What Happens When You Die?

I’ve recently become a firm believer in attacking my fears head on, instead of just silently and subconsciously being afraid of them. Death, is easily the top spot on the list-of-things-Kelsea-is-afraid-of. As a result, I think about it all the time.

So…what happens when you die? Seriously. We all have our ideas of white light and pearly gates and cherub babies with iridescent wings. But what really, truly happens… in that moment… when you die? It’s a question that plays in my head more times than it doesn’t. It comes front of mind when I stroll into Giant Eagle and wonder if the guy giving me side eye will turn out to be one of the psychos you hear about in the news and just whip out a pistol and end me. Or when I look down to change the song on my iPhone while I’m driving, and look up just in time to see that I almost rear ended the Ford F950 in front of me. Or when I feel a weird pain in my chest, that’s probably just a result from the slumber-yoga I do every night, but I’ve convinced myself is a pre-heart-attack. If all my anxieties were true… what would that moment be like? And further, what happens afterward?

Let me begin by saying that I firmly believe in the Bible. The Bible that was strewn together by the council of Nicea. council of niceaThe sacred text that tells me that Jesus was God in human form, and walked among the Earth and performed miracles and was tempted (and overcame it) and was loved like no one has ever been loved and then hated like no one has even been hated and beaten and crucified. I find solace in my fath. I do. When I let myself go down the rabbit hole of what happens when you die, the only thing that pulls me out is knowing that I have chosen to believe and serve a God who has already conquered death. Death. This ultimate, frightening, unknowable idea. He’s beaten it. That’s the rope thrown down the well of my thoughts on eternity. That’s the only thing that brings my soul any peace.


But it still doesn’t entirely answer my question: What happens when you die?


This sacred text that I subscribe to doesn’t give me a clear picture, necessarily. And although the hymns and songs I’ve been singing since before I could speak tell me of Heaven and streets of gold– the Bible, itself, says a lot about being “asleep.” But every funeral I’ve ever been to, every time I’ve prayed over a fallen soldier or family member or victim or elder… there’s always been a note of “they’re in a better place” or a “they’re with Jesus, now.” A teleportation. A staircase. An elevator straight to the top.


So which is it?


Here’s what I do know… er… believe.

  • I believe that I am a soul.

CS Lewis (my favorite author, yall know this) was quoted (maybe misquoted? Drama!) as saying “You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.” This quote changed my life, as I’ve mentioned ten million times. Not only the way I see myself but how I see others. But, perhaps news to you, it also defined the way I see death. Is my soul, then, attached to my physical body? This quote, this doctrine, would say, “no.” The soul that I have is integral to who I am. The body, a mere vessel. So the death of my body would not necessarily equate to the death of my soul, right? Right! Except for the argument that this soul began when my physical body began. So maybe the two are mutually exclusive of one another. Who knows? I choose to believe the former. That the soul and the body are not conjoined, merely cohabitants. This belief opens the door to other ideas about death– like reincarnation.


  •  Jesus brought one dude with him, teleportation style.



If you recall Jesus’ crucifixion and death, you will note that he was hung on a cross among two criminals. One of them called out to him in repentance, in his final moments of Earthly existence. The other one was just like “Screw both of y’all.” But to the homeboy that was truly sorry– Jesus offered instant paradise. (Luke 23:43) Perhaps this story, coupled with our totally natural desires to comfort our grieving souls, is why we assume that when someone dies, they are shot straight up to Heaven, on a cloud, accompanied by harps and cherubs. But the rest of the conversations about death in the Bible usually refer to a “sleep” that ends with the rapture of Christ, in which we all (living and ‘asleep’) get to enjoy “Heaven.” Confusing? I know. This is where the faith stuff kicks in.



  • I believe that God is love. So Hell, is not.


