Emotions and Spirituality
Are my family members happy and content after death?

Our concern and love for our family members does not end with their deaths. Unless we had unresolved issues with them, we want them to be happy and content. We may feel especially concerned about family members who had difficult lives or a hard time in dying. We hope that in death they will have the peace and happiness they could not find in life.

Thoughts about what happens to our family members after death may bring up questions about the universe we live in. Is our universe friendly or not? Does human life have purpose and meaning? If we are religious, we may wonder whether God is loving or punishing, or what is God’s purpose for our lives.

Our answers to such questions affect how we feel about what follows death. Some people find comfort in religious answers about the afterlife; many religions provide pictures or maps of life after death, and often describe rewards and punishments for the way people lived on earth. Other people may feel abandoned by God, or feel religions do not provide the answers or comfort they are seeking during this challenging time.

Some people believe that mortality helps to make life meaningful – that if we lived forever we would not recognize what a gift life is, or feel an urgency to find a way to live meaningfully. Some say that death does not destroy the meaning in life – that what someone creates in living and dying continues to influence the world after they are gone. However, other people’s ideas about how death relates to the meaning and purpose of life will not necessarily satisfy us. Each of us must explore for ourselves questions about the meaning of life and death.

If we believe that the universe is friendly or that God cares about us, we may trust that even in death our family members will be cared for well, or will remain part of nature's web of life. If we believe that life has meaning, we may be able to accept their death as part of life; that is, if we sense that there was a purpose in their lives, we hope that the meaning of their lives is not wiped out by death. If we feel disconnected from the universe’s web of life, or experience God as demanding, harsh, or distant, we may have more difficulty facing death with trust, acceptance, and hope.

Perhaps you can discuss death and the meaning of life with a trusted friend. Such a conversation may be difficult to begin, but it may give you new ways of looking at things. If you have found comfort or strength in a religious tradition, you may want to talk with a religious leader from your faith community about your questions and anxiety. Another option is to talk to a professional counsellor, social worker or hospice volunteer.

You could create a private ritual that honours your connections with family members who have died. Such a ritual is effective if it contains these elements:

  • Remember and give thanks for the person who died.
    If you are able to involve family members, you can share favourite memories of the person. Pictures or mementos can help you connect with the spirit of the person. Whether your reminiscence brings laughter or tears, love or anger, it becomes another step in your grieving process. If no one is available to share with you, set aside a special time to remember and give thanks alone.
  • Release the person into the care of God or to the wider expanses of the universe.
    You could do this by offering a prayer for the person. An alternative is to write out your wishes and hopes for the person in death, and place them somewhere that has special meaning for you or the person.

You can find additional suggestions for helpful rituals, in this article:
Rituals to Comfort Families, especially the section "Rituals after a death in the home".

You may also find helpful guidance in this book by Deepak Chopra:
Life after Death: The Burden of Proof