Ask Shirlee: Is my Grandma watching from Heaven?

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Dear Shirlee:

My grandmother died a few months ago. Since then, my Dad keeps telling my little sister that “Grandma is watching over us from Heaven”. Is that true?

Missing My Grandma

Dear Missing:

First, I’m sorry for your loss. Death of a loved one is always difficult, and reminds us to cherish the time we have with those we love.

As promised, I will give you two responses. First, a response based in Biblical truths. Second, what the worldly would call a “common sense” answer.

Biblical Response:

The Bible tells us that when we die, we are dead until the Resurrection at Judgment.

Once dead, we are aware of nothing. Ecclesiastes 9:4-6

4 For to him that is joined to all the living there is hope: for a living dog is better than a dead lion.

5 For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten.

6 Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished; neither have they any more a portion for ever in any thing that is done under the sun.

The Resurrection is noted in Revelation 20.

11 And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them.

12 And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.

13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.

14 And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.

15 And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.

There is no need to resurrect people to bodily form to kill them again, is there? Of course not. But this is the reason cremation was frowned upon by the Catholic Church for so many centuries; because God would need a body to resurrect.

According to the Bible, Missing, your Grandma is dead and unknowing. She is not sitting in Heaven and watching you.

“Common Sense” Response:

People have talked about life after death for, well, about as long as people have talked. We’re thinking, feeling people, and we like to think that we don’t cease to exist when we die. We also like to think that people who have been good but died young and poor, or who were cruel but died old and rich, will be rewarded or punished after death. How could a cruel person living a long happy life be fair? Where’s the justice? And what about that teenager shot dead for wearing a hoodie and being the wrong race in the wrong neighborhood at the wrong time? Where’s his justice?

Many folks rely upon stories of “near-death experiences” to prove that there’s an afterlife. There are a couple of problems with this.

First, while every culture has such stories, they don’t match. If there were an afterlife, wouldn’t everyone have the same, or at least a very similar experience? But each culture’s near-death stories are based upon their cultural expectations.

Second, there’s the little problem of how the brain works. Memories can only be “written” to a functioning brain, because memories are the result of the physical creation of neural networks. If you are dead–that is, your brain isn’t working–it’s not possible for memories to be written. So even if “you” skipped out of your body for a while and came back, you couldn’t remember it. You could, however, have a dream while comatose.

Third, another aspect of how the brain works. The “soul” is believed to be the permanent, immutable “you”. What happens if you have a brain injury? You may lose physical functions. You may lose memories. Your personality may change. If you have a “soul” that exists distinct from your brain, why would it lose memories as a result of physical injury? Why would personality change?

These are all logical matters to consider. There’s also the matter of justice.

Imagine that you are dead. You fly up to Heaven. There, you stand around spying on your loved ones. What kind of afterlife is that? And isn’t it kind of creepy?

Imagine you are recently married, 25, and your husband dies. He flits up to Heaven to watch you. Is that what you want for him? Do you expect him to spend the next 60 or 70 years waiting for you to get there? Do you think he’d want you to remain a single widow, pining away for him, for the rest of your life? Surely a man who loves you would want you to be happy, and you’d want the same for him. Right?


Missing, in this instance, both the Biblical and the Common Sense response agree. Neither the Bible nor Common Sense supports your father’s conclusion that Grandma is drifting about somewhere above the sky watching you have dinner, go to the bathroom, have sex with your boyfriend, or anything else. It may seem comforting to think so, but it’s not supported by the Bible, and frankly, it’s a creepy idea and a cruel fate to wish on someone you love.

Rather than thinking Grandma is watching you, maybe it would be good to focus on remembering Grandma. Make a scrapbook of special memories you all shared with her, for example. And most important, be sure to tell the people you love how you feel about them. You never know when they will be gone, so cherish the time you have.

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