THE BLOG

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Brenda Wilhelmson Headshot

Sweet or Bitter Hereafter?

Posted: Updated:

If my father hadn't died, he would have turned 70 last week, and I've been wondering how he feels about my book, Diary of an Alcoholic Housewife, being released this month if he's hovering around out there.

I was raised a Seventh-day Adventist, so I was taught that I had no soul. I was just a body that God breathed life into and when I died, God would take his breath back and I'd rot and decompose until Jesus' second coming -- which was when my Heaven-or-Hell fate would be decided. My mother was adamant about my having no soul. "The idea of the soul is the Devil's tool," she told me. "Satan gets a hold of grieving people by pretending to be deceased loved ones."

I embraced Descartes and decided I was an agnostic when I was in college. Being an agnostic made me feel worse about death than when I was an Adventist, but I didn't want false beliefs, even if they did offer life after worm meat.

I got married, had a child, and began searching for a way to believe in God for the sake of my son. In case there was a Heaven and Hell, I thought Max should believe, but I couldn't dupe him or myself. When Max was three, I wrapped my mind around an image of God as Master Designer after watching a children's cartoon where Rabbi Marc Gellman explained that nothing in the world existed without first being designed -- think of God as the Master Designer, Gellman said.

I did some church shopping and decided the Presbyterians were a nice fit, for a while. I started reading The Jesus Mysteries: Was the "Original Jesus" a Pagan God? by Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy, and started feeling like a fraud when I went to church. I had a second child by then and both of my boys wanted to know why I wasn't eating the communion wafer anymore. I told Max and Van I believed in God but wasn't so sure about the Jesus story. We stopped going to church.

As I watched my father wither and die from cancer, I began wondering if I had, in fact, duped myself into believing in God just to feel better. I got depressed and some of my friends were worried about me. A concerned friend told me to read Closer to the Light, by Melvin Morse, an M.D. who documented the near-death experiences of children and made a good case for the existence of the soul and the hereafter. Reading the book made me feel better about my decision to believe in a Master Designer. Over time, I married yogic philosophy (I teach yoga) with the bit of Kabbalah I've studied and mixed these with my 12-step program. This hybrid works for me.

Today I believe in God, the soul, and the hereafter, so I believe my father is somewhere in the ether. But is he climbing the spiritual ladder to enlightenment, or hanging out with his old drinking buddies for a while? No one knows what process kicks in once you cross over -- if you believe in crossing over.

When the doctor told my father prostate cancer was going to kill him, it leveled us both. My father, an alcoholic, like me, was my friend, mentor, and drinking buddy. We went to his house after the doctor appointment, cried, and reminisced about good times -- many of them drinking times. The phone rang and my father told one of his fishing buddies that he'd just received the death sentence. My dad lifted the Manhattan he was holding, told his friend he was going down with a drink in his hand, and gulped it. I didn't hoist one with him, but I thought about it.

I adored my father. He was generous, compassionate, and loving -- but he was a selfish prick, too. As for me, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. My father and I understood each other, accepted each other for exactly who we were. We screamed and swore at each other then apologized and hugged. Diary of an Alcoholic Housewife pulls no punches.

So Dad, just wondering, are we at the screaming part or hugging part?