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Can She Still Be With Me?

Having had a child after her mother passed away, Abby writes about her struggle to comprehend how connected she and her mother are now and how this may change after her own death. She draws heavily on one of her husband's theological papers which leaves her central question unresolved. Ultimately, though grieving the loss of her mother, she is confident that the Lord is in charge. -Editor

Author's Note

For the last several months I’ve had the idea to write this article about the interaction between people here on earth and their loved ones who have died. Parts of it keep rolling around in my head, but every time I come back to trying to write it I can’t capture really what I am trying to say. A year ago my husband wrote a paper about whether or not people recognize each other after death for one of his theological school classes. This paper says a lot of the things that I have been wanting to say. So I thought that rather than essentially plagiarizing his paper I would just include chunks of it with my thoughts interspersed. The sections from Malcolm's paper are in block quotes, and the long quotes within the quotes from the paper are in italics. If you'd like to read the whole thing, here it is: “Why People Do or Do Not Recognize Each Other After Death” (PDF).

Can She Still Be With Me?

Just over two years ago my Mom died. She had cancer and had been sick for many years, so in a lot of ways it was a relief when she died. But that doesn’t change the fact that I miss her. Or that I want to talk to her. Or that I wish she were here to help me figure out how to take care of my new daughter. Although we had a lot of hard times, I am grieving the fact that she isn’t around right now, and I wish that there were some teaching that would prove that in some way she is around me still.

Since my daughter’s birth four months ago I have gotten a lot of comments from people reassuring me that my Mom is probably around me and around my daughter, Mara. They say things like “I’m sure that Margie is with Mara” or “Your Mom would love to see Mara. But I’m sure she can and does all the time.” These comments are all well meant and I appreciate that, but I have trouble believing their truth when I read certain passages from the Writings.

The state that a person is in changes who they recognize and want to associate with. Conjugial Love explains how this works with people who had been married during their earthly lives, but the same changes occur, regardless of the relationship that people had previously had.

A person comes first into the external state, and afterwards into the internal one. It is during the external state... that they meet, recognize each other, and, if they lived together in the world, associate and live together for a time. And when they are in this state, one partner does not know the other's feelings toward him, because these feelings keep themselves hidden inside. Later, however, when they come into their internal state, the feelings manifest themselves. And if these feelings are concordant and congenial, the partners continue their married life. But if these feelings are discordant and uncongenial, they end it. (Conjugial Love 47r)

While people are in the state of externals, they associate with everyone that they were externally connected with in the world and they recognize everyone by external things like their face and way of speaking (Heaven and Hell 457). Once people move into the state of internals, however, they then only associate with and recognize people who love the same things that they do (Heaven and Hell 427).

I loved my mother, even if we did often disagree. And I want to see her and live with her as my mother again in heaven because that is what I am used to. That is what is familiar and comforting. I understand on one level why this isn’t how eternal life works and can feel grateful that I will live in a community that suits me much more than my natural family, but the part of me that dislikes dealing with change rather would believe that when I get to the other world life will continue with my natural mother. I am not ready to give up Margie as the person filling that role. I know that spiritually we are supposed to see the church as our mother. But I am still in the natural world and even though my natural mother is now in the spiritual world I am not ready to let go of her. And I wish that she was not ready to let go of me as her daughter, but, as the paper continues to explain, I think I have to accept that this is likely.

In the Gospels, when the Lord was told that his biological mother and brothers were outside looking for Him, He responded, “‘Who is My mother, or My brothers?’ And He looked around in a circle at those who sat about Him, and said, ‘Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and mother’” (Mark 3:33-35; cf. Matthew 12:46-50; Luke 8:19-21). This indicates the sort of relationships that the Lord is interested in and the sort of relationships that exist after death.

Arcana Coelestia 4121 gets more specific: it says that, in the other life,

it is good and truth that produce that which on earth is called relationship by blood and by marriage... for regarded in themselves goods and truths acknowledge no other father than the Lord, for they are from Him alone. Hence all who are in goods and truths are in brotherhood; but still there are degrees of relationship according to the quality of the goods and truths. These degrees are signified in the Word by “brothers,” “sisters,” “sons-in-law,” “daughters-in-law,” “grandsons,” “granddaughters,” and by other family names. (Arcana Coelestia 4121)

All spiritual relationships have to do with what goods and truths we love. All good and truth have the Lord as their Father—that is, come from the Lord alone—and so we are related to each other in terms of how we are related to the good and truth that comes from our Father. Some goods and truths are so close that the two people who love them are married; other goods and truths are more distant from each other and so the people that love them are more like third cousins. In summary, it is because spiritual relationships are based on what goods and truths people love that, after they have moved beyond the state of externals, “a father does not recognize a son or a daughter, nor a brother a brother or sister, nor even a husband a wife, unless they have been in similar good. [And] ...are soon dissociated” (Arcana Coelestia 3815).

