most recent in an endless stream of hugely popular television series built around vampires and the “undead”. As for ghosts? Well, most people I know can share a ghostly encounter of their own or can tell you of someone who has. Do not misunderstand me, I love a good Stephen King novel or a gothic ghost story. For me they are like taking a ride on a Dive Coaster where I can experience the thrill of recklessly free-falling without suffering the consequences. Could our fascination with ghastly entertainment point to a need for reassurance that death might not be the end of the story for us? If asked, most people would say “Oh, I don’t believe any of it, it is all in good fun,” and my friends who are atheists would say “That is ridiculous!” It might be, but I do not think it is ridiculous.
When I was in sixth grade my maternal grandmother died suddenly, and it was the first time I was confronted with the death of someone I dearly loved. The news of her death remained unreal to me until I arrived at her house in Nova Scotia where the wake was held and saw her casket in the “back room.” People, including many I had not seen before, milled about the kitchen and living room wearing solemn expressions on their faces and spoke to one another in hushed tones. Over the next few days it dawned on me in incremental stages that I would not see her again, I would not feel her hug me, nor would I ever again accompany her to mass. Gone. I was distraught and did not appreciate what life was handing me. I cannot remember exactly when, but shortly after her death she began frequent visits to my dreams. In each dream, she would appear to me, just as I remembered her, explaining that she was not really dead, but just “away”.
“I thought you were gone,” I would say to her, overjoyed.
“I was away, but I knew you needed to see me,” was her reply.
We would sit at her kitchen table and talk, like I remembered doing when she was living, and the dream would go on for what seemed like hours, and I would be happy.
These dreams were at once reassuring and devastating because as a 12 year-old with a vivid imagination, I would experience the joy of seeing her again as though it had happened in the flesh, only to wake from sleep and realize once again that she was no longer with us. As the years passed these dreams became more and more infrequent, but do you know what? From time to time I still have them. I had one recently in fact but now that I am 43 years old I think of them only as a blessing, as well as a gentle reminder that she has been me all along. Who is to say that is any less real?
I would have loved to have been a witness to the funeral scenario in today’s gospel reading from Luke. How jarring must it have been for those who did witness it, to have seen the finality of death challenged and beaten? Many of us love a good horror tale, but I am encouraged that our Christian story helps us look death in the face and defiantly proclaim, “Meh.”
~Trevor Droesbeck, Office of Youth Faith Development