Click here to read from the beginning.
The last time I had been in a hospital, I was four. I was visiting my mom. When she told me she was going up to Heaven soon, I asked her where it was and when I could go see her.
“It’s a beautiful place,” she’d replied. “It’s like having everything you want, but better. And when you get there, a long time from now, I’ll be waiting to greet you and hear about all the things you did while I was gone.”
From this description, my idea of Heaven was filled with fluffy pink pillows and soft, wide eyed animals that were my eternal playmates. What else do you expect from a four year-old?
Even when I got older and one conception of Heaven was replaced with another, I never shook the feeling that there was something soft about it. In my mind, the pearly gates were smooth and silky. The clouds were made of down. I knew the whole St. Peter thing was just a metaphor. For most of my life I went back and forth on the issue of God and life after death. But when it came down to those last moments, I still half-expected to be transported to the clouds, with a toga and a harp miraculously in my hands.
In some ways it’s hard to describe where I actually began my afterlife existence. With my body gone, I didn’t perceive things through my senses. But my first impression of my new bearings was – flat. Everything seemed flat. There was no vibrancy. The world was suddenly cool and drab and quiet, or as close as you can get to those things in another plane of existence.
The guy who brought me said, “Welcome to Purgatory.” He didn’t speak, as such. He just…decided which thoughts to share with me, and they appeared in my head.
“Purgatory?” I echoed.
“Also known as Limbo, the Waiting World, or any other host of names.”
“Who are you?” I asked.
“My name is Conner,” he replied. “It’s my job to help you adjust to the loss of your body, your post-mortem existence here in Purgatory, and any next steps you want to take.”
“I don’t mean to be self-righteous, but I kind of always thought I’d either go straight to Heaven or Hell,” I said.
Conner laughed. “A lot of people say that. But most of us start out in Purgatory. Anyone who has unfinished business in the physical world stays here until it’s resolved.”
“Then they go to Heaven or Hell?” I asked.
Conner did the spiritual equivalent of a shrug. “They go somewhere.”
I tried to consider the life I’d left behind. But I couldn’t really think of anything that might tether me to it. I’d been ready to go for months and I’d made my peace with anything and anyone I cared about. Maybe there had been some mistake.
“Look,” I said. “I don’t want to think about my old life anymore. I’m ready to move on and I’d like to see what’s next.” Anything, I thought, would be better than what I had. “So whatever papers or equivalent stuff I have to file here, I’d rather just do it now and get going.”
“It doesn’t work like that, Rachel,” he informed me. From the warmth of his tone I gathered he’d been down this road before. “You don’t just leave Purgatory because you want to. Whatever is holding you back…you have to find it. And fix it.”