So you see, there is a chance that my Mom and I will be in the same goods and truths such that we live in the same community after death. But there is also a chance that this won’t be the case. And while this passage isn’t addressing what happens if one person is in the spiritual world and one in the natural, it seems to apply in a similar way. Why should I think that my Mom is “with” me or my daughter right now, when I don’t think that we will necessarily continue on together after we are both dead? These passages seem to indicate that in the next life natural connections are only minimally important.

I don’t really want to be pessimistic, just realistic based on the teachings that I say I believe in. There is a passage that is a little more optimistic, however.

It is, of course, not just a coincidence that all the people in [certain ancient families] love the same goods and truths. The children “inherited inclinations toward the conjugial connection between good and truth, into which they were easily introduced more and more deeply by their parents through their upbringing and education, and into which they were afterwards led by the Lord as though on their own when they came into their own right and judgment” (Conjugial Love 205). This makes it seem very plausible that, even today, a father and son might end up living together in the same part of heaven, given that the son inherited the same inclinations that his father had.

I don’t feel like I know how to resolve this question for myself, which is one of the reasons that I wanted to write this article. At the moment I am left feeling sad and a little empty after reading the above passages. People want to say nice and comforting things, but I can’t agree with them. I miss my Mom and I wish that I could believe she is “here” with my daughter and me, but for her sake I am glad. Imagine how she would be delayed in her process of becoming an angel if she had to be worrying about me still. And if she had to be keeping tabs on all eight of her kids as well as their kids, she would never get anywhere. So while I grieve the loss of her role in my life and feel shafted that I can’t let myself even naively hold onto the idea that she is just hanging around me and my daughter all day, I’m glad that the Lord is the one in charge of how these things work.

Abigail Smith

Abby is currently in a weird state of limbo as she and her husband wait for paperwork to go through so that they can move to South Africa. She has a 4 month old baby girl that she likes an awful lot and hangs out with most of the time. She also does part-time work for New Church Connection magazine.

Reader Comments (5)


I don't know if the Writings are ever specific about what I am about to write, but I think "time" is a very different thing in the other world, that's for sure at least. So I don't know how long it takes for individuals in the other world to shift from being predominantly external to predominantly internal, but my personal sense is that, like most paths the Lord leads us on, it is very gradual and often includes vacillating between two or more states. Therefore, for myself and my own process of making sense of the presence of my mom in my life, I think it was a very gradual process; a process in which the Lord was taking care of my attachment to my mom and my mom's attachment to me, and how they best suited each other as time went on for both of us. I think in the very beginning my mom was with me a lot, and very present. I think this has changed over time, and like Swedenborg says, thought brings presence, and when you think of someone with love, it creates union. So I think over the 16 years since my mom passed away (last Saturday, the 13th), there have been times when we were less in each other's thoughts, and other times when I thought of my mom which such complete love, and her me, that it brought us together.

But also, like with all relationships, my idea of who she is has changed, as I am sure she herself has changed, and I have changed, and I'm sure her idea of me has changed along with that. Anyway, there have been pivotal times in my life when she has shown up to me, in my thoughts or dreams, and made an impact on my situation. Other times I have spent time contemplating her as my mother versus the Church as my “true” mother, and at least for now, I’ve come to the place where I think we can still know that externally and physically we were related as mother and daughter; but even though we know now that we are actually just two individuals in the Lord’s Kingdom, we can also be friends and continue to be interested in what’s going on in each other’s lives. I think it is easier for her to tune into my life here on earth than it is for me to have any clear idea of where she is in the spiritual world, unless it is revealed to me by the Lord’s providence.

But it’s surprising to say, as I am thinking about it now, that it doesn’t make me sad anymore to have the idea that she doesn’t spend much time thinking of me. In this I feel trusting of the Lord’s guidance, and how He controls or limits our awareness of other people when it is right, but opens our eyes to them, so to speak, when it is useful.

I also currently feel certain that I will see her when I pass into the spiritual world; I think it only makes sense that the Lord would grant this; and I look forward to having a good cry on her shoulder. At the same time, even as I write this, I realize that in a lot of the ways when I feel like I need my Mom, if I let my spirit open to a deeper awareness, I see that what I really yearn for is a clear perception of the Lord as a human being whose shoulder I can cry on and whose arms can cradle me.

