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Robert Kirby: After Dad’s death in 2020, my thoughts turn to the afterlife

Religions, including my LDS faith, offer answers, but questions about heaven and hell remain just that: questions.

Robert Kirby

Many of you know that my father died in a COVID-19 intensive care facility last year. He suffered from Alzheimer’s and probably didn’t know he was about to cross over.

It didn’t come as a surprise to the family when my sister texted “Dad just died.” There weren’t many tears. It was more like relief. The Old Man had been going downhill for a long time and wasn’t altogether happy about the process.

Knowing what he had been forced to endure, I doubt death was traumatic for him. More than likely, he just woke up dead. One second he was snoring and in the next his spirit self got up, looked around, and thought, “Well, that wasn’t so bad. What’s for dinner?”

As Latter-day Saints, our family members believe that we will be seeing him again soon enough.

I don’t know a lot about what happens when we die. No offense, but neither do you. This includes so-called near-death experiences.

Given the number of people who come back with nothing to report, and the overwhelming majority who don’t come back at all, I’m not terribly impressed with the few who claim otherwise. The weight of the evidence still sides with “who knows?”

As far as the afterlife is concerned, I only know what I’ve heard in church, which is where most of my earliest understanding of the matter was formulated. But that’s still a long way from it being absolute fact.

What I learned (or presumed) growing up was that good people (think Santa Claus and Roy Rogers) went to live with Heavenly Father. Bad people (Hitler and my fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Hall) went to live with Satan.

A broader sense didn’t occur until my church mission to South America. For two years, my companions and I dragged around a small, beat-up projector and a filmstrip titled “Man’s Search for Happiness.”

We showed it in upscale city apartments and dirt-poor shacks. We used a flashlight when no electricity was available, and even read the script when the batteries in the recorder ran out.

The film featured a Norman Rockwell version of family life. The actors were all white, the surroundings immaculate, and the Thanksgiving table covered with more food than most of the families we showed it to would consume in a month.

Frankly, the film gave me the creeps — especially the ending where the grandfather died, walked through a murky veil, and suddenly found himself surrounded by a choir and a host of family and friends.

The film prompted far more questions than it answered for those to whom we showed it. Case in point: Why was grandpa’s long-dead wife still old in heaven?

For me, the toughest question was whether all families could expect such a glorious reunion in the hereafter.

Me • “Far as I know.”

Couple of my companions • “Well, not thieves, murderers, fornicators, Catholics, atheists and other unfit types.”

This clarification was not always received well. Sometimes we were invited to leave in language not found in the scriptures.

As my family members depart this life, and as my own draws shorter, all I know now is that I can only hope. Mainly I hope I’ll see the Old Man again and that crossing over won’t hurt.

Robert Kirby is The Salt Lake Tribune’s humor columnist. Follow Kirby on Facebook.

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