I've been thinking a lot about a woman I met early in my CPE program this past summer. Privacy considerations preclude me from providing many details, but I can say that I was called for a withdrawal of care (life support), that the initial phone call gave me the impression that the family had made the decision, and that that impression was far from accurate.
The final decision involved most of my afternoon and much of the evening of the on-call chaplain, and included a consultation with a Catholic colleague who carried around a little book outlining the Catholic position on extraordinary life support measures and the cessation of same.
At one point the anguished woman asked me whether I believed in heaven. "I do," I said.
"What is it like?" she asked, with that intensity that you only encounter in these situations, an intensity that demands absolute honesty.
"I don't know," I said.
I am not consoled by a belief that we will meet our loved ones in heaven, that life there will somehow maximize the good things of life here. (It seems that C.S. Lewis and I are in agreement on this one -- he mentions cigars as a would-be desirable feature.) I am not by any means a Biblical inerrantist, but I tend to believe that when the Bible says we shall be changed, it means that we shall be changed in a way we cannot imagine as long as we are still here.
I was intrigued when I spent an afternoon summer before last walking in the cemetery behind the Glasgow Cathedral and picked up a guidebook, from which I learned that the great cemeteries founded in the second half of the 19th century (like the one in which I walk at home) were designed on the basis of a fairly new-at-that-time development of sentiment surrounding death. The park-like atmosphere was meant to foster opportunities to "visit with" the dead, and certainly many people continue to derive great comfort from the sense that they are doing just that.
And maybe they are.
I don't know.