By Jeannette Timmerman
As a young child I remember dwelling on the horrors of life everlasting
in hell. How could a person be in eternal fire and not burn up? How much
pain would there be? I imagined the horrible shrieking, sobbing and abject
But I couldn’t imagine the concept of eternity at
Then came the worry. Was I behaving well enough to avoid the fate of
Somehow, from sermons and readings at church, I focused on the God who
was demanding and judgmental. A God who exacted penance. Of course, I
also heard about the loving nature of God, but somehow for a number of
years the terrible God won out in my mind. Heaven seemed a dream.
The saving grace for me became the confessional. At that time confession
was a weekly affair. I remember one occasion, after the drive from the
farm to church, standing in a long line for confession. When it was my
turn, I burst into tears of dread. But oh the relief when the task of
telling was done.
The priest was a kindly man, concerned about his parishioners, young
or old. Afterward, when he saw my mother he asked about me. My mother,
not knowing of my dread of hell at that period in my childhood, had no
idea what had upset me so much.
Looking back, I can’t imagine that my transgressions
were of any great significance except in my young, fearful-of-hell mind.
In fact, I likely was suffering from scrupulousness, a term I only heard
in mid-life as it is applied to Catholicism.
Childhood memories of my views on heaven and hell have
recently surfaced more than 60 years later because my husband and I seem
to have entered a period of time when friends, colleagues and acquaintances
are dying. We’ve been to a number of funerals and memorials over
the past months.
Two recent ones stand out in my mind. A friend died suddenly.
At the funeral mass the priest talked about heaven and the friend’s place
there. At another, the United Church minister mentioned that the deceased
was now “home” with God.
My belief in life everlasting with God is strong. When
I thought about these two services, my husband’s disbelief gnawed at me, so I questioned
him. Naturally he knows about the Catholic Church’s teachings on
life after death. I asked him if he, as an agnostic, ever thought about
the possibility that death was not an absolute ending.
His answer to my question was very sure. Once he was dead, that was it.
No chance of anything after that point. Was he concerned? Not at all.
Out of friendship and to be supportive of those grieving he attends funerals
and memorial services regardless of the place these occasions are held.
But everlasting life for him is not a consideration. At
times I am saddened by his viewpoint. In the end, I wonder if he’ll
I leave it in God’s hands.
Timmerman is a freelance writer from Winnipeg.