The Afterlife Ache

A few nights back I listened to a woman grieve the loss of her three year old boy. On the radio.

She’d written a book about him—sent it off to her publisher—never thinking her son would die and her book would launch at the same time. Now, here she was on Fresh Air talking to Terry Gross about the disease that took his life (Tay-Sachs), about living with a dying child, and about the grief into which she, even that very moment, was sinking. 

She was not a Christian (a Buddhist) and she said she had no belief in any sort of Heaven-like afterlife. She said slowly, “I don’t think I’ll ever see my son again.”


She said as she wrote her book she kept envisioning an ending. She said, “I wanted it to end with an afterlife-ish sequence. I thought about [it] a lot in the months when he was deteriorating at a more rapid rate, and I would try to imagine him sort of playing on the shore of a lake with grandparents I’ve never met and other Tay-Sachs babies that I’ve met and who have since died.”

She said she didn’t believe in that kind of thing, but she couldn’t stop herself from seeing it, from feeling like it was the right end to the story.

And so, with the power vested in her as author, that’s how she ended it. 

I see God in her ending. And in her longing, too.

I believe an eternal destiny burns in the bones of God’s children, raging if we’ve fed the fire, smoldering if we’ve snuffed it out. 

I believe, struggling for words and purpose and sense, a grieving mother stumbled across the glow of fading embers and warmed herself by the comforting fire of truth.