There are a lot of things we understand about this world, and a lot of things that we just don’t. What comes afterwards is, I suppose, even more uncertain. We can all take guesses - after all, the world’s religions all have whole belief systems dedicated to trying to figure out what we have no way of confirming.
The afterlife is a massive topic that spans many different religions and superstitions and individual minds. Christianity has their belief in Heaven, and Hindus and Buddhists believe in reincarnation - that this life is only one of many, and that once we’re finished here, we start anew somewhere else. I don’t pretend to know much more beyond these few old lessons from World Religion in the twelfth grade, but I would certainly like to find out. This post is just the first in a series that I intend to use to explore ideas about the afterlife.
But I thought a good place to start would be with my own thoughts.
This post began with an email submission from the Nan of one of our own voices. She wanted to know if we thought that those of us still in the world of the living could communicate with those beyond it. I don’t know the answer to that, and I’m not sure I know of anyone who does. I know that a lot of people have their own thoughts on the matter, and that there are certainly a great number of people who would say “yes” in terms of whether or not people can communicate with the dead. I can’t confirm or deny something I don’t know, but I can say this:
When I was ten years old, my maternal grandpa died. It was the first time I had ever encountered death, especially so immediately, and despite that being almost fourteen years ago now, I still very vividly remember my mom telling me that Grumps, as I’d always affectionately called him, had gone to be with God. I’m not particularly religious, but I grew up going to Catholic school, and so this made sense to me.
Nonetheless, it felt extremely unreal when my mom told me, and I remember feeling my little mind whirring with the lack of belief in what I was being told.
The idea that my beloved Grumps was with God was of little comfort to me, not because it wasn’t a nice idea, but because it meant that I could no longer talk to him. I would no longer hear his laugh, or his jokes, or his voice. I would never sit across from him over a plate of Chinese food on Christmas eve, or squish onto the couch with him and other family members for a photo. He was just… gone. And for me that felt so beyond unfair, I couldn’t find the words to describe it.
One thing that did eventually bring me comfort, though, was a story my grandma once told me. It’s a story my family still thinks about and believes in; we refer to it as “pennies from Heaven.” We weren’t the ones to originally come up with it, as it’s a fairly common belief as far as I’m aware, but it goes like this:
When someone you love has passed away, they leave behind signs of their continued presence, just so you know that they’ve never truly left you. My grandma told me that these signs came in the form of coins. Pennies, at the time anyway - back when we still had them in our currency here in Canada - were the most common, but it worked for any pocket change you stumbled across. I clung to this belief, because even if I never saw or spoke to him again, it was nice to think my grandpa might still be keeping watch over me from wherever he was.
Throughout my life, I’ve always been told I have an uncanny ability to find lost money - particularly in coin form. It’s something I seem to have picked up from my grandma, who finds it just as often. The thing that makes me so certain of this belief of in pennies from Heaven is the impossible places I’ve found coins in.
I was a dancer for about 12 years, and my mom and I were always meticulous with keeping my dance bag organized, especially before recitals. I checked and rechecked every costume, every hairpin, every shoe, making sure everything was in its place. I would have noticed if there was something in my shoes. So why then, when I went to put my ballet slippers on before hurrying onto the stage, did a penny fall out?
I find that in my hardest moments in life, that’s when the most of these pennies from Heaven appear. In high school, I had a really hard time with bullying and toxic friends, and I cried almost every day walking home from school. For almost an entire year straight, not a single day passed where I didn’t find a penny, or a nickel, or a dime.
One of my aunts says that their side of the family believes a similar story. It’s the same principle, except that instead of coins, it’s feathers. My grandpa from that side of the family died a few years back now, and ever since, my aunt has found feathers everywhere.
I think everybody can choose to believe what they want. Unfortunately, there’s not a single person in this world that can confirm anything with certainty. After all, there are some secrets that we can only know once it’s our time. But I wholeheartedly believe in pennies from Heaven, and I think it can’t hurt to believe that when you love somebody that much, the love doesn’t just go away. Not even after death.
So keep an eye out for a penny, or a feather, or whatever else it may be that’s close to your heart. Not everything unseen in this world has to be scary, and we don’t have to know anything with absolute certainty to believe it.
Maggie Kendall spent the first fifteen years of her life furiously avoiding all things horror, but then her friend forced her to watch Paranormal Activity, and there’s been no turning back. She still checks the bathroom mirror for Bloody Mary before getting in the shower.