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founded 2004 by ron cruger
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by Ron Cruger
You don't have to be dead to go to heaven
The following short story is the fantasy about the author
dying and what happens to him when he realizes his earthly life as ended and he finds himself together with family and friends in a special place.
        I felt the sharp pain in my left arm and knew right away what was happening. Following the pain in my arm I got short of breath, my jaw got numb, I got dizzy and then I lost consciousness. Damn! I had died! I had suffered a fatal heart attack and I had died. Damn!
        Suddenly the pain and numbness went away. I felt fine. In fact, better than I’ve felt in a long time. The ache in my lower back wasn’t there anymore. The stiffness in my fingers was gone and everything appeared sharper and clearer. I didn’t need my eyeglasses.
        I felt refreshed. Better than I have in years.
        I rubbed my eyes, felt my arms, bent my fingers, did a quick squat to test my legs. Everything was working and working well.
        Then I looked around. What the hell!
        How quickly things can change. One minute I’m having the grotesque pains of a heart attack and now I’m feeling tip top.
        I looked around and realized I was standing in front of the house I grew up in, the one around the corner from the park in Inglewood. My Mom and Dad were standing in the doorway. Dad had his arm around Mom’s shoulder and they were both waving at me to come in. I could see my grandmother standing behind them in the living room. I could see her smiling. She was waving to me too.
        What was going on?
        I turned around and there was my wife, standing right behind me. Off on my right were my son and daughter. My younger sister stood to the left of my children. Across the street from our old house was a group of my old friends. Guys I had remained friends with all these years. Some had died and some were still living where I had just come from.
        What was going on?
        Mom had died in 1961, Dad and Gram had both died in 1965. I was beyond joyful to see them. I ran to them and hugged mom and dad together. I cried with joy. Then I hugged Gram. Mom said, “Son, we’re so glad to see you. We’ve been waiting for you. We’re together again.”
        The three, Mom, Dad and Gram took turns welcoming and hugging my sister.
        My father hugged me and said, “At last. It’s been so long. We’ve been hoping we’d see you soon and here you are. It’s wonderful.” Gram looked at me and beamed. She looked so happy.
        I turned and reached for my wife’s hand. She held hers out and our fingers intermingled.
I said, “Mom, Dad, Gram, this is Marilyn, my wife.” The three took turns hugging her and kissing her on her cheek. Mom said, “You’ve been good for our son.” Marilyn smiled broadly.
        Off to the right, in the driveway, was my old ’49 Ford, my favorite car, the one on which I had twin pipes installed. I’ll never forget the sound of the old V-8 engine and the twin pipes.
        Walking towards me were old friends, Tommy, “Fuzzy,” Laramie, Dick, Don, Ward and Gene. Standing next to them was my cousin and friend, Carl.
        Don had died in 1994, Dick in 1998. I hadn’t seen “Fuzzy” since we were both 20-years old, in 1954. Laramie moved away in 1952. Tommy, Ward, Carl and Gene were still alive -we’ve remained friends since grammar school.
Don was my best friend. When he died in 1994 a part of me died. I was wounded in the same manner as when my Mom, Dad and Gram died. Don’s sudden death changed me. I realized again that life is precious, but fleeting.
        Here I was standing on my folk’s front lawn, talking with old friends. Still standing in the doorway were Mom and Dad. My favorite old car was parked in the driveway.
        What was going on?
        I told the guys, Marilyn, my son and daughter, Doug and Diane, and my sister to come with me, “Come in the house with me, please,” Mom and Dad welcomed everyone. Gram went to the kitchen to make a pot of coffee.
         “Sit down, sit down,” Dad urged.
         It was such a small house. We all squeezed in. Three of the guys sat on the carpeted floor.
        I began, “Mom, Dad, what’s going on? How come you’re here, my old car is here, Gram, my old friends from school. How did I get here and where is ‘here’?”
        Mom looked at Dad, Dad looked at Mom. Mom looked Dad in the eye and said, “You go ahead.” Dad patted my Mom’s hand and turned towards me.
