In the final hours before my grandfather's death, both my sister Michelle and I stood by his bedside clutching his giant hands and forearms. As we braced his agitated limbs and soothed him with calming words, I was struck by my grandfather's frail appearance. It was distressing to see a man, who was once so physically strong and tough, so very small and fearful.
As my grandfather lay in that hospital bed, on a rainy Thursday morning surrounded by machines and tubes, he began to plead for death. Although he had often expressed a fear of hospitals and death, in his last hours on this earth he cried for an end to his pain, he pleaded to die. It was heartbreaking to watch him lay there utterly defeated.
Several hours later my grandfather's machines were finally switched off and his oxygen mask was removed. He promptly closed his eyes, and began to inhale his last few breaths. And then, he was gone.
In the minutes after my grandfather passed away, family members and friends began to console one another with spiritual affirmations and poems. Although most of these family members outwardly reject religion and new-age spirituality in all of its diverse forms, much of their conversation after my grandfather's death revolved around heaven, and God.
While my grandfather was an honest and kind and decent man, he rejected Christ and a relationship with him throughout his entire life.
Yet, despite his stance on religion and God, in his death terms such as God and heaven were frequently evoked by relatives and friends to calm and relieve one another in this time of sadness.
Although God had no place in many of my relative's daily lives, in circumstances and ceremonies such as weddings, christenings, or the loss of a loved one, the topic of God somehow became more acceptable, even palatable to them.
While many of the affirmations and kind words uttered by friends and relatives were meant to console my sister and I during this time, the more I heard of heaven and God in the context of my grandfathers death, the sadder I felt. My grandfather did not believe in heaven, or God, and that both confronted and frightened me.
While I cannot determine whether he, or any other person for that matter, will or will not go to heaven, I do know that throughout his lifetime, my grandfather openly rejected Christ.
Before Jesus' crucifixion, Thomas, one of his disciples asked him "Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?"
Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the father except through me" (John 14:5-6).
In addition to this verse, the bible contains many verses telling us that to go to heaven we have to have an authentic relationship with Jesus Christ.
According to the bible, we do not go to heaven because we are nice people or have performed good deeds consistently throughout our lives. Rather heaven is a place reserved for believers of Christ, "No one comes to the father except through me".
While this concept is difficult to digest after the loss of an unbelieving loved one, as a Christian I feel a peace and joy in my relationship with God, a relationship that will last beyond the grave through faith.
Alison Barkley lives in Newcastle and is a post graduate student at Macleay College in Sydney in book editing and publishing.