If there is a Heaven, there must be an antithesis. I don’t believe Hell is burning flesh and sharp-toothed demons. hell I believe it’s a place completely void of love, because God is not there. Which, honestly, is even scarier. Imagine existing anywhere that love does not. And I don’t mean to transport you to the mindset you were in when your boyfriend dumped you. I mean, go to that black, empty, awful place that is void of hope or happiness or security. It’s cold in a way we could never imagine, and lonely like you’ll never experience. It’s merciless. Which means no catharsis. No relief. Not even in the slightest. Not even the relief you experience from crying or lying down or closing your eyes. Or from knowing that this day, this hour, this minute… will come to an end. It is incessant, perpetual, eternal Godlessness. And perhaps, it is what I fear of death the most. That’s it’s nothing. That’s it’s just as before we were born. Void. For eternity.


So… I guess what I’m saying is that belief in God provides some semblance of hope. Hope that we are not wasting away on Earth just to sleep for the next… forever. Or, if nothing else, hope that the time we have here is worth something more. And if I’m HULE’ing like I’m supposed to, that hope has to be unswerving. Not wavering. Ever. Which also means, no fear. 


What do you believe happens when you die? 


On Settling…

I was on a date, recently.

I can’t tell you where I was or what we were doing because I honestly don’t recall. I was gone in a familiar trance—lost in this man’s irises, counting the lines on his face. The anxiety I felt leading up to the date quickly melted into adrenaline. The butterflies were there; the emotion was outrageous. The connection we had was as tangible as the hair on his arm. Our breath was in sync. I was wholly in this moment, with this man, on this evening—completely paralyzed in an intentional daze.

He parted his lips for a moment.

I was captured.

Every word he had spoken so far was so intentional. So wonderfully unexpected. Our conversation was intense—but not in the way that leaves you drained.  An energizing intensity. The intensity that comes from being understood. My hypnosis broke from his eyes to his lips. I watched him inhale. I did the same.

“What are you afraid of?” he let out, not breaking eye contact.

My response was involuntary. Everything about everything with him was involuntary.

He was slow to react.

I’m unsure if he was expecting me to say spiders, or heights, or drowning. Maybe even death. That probably would’ve segued nicely into another deep conversation. Maybe he wanted me to say something he could protect me from. Maybe that was the intent behind the question—to force this connection we had built to grow, artificially. To build some kind of reliance. But I’m not afraid of spiders. In fact, I’ve always been the spider-killer in whatever house I’ve inhabited. I actually really love heights. Rollercoasters, flying, etc. All my “jam.” Drowning would certainly not be my first choice in death, but I imagine after a while, when the struggle and fear subside; it would be peaceful.


But I cannot imagine any peace in settling. In any aspect.


In fact, I cannot fathom anything but sheer terror as I constantly exist in a looping video of a totally, unacceptably boring life. With a moderately attractive, mildly ambitious, halfway passionate lover. With a job that tastes good coming out of my parent’s mouth, but that I feel I need rescuing from. With children that I resent, in a town that I hate, with security and normality that were never intended for me.


I only imagine myself in the fetal position of my perfectly adequate bathroom floor, shaking at the idea that I’ve wasted my time and my life on settling. On what I thought everyone else wanted for me.

That’s what keeps me up at night. That’s what makes me want to run and freak out and shiver and cry.
That this… everything I’ve already experienced and everything I’ve already lived through and seen… is all there is.

“Settling.” I said, nodding in absolute certainty.
I had combed through the list of my other fears. Eternity. Losing my brother. Never finding a soulmate.
On some level, I am equipped to handle all of these things, however. Nothing about my DNA makes me equipped to handle not reaching my full potential. Not recognizing the power I have.

“I believe that older you get, the more fearless you become.” –Vanessa Williams

My mind started to drift to those children I resented in my parallel, lackluster life. One of them was a little girl. She was smarter than me, and more outspoken. She excelled at everything she did and left everyone she encountered feeling better than before they had encountered her. She was gracious but assertive; witty and clever. She had the same irises as the ones I was lingering in, now….

That’s when he parted his lips again.

I was captured, again.

He leaned in a little and very gently said, “Me too.”