        “Son, you died. You had a heart attack.”
        I knew something had happened to me, but “dead!”
        I told my Dad, “If I’m dead, where am I? What is this place? How come all of you are here? How did my old car get here.?”
        Dad, got up from his chair and moved to sit next me on the couch. He patted me on my shoulder and continued, “Son, since Adam and Eve everyone on earth
has wondered what happens when you die. There are all kinds of thoughts about what happens. Some people think it’s just the end; life just stops. Others believe in a heaven and a hell. Hell is where the bad people go. Heaven is where the good people go. Others believe that only those who are religious believers can go to heaven. Son, there are so many ideas about dying and what happens next.”
        Mom was getting fidgety. She held up her right index finger and began, “Son, it’s simple. When anyone, everyone, all of us, dies we just continue living in our minds. We all create places and people and we live there. You don’t have to be dead to live there. As long as you’re in the mind of whomever died you continue living with them – and when you die you go and live in your mind. All the people you ever knew are with you again – if that’s what you believe. Doesn’t matter if they’re alive or dead. People you love, people you knew, people you liked – they’re all going to be with you again. Only this time everyone is much nicer. And there’s another special thing, nobody dies here. Nobody gets sick. Everyone has whatever they want – and everyone wants what’s good for them and everyone else. People that are in your mind that you maybe didn’t care for in your other life will be nice now. As long as they’re in your mind you will be able to see them here and you’ll enjoy them.”
        My wife, kids, friends, Gram, Mom, Dad just sat there and watched me. They all seemed to know about the place. Even the ones that were still alive in the other place knew all about what was happening and where we were. Everyone was smiling.
        Gram came in the living room and said, “Coffee’s ready for anyone who wants it.”
 She got the cups out and poured.
          I moved towards Mom and sat on the floor next to her legs. I wanted to know more. “Mom, will everyone I want to be here, be here?”
          My mother touched my cheek, just as she did when I was a child. “Son, the “here” that we talk about is in your mind – it is your mind. The “here” was here when you were alive. Actually, you are alive here. You were just alive before in a different place in your mind. The difference is only how you think. There’s been a change in your thinking. You see, before you came here your thoughts were different. When you came here, when the other part of you died, your thoughts changed. When you got here you began to realize that your thoughts, your mind were everything. Now you see people the way you want to see them. You have more love in your heart. You’ve begun to know that your mind is where you live. Now that you’re here you can see anyone and be anywhere you want. Being here is much like where you were before. The biggest difference is that here everything always works out, everyone is nice, you are always happy, you’re never sick and you’ll never leave here. You could have been here before, but there’s a procedure that has to happen first. It’s called dying. It’s kind of like making everything “official.”
          Gram was done pouring the steaming hot coffee. She placed the pot back on the stove and walked towards me and gave me a hug. She held my face in both of her hands. “We’ve missed you. But we’ve been happy here. Everyone is so nice. I’ve met so many nice people. People I never thought I’d meet or see again. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Gandhi, my father, my brothers and sisters, uncles, aunts. I see my mother and father all the time. Same with my grandmother and grandfather. You can see them too if you want.”
          It all sounded wonderful to me. Was I in paradise?
          I looked at my friends Don and Dick. We had known each other since we were kids. Their deaths had affected me greatly and here they were, with me again. My son, my daughter, my sister had been alive just a few moments ago and yet, they were with me here.
          I asked Mom, “Who decides who goes here, stays here? Who makes the rules, who’s the boss? Is there a saint or a god or an angel?”
          “There is only your mind – it’s all there. Everything that exists is there. It’s always has been there. Each of us lives here – in our mind. ‘Here’ is different for each of us, but it appears to be the same to you because ‘here’ is in your mind.
         Everything has always been in your mind. There is nothing else – for you. You are your mind. You’ve always been your mind. Your universe has always been your mind. It’s just that here nothing gets in the way of your mind. Whatever you want to be – is.”
          I chuckled and looked at my sister and said, “I could get used to a place like this.”
          She smiled at me.
          I had to ask.
