What Images of the After-life Did We Have When We Were Young?


At our next meeting, on November 13, we will examine the writings of Epicurus. Some of the questions that are sure to come up will concern the possibility of an after-life — or the lack thereof.

In anticipation of this meeting, I would like to invite members of our group to share with the rest of us some of the most vivid images of the after-life that come to your mind…

Take a moment to meditate on those images that, for whatever reason, traced themselves deeply in your neural networks when you were a child. The more unexpected and strange the better!


Why am I asking the group to share these images?

I have a hunch that, at our meeting it may be fruitful to examine some of our assumptions and fears regarding what happens after death by way of visual, non-verbal cues, rather than getting bogged down in words.

You can add your images in the comments below, or email them to me and I’ll post them.


To get us started, here are some of mine…

Probably my first strong encounter with death was when I saw the movie “King Kong” (1976)… I must have been about seven when I saw it. Remember when Jessica Lange must say goodbye to Kong?

There was no suggestion of an after-life. But I remember feeling shocked that everyone else in the movie would go on with their lives, while King Kong would never breathe again.

When my family moved to Hong Kong (we lived there between 1977 and 1981) I remember visiting a monastary where there was, on display, a dead monk covered with gold leaf. That made an impression.


Does this qualify as an after-life?

Then there’s that scene of Purgatory in the movie “Heaven Can Wait” (1978; I was nine), which stunned and terrified me (full disclosure: my childhood dream was to play quarterback in the NFL, so it cut particularly close to the bone).

Here’s the clip that set my mind racing:

But probably the most powerful image of an after-life that I encountered was in an art history class in my senior year in high school (I was 17, I think). My teacher put up a projection of Masaccio’s Holy Trinity, and something strange happened in my head.


(For a short video about this work, click here.)

I felt a surge of joy, and I couldn’t look away. It was all there: life… death… and the after-life, such as it is.

At odd moments during the day, for years after that, the image of that skeleton lying at the bottom of this image would come back to me. The Latin inscription above his reclining figure is:


Thank you, Masaccio, for clearing that up!

What else, let’s see… Crazy as it sounds, the Pixies’ “This Monkey’s Gone to Heaven” actually moved me with the finality of the end for the eponymous “monkey” (aka “an underwater guy / who controlled the sea / got killed by 10 million pounds of sludge from New York and New Jersey,” aka a symbol of humanity?)…


Okay. That’s what I can come up with right now. I’ll keep adding more as I think of them. How about you?


From Sheri

I was six and in love with our two puppies, “Nip and Tuck”.  After school one day I could not find “Tuck”.  They were always together.  We lived on an island in a lake in Wisconsin.  My mother said that she had no idea where he was, and suggested that I ask all the neighbors on the island if they had seen Tuck.  After
making those rounds with no sightings, I returned home miserable, teary, and desperate.  It was then that my mother admitted the truth:  Tuck had been hit by the milkman’s truck as he swung into our driveway and was dead.  “I want to see him dead”, I said.  Very reluctantly she led me to the row of garbage can outside our gate.  In an old cardboard box my Tucky lay, eyes open, flies covering his eyes and body.  This is it then, death?

Red eye fly - ugly-800

From Claudine







From Jeanne

Some of my wishes for an afterlife was having my own private angel, like Clarence in “It’s a wonderful Life”  Well maybe a bell won’t ring when my angel get’s his wings, but it is still one of my favorite films with a beautiful message about appreciating what you have.
Even as an adult, I was really affected by the beautiful paintings, and supernatural world after death,  and finding solace that things will be OK, for the departed  in “What Dreams May Come.” A good friend worked on paintings for this film, and her description of her creative process in painting the images affected her in a profound way. She entertained the possibility that this could be the reality of afterlife.  There was a moment when I asked myself, Could this be true?” But , I just could not let myself go there, I could not see how a being could actually enter an alternate world. The truth was, and still is that I wish it were true, but I know that it is not.  


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