It is an age old existential question: What happens to us after we die?
Children of very young ages ask this question. My son started to ask this question at age three. My first response was “That is a very good question. Even adults don’t know the answer for sure.” Then I choked back tears as my son observed “You miss your mommy, don’t you?” And all I could do was nod.
Every culture and religion has a set of responses for this question, and every person has their unique views on death. Where do we go? Is there an afterlife? Do our spirits carry on?
Recently I came across a very literal Indigenous perspective. Our bodies decompose, we become soil, soil feeds the trees, trees provide homes for birds, and so it continues. When we witness the birds frolicking, or inhale a breath of fresh oxygenated air from the neighbouring trees, we can feel connected to ways this person carries on.
If we looked at the natural world as reminders or incarnations of our loved ones, how might we relate to the world differently? For me, it is comforting to consider the very particles of my mom’s body carrying on in the particles that nourish me now. And, beyond my rational mind, there just seems to be something about robins that makes me feel a little closer to my mom’s presence.
Every once in a while, while I’m playing in the front yard with my children, and a robin joins us, I look up, share a little smile and say to the robin “Aren’t they incredible?” I can only feel in return an acknowledgment that yes, they really are.