This story is based on the style of Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it.
The afterlife isn’t really an afterlife at all, even though it can feel that way.
Our experience of time varies throughout our lives. When we travel to new places, days can feel like months. As our children grow up, years fly by in the blink of an eye. A feverish night suffering through an illness feels like it might last an eternity.
As we approach our final minutes, our minds begin to accept our fate. We experience the feeling of death as we slip away from our bodies and accept the finality of it all.
But then our brains play a clever trick on us: time slows down.
And not just a little bit down. Our final minutes have the same effect we experienced in middle school, anxiously waiting for the end of class, when we could swear the clock hadn’t moved since the last time we looked up to check it.
Our experience stretches on infinitely, while our loved ones live through their final seconds with us.
“What is this experience like?” you might ask.
That all depends. Our minds have always filled in the gaps of our experience based on our expectations. We’ve seen objects in our blind spots, assumed the intentions of those who hurt us, and fallen for optical illusions. This time is no different.
The pious man who spent his life striving to earn a place in heaven gets exactly what he imagined. The woman who was shamed by her church and rebelled against it experiences the hell that she still deep down believes exists. The atheist experiences an eternity of nothingness.
But there are surprises too. The generous pastor who felt he never quite measured up to the Lord’s expectations of him gives himself a wicked hell. The narcissist deep in his own fantasy creates a God who sees things from his perspective. The Buddhist who believes in reincarnation wakes up to a whole new life.
And so, in the end, we all get the afterlife we feel we deserve.