What Happens to Us After We Die?

© Joan Juliet Buck

JONI: So, William Buckley died and at the memorial his son Christopher told how his father was once asked what would be the right epitaph for him when he died. And — I believe his answer came from the Book of Job, or I read that it was — he said: “I know that my Redeemer liveth,” which is the perfect lead-in to: What do you think happens after we die?

LILY: Has anyone ever exhumed a human body, or are you just going beyond the corpus?

SHEILA: Do you mean it’s rotting, or it’s spiritual?

JONI: Well both. We can talk about exhuming a human body.

LILY: Well, if you want to.

JONI: Well, Lily, you just said that you did …

LILY: I did. I’m saying I have an inordinate interest in anatomy and physiological processes and things. So I know what happens to us physically. We deteriorate eventually. But I was raised Fundamentalist Baptist. What were you raised, Julia?

JULIA: Presbyterian. I just went to the Presbyterian church this morning like a good little Catholic.

LILY: You all may be more spiritual than I am.

SHEILA: I’m not at all. I was raised as a Communist Atheist by my parents.

JULIA: Well, I think being raised Baptist has made most of my Baptist friends become Communist Atheists.

LILY: Well maybe that’s kind of what I was leading to.

JONI: So, was there no religion or any kind of faith in your childhoods that led you to believe we might live on after this world?

JULIA: Oh, absolutely. I was raised … my mother was the first female elder in the Presbyterian church in Greenville, Mississippi, and I … I’m probably not as strict as Bill Buckley was, but I still hold onto that. For a long time I think I was embarrassed to say it, especially when I first became a grown-up and was living in Washington and New York. And going out to dinner almost weekly, with people like Christopher Hitchens. So, it was best just not to bring it up. And I still think that religion is not a topic you can discuss at the dinner table. But, yeah, I mean, in addition to the fact that I definitely think like Lily, my body will rot in the ground. Hopefully the rest of me will go on to the great hereafter.

LILY: But do you really believe in the dead being regenerated or being risen in any way?

JULIA: I do believe that – just like what most Protestants and Catholics believe – that your spirit goes on somewhere else.

JONI: Can I make a differentiation between religion and spiritualism, that we’re talking …

LILY: Not religion. We’re talking about the spiritual life.

JONI: … about the spirit and what happens to the soul once we die? I can’t pronounce the name of that man, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, who said, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience.”

SHEILA: Oh, that’s good. I like that.

LILY: Well, I’d like to think that somehow there is some other world, some spiritual world. But when you think about parallel universes and so many … all these spirits would be bumping, so massively, bumping into each other.

SHEILA: And wouldn’t it be very crowded?

LILY: And reincarnation. That eludes me, too. I think, you know, because if you come back as a lower form, or a higher form … I mean, are a lot of insects, are they people coming back paying off all their debts? You think you could calculate all this just by numbers. Like how many beings have been on the earth … if all these beings are coming back as humans, in human form, and then you have millions and billions of insects and other extremely low –

SHEILA: And dogs. Dogs and cats and elephants and tigers.

JONI: Sheila, tell me what you think.

SHEILA: I think that religion simply keeps people from being frightened from dying. I think it’s a great fairy tale. It’s been invented from the most primitive of times and I don’t believe – and I can’t believe, I tried so hard to – but I just can’t identify with believing that there’s anything but this miracle of living, and that we just die and then we become part of the earth and then we regenerate and there’s just a whole cycle of life that keeps going and –

LILY: And think of the universe as one big organism. We’re all just part of the same immense, infinite organism and we’re just one little cell, or one little atom that goes into another manifestation.

JULIA: Well, I believe slightly differently from you guys, obviously, and that’s because I’m coming from another place. But I have to laugh because, well, what Sheila said. Because there’s a lot of truth that whether you believe – whether you have faith in the afterlife, or in God or not, you have to laugh and think that religion is … you know, a lot of people who say they’re believers are believers for exactly what she was saying.

In the paper recently in New Orleans – I don’t know how many of you have heard of or have eaten at Popeyes Fried Chicken. But anyway, the guy who was the Popeyes Fried Chicken magnate was from here and his name was Al Copeland and he died this week. And he was just a real bad ass and he had about four or five wives, about 38 cars and speedboats, which he had all hauled into the cemetery where he was buried.

But the Catholic – I don’t know what the heck they call themselves in the Catholic Church, which is why I’m probably going to get in trouble, but the monsignor or somebody who was leading the service was describing how he had taken Mr. Copeland – who had this really rare form of cancer – he’d taken this poor man, on his, like, last month or so before he keeled over, on this major Catholic trek. You know, they had an audience at the Vatican; they went to Lourdes, blah, blah, blah. And I just started thinking about how many checks this poor bastard was writing to buy his salvation, which he had never expressed much interest in until this final thing.

And then the guy was quoted in the paper as saying, “Mr. Copeland realized at last that the Catholic Church was the one true road to heaven.”

SHEILA: Well, because he probably had a deathbed confession, right?

JULIA: Well, no. As I said, I think he was paying a lot of money for this death tour that the –

LILY: Yeah, to get OK with the Lord. My father –

JULIA: He had about two weeks to go and, by God, he made every stop he could on the European death tour.

JONI: I just want to bring into this conversation that I totally believe in the afterlife. I’ve had experiences of the afterlife. I mean, I could spend hours and days and months. I have had evidence after evidence of my own deceased parents trying to reach me, and reaching me. I’ve seen things physically change. I have had –

SHEILA: Do things physically change? Like what? With or without a face lift?