          “Mom, is there a god, is there someone who created all of this? Someone who is responsible? Someone we should pray to or thank or acknowledge?”
          Mom placed her fist under her chin, which she always did when she was thinking seriously about something.
          “Son, there may be or there may not be. Nobody knows. There is no proof either way. We just live our lives, day to day, enjoying things. All we all know is that everything is in our minds. As best as we can tell – we create everything here – in our minds.”
          My wife, Marilyn, asked Mom, “Is there no crime here.”
          “There’s no crime, no stealing, no anger – because nobody here wants it. So, those things don’t exist. If it’s not in your mind it can’t exist here.”
          I was catching on. I was getting more joyous by the minute. My thoughts were going a mile a minute.
          I looked out the living room window and saw Mr. Wilcox, my high school English teacher, who encouraged me to study harder and make something of myself. He was standing in the driveway, behind my old Ford.
          Across the street, talking to each other were Bob Sabel and Bill Lennartz, two men who I had worked with and admired. I had learned so much from both of them. I couldn’t wait to talk with them. It had been so long.
          My son and daughter were talking with my mother. She held their hands in hers and was smiling. She wanted to assure them. “You will be here now, with all of us and then, when you die in the other place you will still be here, because you are in your father’s mind. When you arrive here you will create your own ‘here.’ You will be in your ‘here’ and in your father’s ‘here’ and in anyone else’s ‘here’ that have you in their minds. You will only be aware of the ‘here’ that’s in your mind at any one particular moment.
          I was beginning to feel comfortable in this “here.” It felt so good to be back in the house that I grew up in.
          I was wondering if there were other places, other people, other feelings in this place.
          Old friends, Don and Dick, who had died years ago stood up from their sitting positions on the carpet. Don said, “Will everyone excuse us, please. We want to show Ron some other things he might enjoy.” Mom, Dad, Doug, Diane and the others smiled and watched us walk out the front door of my old home.
          The three of us walked out the door and suddenly we were at the entrance to a beautiful restaurant. The sign over the door read, “Paradise Cafe.”
          Don was on my right, guiding me with a light touch on my elbow. Dick led the way inside, walking ahead of us.
          In front of us was an enormous brightly lit room. On one side was a table, a good 50 yards long. On the other side of the room was an equally long table.
          I asked Dick, “What kind of place is this?”
          “It’s the kind of restaurant the three of us have talked about for years. That table on the right is a Mexican food buffet. On the left, that table is filled with Italian food. We’ve talked about it and now here it is. Another feature of this place is you can eat all you want and you never get full and never gain weight. It’s wonderful.”
          The three of us grabbed plates and began loading them with exquisitely prepared Mexican food. An hour later we walked beside the Italian food table and loaded our plates again.
          Dick was right. We weren’t stuffed, just pleasantly full.
          Don said, “Come, walk this way.”
          We left the restaurant and suddenly we were at the entrance to the All England Lawn and Tennis Club – Wimbledon!
          We walked into the locker room area and there I found a wooden locker with my name on it. Inside the locker was a complete tennis outfit, including shoes, all the correct sizes.
          Dick urged me, “Go ahead, change into the tennis clothes.”
          I did and then I was escorted onto Center Court where Bjorn Borg was waiting at the net to shake my hand. He said, “Glad to meet you. Would you like to hit some balls?”
          The great Bjorn Borg and I hit balls back and forth for 45-minutes. At the end, he ran to the net, shook my hands again and said, “Thanks for hitting with me. You’re a good tennis player.” With that we parted and I returned to the locker room where I showered and changed back into my street clothes and met up with Dick and Don.
          A few steps out of the Wimbledon area and we were back at the front door of my old family house. We walked inside and everyone was still there.
          Dad stood and walked towards me. He had that warm smile he always had when I was growing up. He told me, “Come to the back yard with me. You’ll be happy.”
          I walked behind Dad. Out through the living room, the kitchen and the little back porch area that served two purposes when I lived there. It was the wash room that held the old fashioned Maytag washer and it also served as my bedroom. There, I slept on my small single bed for many years.
