I also believe that souls carry on, and I believe in eternal life and the connection between this world and the world that exists after death.
I happen to believe in Christianity too, and of course these two things are connected.
My dad believed all of these things too. My dad was never overly-zealous about his religious beliefs. Many people who knew him well did not even know how very deeply religious he was. And while his conviction was strong, he also did not pass judgment on those who didn't agree. He worried about friends and family who did not believe in the tenets of Christianity. Not because he was worried about their souls and where they were destined to spend eternity - because he knew there is a certain kind of comfort and peace that covers you like a shroud even during the darkest of times, if you do believe. He worried about how those who didn't believe in an everlasting life could possibly get through the difficult times of loss.
My father's death has not shaken my faith. In many ways, it has strengthened it. I talked to my dad a lot in his last few days (this was a one-sided conversation but I know he could hear me, on some level...) and I talked about how I would need him to see me through these times. I told him I would be watching for signs... things that would comfort me with the knowledge of his presence in my life, despite our physical separation. I didn't need them for proof, only for encouragement.
In the days immediately following his death, it became a standard joke in my house that I was "overlooking" the signs he was sending me. We frequently see deer where we live, but usually in groups and always only does. The night my dad died, I happened to look out our front window and saw a single buck standing in our front yard.
The following day as I was riding with my mom to the mall, we passed under a tunnel of sparrows - thousands and thousands of them that had filled the road and then lifted up like a large sheet as we passed beneath. It was something I had never seen before.
On Sunday, as I sat by the fireplace lamenting the lack of "signs" I had received from my father, a sympathy card fell from the mantle and hit me in the head. My husband joked, "there's your sign.." and then I remembered the deer, and the birds, and the bright sun that shone as my dad slipped away and the large moon that hung in the sky that night (the closest the moon will be to earth probably ever again in my lifetime was that night) and I laughed. Sometimes we don't see the forest for the trees, do we?
I felt content. I could almost hear my dad saying, "I sent you the deer, the birds... come on now I'm busy up here trying to meet people! I'm here. You KNOW I'm here."
A few days after my dad's funeral, I woke up in the middle of the night. I was awake, not dreaming, and I suddenly felt as though my dad was in the room. I felt him so strongly, and as the realization swept through me I heard his voice - clear as day - say, "Good-bye." Suddenly, I felt him leave.
The next morning, I felt angry about the experience.
I have not yet had one of those moments so many people describe where I momentarily forget he is gone and have the urge to call him or expect to see him coming through the door. Instead, I am painfully aware every moment of every day that he is gone.
So in frustration I asked, "why GOOD-BYE? Good-bye is painfully obvious to me right now, I GET that. Why couldn't you have used that amazing opportunity to say something, anything else?"
And then I realized that while I had the chance - many of them actually - to tell him good-bye, he had not. The part of his illness that took his life came on very fast and in the effort to treat him, he was medically sedated into a coma. There was no time when that happened to say good-bye. And even though there was nothing left unsaid between us and a deep level of understanding, I know he still would have wanted to say the words.
Last night, as I said my bedtime prayers, I again asked for guidance and direction from not only God, but from my dad as well. I drifted off to sleep and was startled awake just minutes later from a very real-feeling dream. I was sitting in my dad's office working at his desk and he came around the corner and said, "well... hi there!"
As I saw him, a feeling rushed over me... and I thought to myself, "there you are!" as if he had been lost. I felt such relief - not that his death had been a mistake or a misunderstanding, but that he was there to help me through.
There is comfort in these dreams and in these signs, but there is some distress as well. They make me aware of feelings and issues that lie far beneath the surface, beyond the abilities of consciousness. They force me to deal with those issues even when the more mundane tasks of everyday living need to be accomplished. They make me grieve at the most unexpected moments and remind me that I am only in control to the extent that the universe deems it.
I am wading my way through. Sometimes a day at a time, sometimes an hour at a time.
But I know that while he is gone, my dad is still very much with me.