JONI: It’s too long for me even to begin, except to say that I’d love one day to tell you all.

LILY: Oh, we’d like to hear them because –

JONI: All right. I will tell you all about things that happened. But it wasn’t until I was 50 years old. I’m Jewish. I never went to any kind of temple, or my parents didn’t believe in anything. In fact, if somebody ever asked me, “What sign are you?” – the horoscope – I’d go, “Please, give me a break.” But when I was 50, I was visited by a psychic who wanted to write a book, and from the very first moment I met her she said, “Well, there’s a man standing by your shoulder and he’s been waiting to talk to you forever.” And she gave me one hour of evidence of specifics, to the point of what was in my pocketbook, to the point of when I went fishing in 1948 and caught a —

JULIA: Say, what’s this psychic’s name? Stop right here. I want to know.

JONI: Oh, her name was Rosemary Altea and she’s written two or three bestsellers. The Eagle and the Rose was one. But from there the journey went on, actually alone. I’ve had … I know you’ll all think I’m crazy, but remember, I’ve had responsible jobs, a responsible life.

JULIA: We don’t think you’re crazy.

JONI: And I know … I know that we live on. I know that the things you’re worrying about, we’re seeing from a human eye. The universe is vast and it won’t be crowded and I’ve asked all the questions you’re raising and some day we’ll do a seminar on this. Trust me, we live forever.

SHEILA: You mean, you think your mother and your father are like sitting somewhere playing cards?

JONI: Yep. Yep, yep, yep. They are.

SHEILA: And, isn’t it, what Lily said before, isn’t it crowded where they’re sitting?

JONI: No. It is not at all.

SHEILA: And you’re going to be sitting enjoying them?

JULIA: I think we have … I mean, I think it’s like a kid imagining Santa Claus. You’ve got to let go of what we think of as like time and space and form, if you’re –

SHEILA: Oh, but keep holding on to form, Julia.

JONI: We only have a human vision, and it is such a limited vision. A universal vision is so much more intelligent, so much more vast. But I won’t be able to prove this on this phone conversation.

LILY: What’s the whole plan … if this is so, what’s the plan of this? Why put us on this earth in the first place?

SHEILA: We’re wasting our time here if we have eternity.

JONI: We’re never wasting our time and we do have eternity and we’re here to learn. These are lessons we were meant to learn. We’ll do another seminar on this. I just had to get in that, don’t worry, we live forever.

JULIA: But Joni, the only thing I’m absolutely sure of that’s going to happen when I die is that, if I die below the Mason-Dixon line, then whoever’s left of my friends and relatives are going to be inundated with casseroles. That’s the only thing I’m … I have faith in the other stuff, I know that.

JONI: Oh, Julia, I’m glad.

LILY: Well, let me just throw out, as a kid in the Baptist church, I was extremely worried because of my father. My mother went to church and my brother and the three of us would go with my dad, who was a big gambler and a drinker and a street guy. He never went to church and I would – every Sunday morning from the time I was maybe six or seven, until I was ten – I would sit on the kitchen table, while he’d drink beer and eat sardines. And I’d beg him to go to church because I was so worried that the end of the world would come before the Sunday – next Sunday – and we’d lose the chance to save my father.

And I’d say to my Sunday school teacher, “Well, what if my dad doesn’t go to heaven? What will I do?” She’d say, “When you’re in heaven you’ll have everything you need to be happy.” So then as time passed on and I got famous and Ernestine, the telephone operator, was so famous and people loved her so much, I used to think, “Well, even if I’m an old backslider, you know, as a Baptist, there’ll be somebody up in heaven who will be sitting around and thinking, ‘Well, let’s get that girl up here that used to do that telephone operator.’”

SHEILA: Well, but maybe, Lily, Ernestine will go to heaven and she’ll invite you.

LILY: Well that’s what I’m saying. I’m saying, if I had several personae with which to reach the destination.

JONI: May I invite you all to ask our own Peggy Rometo, on the site, about your future?

LILY: We’d love to.

JONI: Because she is the most amazing intuitive I’ve ever met.

SHEILA: Is she connected to this Rosemary person?

JONI: No, they’re not connected.

SHEILA: Do they see the same people that are out there? Or are they two different people?

JONI: I don’t know. I don’t know.

LILY: Can I just ask you, did Simon & Schuster ever publish either one of them?

JONI: Yes, not Simon & Schuster, but other publishers. Julia seems enlightened here and I’m hoping you’ll all open your eyes to this possibility.

JULIA: Don’t worry, I’m not going to start –

LILY: No, Julia’s not enlightened. She just accepted this all from her childhood, and it’s just gone on –

JULIA: That is not true!

LILY: She even goes to church today. Wait, have you ever gone to a Presbyterian church service?

JONI: Who are you asking?

LILY: It could not be more boring.

JULIA: That’s not true. We have a very cool minister. He’s really good looking and –

LILY: But you don’t have a preacher, Julia. You’ve got to have a preacher.

JULIA: We have a minister.

LILY: You just have a civilized person who talks in a calm voice.

JULIA: No, I don’t. We don’t have a lot of tongues and movement and –

LILY: Yeah, I like the trumpets and saxophones and tambourines and I like to go the whole … if you’re going to have to go to church on Sunday, it should really be fun.

SHEILA: Well, it depends on your idea of fun.

JONI: Well, this is a very unruly group.

LILY: I’ll probably get there first and welcome all of you. But there could be some kind of border issue up there.

JULIA: If Lou Dobbs gets there before you do, he’s going to make a border issue.

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