          We walked down the three steps from the back porch to the rear lawn. There, standing around, talking with each other were my cousins Bob, Jerry and Sharon. My other cousin, Carl, was standing next to them. Near them were my uncles “Sonny” and Jim and their wives. My wife’s mother, father, brothers and sister were talking with a man and woman I didn’t recognize.
          “Dad, who are those two?”
          “Son, that’s your grandfather and grandmother, my Mom and Dad. You’ve never seen them. They died before you were born. I know you’ve always wondered what they were like. Now’s your chance. I’ll introduce you.”
          I had always wanted to meet my grandparents. I’d seen photos of them in the family album and my dad always talked about them.
          Dad introduced me. I talked with the two of them for a half-hour and we made a date to have dinner the following week.
          My grandmother joined me in the back yard. She guided me to a tall, thin man, standing alone. She introduced me to him, “This is your grandfather, my husband, he died when you were 3-years old.”
          I heard singing. It sounded so familiar. My father asked me to go back in the house for a while. Inside, he sat me down on the couch with more friends and family and asked someone to come into the living room. There he was, Frank Sinatra. He bent over, shook my hand and said, “Name the song you want me to sing.” I told him, “New York, New York.” Sinatra sang it. Everyone applauded and Sinatra told me, “I’ll be here, just let me know when you want me to sing again for you.”
          My Dad informed me that “Bing Crosby, Tony Bennett, Ella Fitzgerald and Harry Chapin are just outside and they’ll sing for you whenever you want them to.”
          Everything seemed wonderful.
          I asked my wife, my two kids, my Mom and Dad, my sister and my grandmother to come to the bedroom with me. When we were together I asked, “I’m not totally clear about where I am. Is everything always perfect here?”
          Mom motioned with her hand. She wanted to explain.
          “Son, what you’re seeing, and hearing, are your thoughts. That’s all. That’s all that your life was before you died and that’s what it is now. It’s all thoughts. In a way, we are all what our thoughts are. Everyone that you’re seeing now you’re seeing in a way that you want to. Everyone here is creating in their minds the kind of life they want to live. The life that you live here is the life you want it to be and everybody else’s life is the life they want.”
          “But, Dad, is everything always good here? Does anything go wrong? Do people fight with each other? Does everything work out?”
          “Yes, things always do work out here. People don’t fight. Isn’t this the way you’ve always wanted your life to be. Well, now that you’ve died and left the other place and came here things will work out for you and everyone else in your mind. This is the way it’s going to be as long as you want it this way. The minute you start thinking like you did before you died things will change. So, relax and enjoy it here. All your loved ones and friends are here – everyone that you cared about. Things could have been different in your life before you died, but you weren’t ready for it. Now you are, so, relax and enjoy yourself.”
          I was still trying to get used to this place when my son and daughter called to me, “Dad, Dad, there are some people who want to see you.”
          I excused myself from the bedroom and went with Doug and Diane. They brought me to a group of 25 or 30 people standing in the middle of the front lawn.
          There was Joan whom I had fired a long time ago. There was Mr. Dean, the first publisher I ever worked for. I didn’t give him my best when I worked for him. There was Rex, the newspaper layout man, who I once openly criticized. There was Tony Corso who I had a fist fight with in the Bronx when we were 8 years old. These were all people that I had hurt one way or another.
          My old boss at the Inglewood Daily News, Conrad Schnerk, a man I had never liked, worked his way to the front of the group. He reached out, shook my hand and stood next to me and then said, “We are all here because at one time or another, we were hurt by you. Now is the time to erase all those negative feelings. In fact, now that we’re together here, those old feelings are gone. We are friends now, with only good feelings between us. Congratulations. There is a loving peace between you and everyone here.”
          I returned to the living room of the house. A group of my long time friends and my family filled the room. I hugged every one of them.
          I stood up and said, “Will someone please tell me if I will grow older? Do people age here?
