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Coping With Grief The Afterlife

By Dr. Bernie Kastner

A great debate once raged in heaven. It was over a most beautiful and precious new soul that G‑d had created. The angels debated what should be done with this soul. One group of angels demanded that this soul remain in heaven. “She is too pure, too holy to face the ugliness of the lowly world,” they said. “Who knows what will happen to her in a world of temptation and evil. This soul must stay with us here.”

But the other group of angels said the exact opposite: “Indeed this soul glows with a unique divine glow. But for that very reason she must go down to earth. For imagine the beauty and goodness this soul can bring to a dark world. What good is there in keeping such a soul in heaven? Let her descend to earth and shine her light there.”

And so they argued back and forth, each side unshakable in their view. Until it became clear that they could not resolve the issue themselves, they needed a Higher Authority. The case was brought before G‑d Almighty. The angels stated their arguments before the heavenly court. G‑d listened to the two opinions—the first group of angels arguing that this unspoiled soul is too holy to be plunged into the lowly world, the second countering that the world needs such souls more than anything.

And this was G‑d’s response:

“Indeed, it is sad to send such an immaculate soul into such a dark world. But this is My will. I only created darkness so souls like this one can transform darkness into light. The whole purpose of creation was that the lowly world be refined by the good deeds of mortal human beings. This cannot be achieved by souls in heaven. It can only be achieved through souls in bodies. And so even this most perfect and pure soul must descend to earth.”

The first group of angels, who requested for the soul to remain in heaven, was disappointed. They couldn’t fathom how such a spiritual being could be expected to survive such a physical world. G‑d turned to them and said, “As for your request to keep this soul up here, I will grant it partially. Though she must leave us and go down to earth, it will not be long before she will return to us. Her sojourn on earth will be brief. Such a brilliant soul will not need long to fulfill her mission. Soon she will be free to come back to heaven.”

G‑d then turned to the second group and asked, “Are you satisfied with that? Do you accept that this soul can only be on earth for a limited time?”

The angels replied, “Yes we do. Every day that she is on earth is a blessing.”

• • •

When a loved one passes away, we feel we have lost something precious. We are left with a gaping hole in our hearts, and we wonder why they were taken away from us. But at the same time, we can be grateful for the very fact that they were given to us in the first place. We were blessed to have such beautiful souls in our lives. The world is privileged to have such heavenly guests come down on earth. And even if it can only be for a short while, we will take whatever we can get.

From a therapeutic perspective and in light of the above story, it is difficult to imagine coping with a loss without a basic perspective of the Afterlife. A sense of comfort and a healthy dose of inspiration highlight the advantages that this perspective has given to the many grieving parents that I have treated. But what do we really know about what is out there waiting for us or what took place before we arrived on the scene? How would that knowledge affect our lives today?

When we open our eyes to what may lie in the world beyond, it gives us a glimmer of hope that perhaps one day we will be united with our beloved departed one.

Meanwhile, we could choose to remain totally miserable and wallow in our grief ad infinitum, or choose to take advantage of the growth opportunity and allow life itself, imbued with hope and inspiration, to accompany us.

When a ship leaves for sea, everyone is excited and happy for those on board, and when a ship comes in, people seem to be less excited. However, the opposite would seem to make more sense. Those leaving on a long excursion do not know what kind of a trip it will be—will the weather be good or stormy? How does one know if the trip will be a safe one or not? There is much anxiety associated with one who departs on such a journey. But the ship that comes in to dock after its journey—well, that is a cause for celebration because we know that it already arrived home safe and sound.

Let us now apply this example to our lives. When a baby is born, we do not know whether he or she will be righteous or evil, safe or in constant peril. There may be difficult trials and tribulations that this person will face. We should mark the celebration with cautious optimism. Likewise, when somebody passes away, we already know what a wonderful life he or she may have had, what great accomplishments were achieved, and the positive influence imparted to all who were touched by that individual even if the life was a very brief one. That positive outlook would be cause for real celebration. When a righteous person who is also a scholar passes on, we are sad for the loss, but at the same time it is cause for celebration that that soul reached such wonderful heights in this world.

So, what are we expected to do when a loved one passes on? Celebrate or mourn?

I believe the answer is that we need to be able to do both. We need to allow ourselves to come across as compassionate humans and be happy when a new child is born and be saddened upon a death. A newborn is full of hope and innocence—a bundle of joy. A death leaves us empty-handed, yearning for the departed’s presence. Nonetheless, we should recognize that once the prescribed mourning period is over, we should not overdo it. We ought not to stay stuck in our bereavement. We need to move forward by recognizing the wonderful lessons the departed left behind for us to emulate. This would be the appropriate time to understand that their soul is moving on to spiritual heights and true comfort in the next world. It would also be a time to celebrate the soul’s courage—having weathered the storm here on earth, no matter how short, and to remember him or her for generations to come. v

Dr. Bernie Kastner is a psychotherapist in private practice with offices in Jerusalem. He is also the author of “Understanding the Afterlife in This Life.” His new book, “Back To The Afterlife,” is scheduled to be released later this year. Feel free to visit his website at drbkastner.com. He can be reached at bdk15@caa.columbia.edu.

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Posted by on February 14, 2013. Filed under In This Week's Edition. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.