What Happens When I Die?

Rachel Billups

Death has lessons to teach us about life.

I’m not going to be able to tell you the five steps of death, what exactly happens to your body and your inner spirit once you’ve left this earthside existence. There’s another conversation around death I’ve been noticing we need to have, and that’s the talk about loss – and grief.

We’ve all experienced loss

Most of the time we don’t handle it well.

We live in a culture where we avoid experiences of loss: loss of relationships, divorce, job change or loss, careers folding. Sometime our avoidance of loss even causes us to sentimentally keep going to the same car repair shop or salon, because we want to avoid any pain of loss or change.

What are you afraid of losing?

Your spouse, your child or your health or financial security?

When loss happens, it’s destabilizing. Losing anything or anyone creates a void in our lives, causing us to reevaluate our surroundings.  Everything we thought to be true is no longer true- it all shifts.  We question our most meaningful relationships, our identity, we might even question God.

Why?  Why is this happening to me?

I am grateful, that from a very young age my parents’ normalized death. It didn’t make death easy or the grief of losing a beloved family any less difficult, but I had experiences, language, handholds, and space to voice my questions.

If you are grieving and need a safe space to voice questions, I encourage you to locate a GriefShare support group.


In her latest book, Atlas of Heart, Brene Brown gifts the reader with language and space to name our fears.  Most of the time we’ve got only a few ways in which we name our emotions.  How did that loss make you feel?  Happy, sad angry, but what about disappointed, anxious, shameful, guilty, sick, regretful, jealous, envious, and so on.

Each person’s grief is as unique as their fingerprint. But what everyone has in common is that no matter how they grieve, they share a need for their grief to be witnessed. That doesn’t mean needing someone to try to lessen it or reframe it for them. The need is for someone to be fully present to the magnitude of their loss without trying to point out the silver lining.” -Brené Brown


What if we could name our emotions and give each other space.  It’s refreshing, right? and terrifying as hell.

Jesus created space for his disciples as they were grieving his death.

What I love about the descriptions of Jesus’ death and resurrection, is that the gospel writers don’t edit the emotions out: like Thomas who in his doubt and frustrations said unless I see the scars in his hands and side, I’m not going to believe, or Mary Magdalene who through her tears confused Jesus with the gardener, and said just tell me where you took his body, or the two grieving men on the road, walking to the town of Emmaus said, but we had the high hopes that Jesus was going to redeem Israel, but I guess is wasn’t meant to be.

I’ve been with a number of people when they passed from this life to the next.  It’s holy and hard, it’s maddening and mysterious.  Not everyone dies in the same way, but I do know this, that veil between life and death is very thin.

“For those of us who have hope in Christ we will be with Christ”. -N.T. Wright

The Jewish tradition has three separate periods of grief and mourning:

Aninut, (AN-EE-NOTE) which lasts until burial, Shiva (SHEEVA)7 days after burial where a family stays home, and then Sheloshim (SHEA-LO-SHEEM) for 30 days where folks kind of ease back into regular life, not attending celebrations or parties, but rather giving their hearts and minds space to grieve.

Jewish Grief

Friends, we have folks in our midst who are still grieving the death of a loved one, the loss of a close relationship, the final nail into the coffin of a dead dream. These are emotions pastors carry in their heart. I see you – and God sees as well.

“Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight” (Acts 1: 7-9 NIV)

After Jesus was “taken up”, his disciples huddle up in the upper room.  Could it be that Jesus’ disciples where huddling in the upper room because of grief?

It’s quite possible – But death and grief are never the end of the story.


Life, death, decay, resurrection, life, death, decay, resurrection – the circle of life.

Without death, there is no resurrection, without loss there is no rebirth, without Good Friday there is no Easter Sunday.

Jesus promised his disciples resurrection (…but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you).

 And that’s exactly what happened

“When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them” (Acts 2: 1-4 NIV)

“Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25 Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12: 24-25 NIV)

New life grows out of what was dead and buried.  Something has to die for new life to happen.

This cycle, this encoding is written on everything everywhere.

Resurrection’s not just for Easter anymore! Resurrection is possible in the death of anything we experience.

Resurrection is the possibility hidden inside every heartache, the potential of every sudden loss.

Where is the resurrection you need?  What loss must you risk in order to experience the transformation of new life?

If you’re experiencing grief, you’re not alone.



Rachel Billups 1 Senior Pastor Visionary

Rachel Billups
Senior Pastor | Ginghamsburg Church