The After differs from expectation in every way conceivable–not surprising, considering that the immensity of it can, in no way, be conceived of.
Not a dark void, the After fills with light, with feeling, with memory, with possibility, with imagination, with energy, with all that is and all that can be and all that might be and all that was. It is crowded with consciousness and overflowing with time. There is so much time that time ceases to have any meaning whatsoever as the entirety of the eternal squeezes into a single instant. This is what Forever means.
I fully intended to visit my family every day, but a day is a concept that does not exist where I was. I have no idea how much time passed, for where I was the concept of “passed” did not exist.
I could feel Tanvi’s grief, an anchor that kept me connected to this place.
Then, the anchor line was cut. I drifted. Freedom felt exquisite.
Nonetheless, I felt a pull. While no time at all had “passed” for me, surely time had progressed at my earthly home when I felt the pull.
Joy welled on the sight of form again.
But when I saw Majora, head down, ears back, slinking through the front gate, dread descended.
Bobie lay collapsed on the threshold, the light of him already ascending.
I remembered my promise to be there to help with the transition.
Our gardener stopped his chores. Majora circled back around, having found her courage, and followed Babe in the solemn procession.
Someone else, a young man who looked familiar, stood witness as the Reaper rounded the corner of the house.
My Tanvi stood in shock.
The gardener called Bobie’s name. I tried to tell him to stop, to let him pass, but I could not remember how to form words, or how to speak.
No one saw me. You cannot see light when it is light.
With all my being, I spoke to Bosko: Don’t fear. It’s not the end.
But it is an end, and every cell in Bosko’s body knew what it was the end of, with a finality that carries physical fear in those for whom the physical still holds meaning.
At last, Nibbler slowly strode out to be present for this parting with her mate.
Dear Tanvi! She stood behind the Reaper in weary anger, grasping a fork in her hand. Go on, dear! Stab him!
But it was too late, and the dark shepherd raised his scythe.
The dogs knew where to look, not at the empty form, but at the light. Remember, dear ones, we will be together again!
“Come, Bobie!” I called. “Good dog! Do you want to stay, or do you want to go?”
To stay! To stay! The shepherd collected him in his grasp and handed him over to me.
Oh, Bobie! You are by my side again!
“Sad day, dude?” The maid said when he arrived. And the familiar-looking youth replied. “The worst.”
For them, it was the worst. For me and for Bobie, it was a day of joyful reunion. My grave was not so lonely now, and beside me, in the After, I would cavort with my spirit friend.
But before we were released to play, we had the task of comforting those we left behind.
Dear Babe, her eyes revealed her understanding. If you know you will join us soon, dear, how can you be so sad? Because it is an ending, though it’s not the end.
Bosko raised his head in honor of his sire.
Dear Babe, dearest Bosko, weep no more. We’re still here. We will always be.
But not with warm forms and hearts that beat. Not with hands that stroke. Not with a wet nose and soft fur.
“Fuck it all!” said Tanvi, and I loved her more than ever.
Soon enough, she will understand, too, but until that day, let her rage. It’s love that stirs this anger, too.
When the young familiar-looking man followed Bosko, Bartholomew, and Nibbler back to the house, and Tanvi turned to join them, Babe curled up and slept on our graves, as she had the night through after my passing.
I left her there and found Tanvi curled on a stone bench in the garden. Poor dear. Grief is exhausting.
She and the youth dug deep into those reserves that we find when there are others to think of: Babe and Bosko needed walking.
I called Bobie to me, and we walked with them.
“Do you feel a breeze?” Tanvi asked.
“It’s just the sunset,” Lucas said. “Evening air off the bay.”
I couldn’t leave them. That night, I sat in the garden. The young man screamed when he saw me. When it is dark, I discovered, light can be seen.
“Don’t be afraid,” I said. I found my voice. “I’m Astrid. I used to live her.”
“I know you, Astrid,” he said. “You’re my mom’s friend. We were in the garden club together when I was a kid. I’m Lucas Munch.”
Lucas! I loved that little boy, so inquisitive! So polite! Now, all grown up.
“And what are you doing here, Lucas?” I asked.
“I live here now!” he said, and he explained that he wanted to be an artist and needed a place to live, and Tanvi wanted someone to help with the dogs, the garden, and the chores. He pitched his tent beside the house, free board in exchange for helping out.
“And all the art supplies I need!” he said. Those were my oils, canvases, and brushes. I felt grateful they could be put to good use by him.
I wondered if Tanvi had shared with him the details of our wills: that everything we had would be passed on to the person we chose to care for the dogs and Majora. The property was for them, along with all our assets, held in trust by the caregiver.
He was a good choice. I approved.
I discovered that night that I could help out in the physical world. I could wash dishes, clean the sink, take out the trash. I could be of use, and this brought me unexpected joy.
“Thanks for cleaning?” Lucas said. “I, uh, never had a ghost help out around the house before?”
I laughed. He’d kept his endearing childish quality of turning statements into questions.
After he headed out to the tent, I heard the quilts rustle from the bedroom. I hoped that Tanvi would see me. With all my intention, I remembered the shape of my form.
“It’s you,” she said.
We clowned around all evening. I had missed laughing with her more than I could have imagined. I hadn’t thought then, but, oddly, laughter doesn’t exist in the After. Humor does, and irony prevails, but laughter, laughter seems to belong to this earthly realm. It felt good to laugh again.
We discovered new games. I can put my energy into objects: Chairs, tables, my fiddle, even a squeaky toy.
So while I went inside Pinky SqueakChick, Tanvi picked up her rubber duckie. We played nice, and we played naughty, finding new ways that we could still be together.
When the sun rose, I was still there. I knew I couldn’t stay forever, that I would need, periodically to return to formlessness, but I wanted to contribute during the time I was able to stay.
I found a canvas that Lucas had set up, and I managed to open the box of paints.
I tried to express the fullness of the after: The sparks of light that we are, the shifting patterns, the way of seeing that exists beyond physicality.
Plus, if they don’t get what I’m expressing, they can sell the painting to buy more puppy chow.
Soon, the light would be brighter than my intention: This transparency would fade.
But I would be back, I knew that then, many, many times. And sometimes, Bobie would come, too. It is an ending. But it’s not the end.