101: In Their Heavens

101: In Their Heavens

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Grieving and Recovery

In Their Heavens

Hope is grief’s best music.

~Author Unknown

In the past several years, three people with whom I shared a close bond have died. The first was my 42-year-old brother, the second a 51-year-old close friend, and the third and most recent a 50-year-old friend from high school. With each passing I was confronted anew with questions to which I still have no answers: the existence of God and the likelihood of life after death.

I have not grown to be a spiritual man. I think the good Sisters of Mercy may have beaten the Lord out of me years ago, but neither am I firm in my conviction that we are not guided by a force greater than ourselves. I suppose that I fall into the “crisis Catholic” category. If there’s a crisis in my life, I’m transformed into a devout Catholic. Needless to say, the death of my high school friend John did give me pause and caused me to reflect once again on the reality of mortality and the prospect of an afterlife. It is with this in mind that I share the following, for in what I am about to tell you I have found a measure of comfort, and I hope you do also.

My brother Larry passed away suddenly six years ago. He went to work one morning and never returned home. He suffered a major heart attack and died, as it is said, before he hit the floor. We were devastated at having lost him at so young an age and our grief was at times overwhelming. As the days and then weeks passed by I began to wonder if Larry had found peace.

One night, several weeks after his death, I had a dream. I was in what I perceived to be a large theater. I could hear the buzz of the crowd and sensed that the house was packed, but I could see no one, for the theater was lit with the most brilliant white light you could imagine. And then I saw Larry, and he looked as he did on the day he was married. Twenty-six years old, in the best physical condition of his life and a look of absolute happiness and serenity on his face. He looked at me and said, “Joe, it’s all right. Everything is okay.” Larry loved to act and was in several plays in high school and studied drama in college. I believe that what I dreamed that night was Larry’s version of heaven, that he was on stage and at peace.

Five months after Larry’s death, my 51-year-old friend was involved in a car accident and died on Christmas Eve. This was hard; at times it seemed harder even than Larry’s death. His name was Stafford, and if you had met him you would have been reminded of Bob Dylan. Staff wasn’t the most responsible guy and he could be a bit self-centered, but he was creative, funny, non-judgmental, loyal, and I counted him as one of my best friends. He was a talented guitar player and a fair photographer. He always aspired to be a rock star or an actor. He was never quite sure how this was going to happen, but he was convinced that someday his break would come.

Several weeks after Staff died I dreamt of him. This dream was brief and no words were spoken. I looked up and saw him in the prime of his life. He was dressed in a wool sport coat and cap, and he looked so cool. An entourage surrounded him and hung on his every word. He looked in my direction and gave me a nod of his head as if to say, “I’m where I belong and where I always knew I would be.” Staff was in his heaven.

Which brings me to two weeks ago. I’m in the stands at Yankee Stadium. I’m in a field level seat halfway down the line in right field. John, my friend who most recently died, is on the mound and throws his last pitch to strike out the batter, and for some reason I get the feeling he struck out the first two also. The stadium is sold out and it erupts as he bounces toward the dugout.

I swear to God he was 19 again, and in this dream he moved just like he did when we were young. He walked with that same swagger, not cocky but confident. He had that beautiful smile on his face, that sly, knowing smile that I remember as being a bit higher on one side than the other, and his head was slightly down and was tilted so that his hair fell across half his forehead. I watched him walk off the field and my dream was over before he reached the first base line. He never acknowledged my presence but I could see him as clear as day, and he was beaming.

I am fortunate to have these dreams. I wake remembering them vividly and they leave me with a good feeling. I’m skeptical that they are anything other than pleasant dreams, but I do still send the occasional donation to Holy Family, recite the occasional Hail Mary and occasionally look skyward and smile. Just in case.

~Joseph J. Kruger

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