          An old friend, Don, who I’ve been friends with since the 9th grade raised his hand to answer. “My friend, you, and the rest of us, will stay the way you picture us. If you picture yourself or us getting older then that’s what will happen. We will all reflect what is in your mind. Just as it was in your other life, everything is what you make of it. If you felt young and pictured yourself young, then you would be young. It is your mind that controls everything.”
          Things were becoming slightly clearer.
          All around me were people that were important to me for one reason or another. Friends, family - they all had a place in my heart.
          Standing by the kitchen door was Gram. So special to me all my life. Her death hit me hard so many years ago. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think of her.
          I walked over and put my arms around her and said, “Gram, I’m so glad we’re together again. I love you so much. I’ve missed you.”
          She looked up and patted my cheek, the same as she used to do years ago. I felt a mixture of happiness and a rush of emotions – all loving and warm. I was so glad to be where I was. There was never a doubt of how much she loved me. I loved her deeply.
          Gram held my hand in hers and said, “You will be happy here. Happier than you’ve ever been. Just remember that all of this is in your mind, but it becomes real. In time you will fully understand. Give yourself time.”
          “Gram, could I ask you something? Something I still don’t understand.”
          “Of course. Just ask.”
          “Well, what happens if there is someone who isn’t very nice, you know, evil, mad or psychotic – what happens when they die? Do they come here too?”
          “No, they won’t be here because they would no longer exist that way in your mind. Your mind could alter their personalities, so they would no longer be evil or mad. You see, what is here is all created in your mind. Everything here is real because you created it. You will have to think about this for a while and then, as time goes by, you will understand. Just remember, you create everything. We all do. Those evil people will be in their own world, a place they create and inhabit. You see, my love, there are billions, no, trillions of worlds that we all inhabit. You are in many of them, maybe millions of them. But you are aware of only one, the one that you have created right now, in your mind. Trust me that you will understand all of this someday soon. Someday you will grow to understand that the world you just left and this one are very, very close.”
          I hugged Gram and told her, “Gram, I’m just glad that we’re together. I love you so much.”
          I looked across the living room and saw my father, nodding his head towards the dining area. He was indicating that I should look towards the front door of the house. I did.
          Standing there, just outside the house, were 4 good friends of mine, all still living in the other world I had just left, but also here. Standing there, talking to each other were Bill, Ted, Candace and Norm.
          I walked to them and gave each a separate hug. Once again, that feeling of joy and deep emotion ran through me.
          I noticed that on the front porch, Mom, Dad and Gram were engaged in conversation with my sister. Every few moments one of them would move closer to her and hug her tightly. I walked over to them and heard Mom say, “We’re so happy to have our little baby here with us again. Both your Dad and I died when your sister was so young. Now we have a chance to show her how much we love her. We’ll never leave her again.”
          Dad said, “Excuse me, but it’s time for the barbecue. I have to get everyone together. He held up his hand, getting everyone’s attention, and said, “Folks, could we all go in the backyard now, the food is ready.”
          One by one and in groups, everyone walked down the driveway to the back yard. Some had their arms around others. Some were holding hands. Others continued their conversations as they walked. Everyone seemed content.
          When everyone was situated in the back yard Mom and Dad stood together at the head of the rows of picnic tables. They asked for quiet. Gram was smiling as she sat down next to her granddaughter. My wife put her arm in mine as we walked to our chairs. My son and daughter gave each other hugs as they walked together towards their chairs. Everyone was seated when Dad started to speak. “Thanks to all of you for being here to celebrate the arrival of our son. For those of you who have been here a while we thank you for coming. For those of you who are here, but still reside in the other place, we give you our gratitude and we hope that you have found happiness where you are. Someday, we hope to celebrate your arrival when your time comes. Then we will gather again and celebrate your arrival here. This is a time of joy and glory for all of us. Once again, we have seen that those of you who live in the other place are but a short journey from here. And when you join us we will welcome you as we have our son. Thank you for being here. We wish you all continued joy and love for eternity.”
          I turned to my wife, put my arm around her shoulders and pulled her close to me. I looked over her shoulder and saw my son and daughter watching us and smiling approval. And I saw Gram nodding her head and smiling too.
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