It’s been a long process living without a mom and trying to find a way to come into a relationship with the Lord in which He can fill the role as my mother. For myself, even though the Church is said to be our mother, or maybe it just says like a mother, I find it utterly unsatisfying to go from having one individual who was “MOM” to have it then be supplanted by a multiplicity of “moms” as the Church. Anyway, all I mean to say is that for me I like to look to the Lord as a motherly figure as well as a fatherly one, because I think He is capable of both and more.

But I will underscore that this is me writing sixteen years practically to the day since my mom passed away. As a witness to my own grieving process I have been amazed at how every year my feelings and thoughts about it have changed and shifted; it has been a long road and my emotional and intellectual processing of it certainly is not complete even still.

I will end with one insight that came to me maybe four or five years ago and it comforted me so deeply that it is still very present in my mind, like how a powerful dream can remain vivid for a lifetime. It is this: one time on or around November 13th, I was grieving my mom’s death intensely and was angered about, and practically resentful of how some ten years later I could still pour my heart out with tears about her death; wouldn’t this wound heal already? Hadn’t it been long enough? Where is the Lord’s mercy in all of this? And then there in my heart was an answer: I was experiencing the eternity of love. My love for my mom was never going to go away, and this wasn’t a bad thing after all. It meant that I was connected to love itself, and love never stops loving. So the fact that I am able still to sob about missing my mom and being unable to live my love to her in physical presence now sixteen years later, as I know I will be thirty years from now, is because I have within me a tap to an eternal presence of love; a love that loves me and every one with as much intensity as I love my mom. And it is a gift that the Lord lets me experience such a deep level of love for another human being.

That’s a lot from me. Thank you for sharing your article. I appreciate the opportunity it has given me to articulate these thoughts at such a pivotal time of the year in my life.



P.S. I also really enjoyed the concept presented in your article about spiritual relationships. It is fun to contemplate who I think of as my "grandparents," "parents," "sisters," "brothers," "cousins," or simply "acquaintances," even if these people are of no biological relation to me.

November 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterChelsea

I would like to talk about this someday-- a brief comment feels inadequate. Thinking of you and honoring the path you are walking.

November 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNancy Ferguson


Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and concerns. Although not on a topic I can completely connect with, I have also thought in the past that people's attempts to comfort one in mourning was not always very truthful sounding. As hard as it is to say "she might not recognize you in heaven" to someone grieving their mother, much less to be that person saying it, that honesty and fidelity to the Word and Writings, which you place your faith in, speaks volumes. People like to share kind words and provide comfort, which is laudable, but I do believe that conveniently 'bending the rules' of one's faith to do so is really not providing a service in the end. I really appreciate how openly you have considered this topic despite the hurtful potential the answers that you might find have. I feel compelled to share this with my aunt, who has been struggling with the death of her mother for most of her life (30+ years).

Love, Lauren

November 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLauren


Thank you for a very thoughtful and thought-provoking article, as evidenced by the thoughtful comments your article has stirred. It seems like we can glimpse workings of Divine Providence, turning something evil into good, on a number of levels.

Just a few obvious points that come to mind, probably amply documented in Malcolm's paper:

1) It seems clear that after death we DO meet everyone we knew in this world, everyone we had any kind of relationship with, and we recognize each other clearly (though women are quicker at recognizing others than men are). Among other things, it seems like an example of the Lord providing for closure and completeness.
2) If we go to the same community of heaven as members of biological family, we will not think about having been part of an earthly family there, because there will be so much richer, present-tense interests and uses in common. So if I am in the same community of heaven as my mother (who died two years ago last September), we will be much closer friends than mother-and-son! It will be even better.
3) It's fascinating how differently Conjugial Love speaks of good mothers and fathers after death. CL 410 speaks of how the love of little children remains after death, especially with women, and how angels of the feminine sex receive little children who have died to care for, because they had loved all children with a motherly tenderness. It appears as though this care would be for a relatively short period since children grow up quickly in the other world and once they are past infancy, they may move to the care of teachers, who might be different angels, though I'm not sure.
But CL 406 says that spiritual fathers simply look over their children "and ask them in what state they are, rejoicing if it is well with them and grieving if it is not. Then, following some conversation, instruction and counsel regarding a heavenly moral life, they part from them, telling them before parting that they are no longer to be remembered as their fathers, because the Lord is the only Father of all who are in heaven (according to His words in Matthew 23:9), and that they will never remember them as being their children." It's only the merely natural fathers that try to cling to "their" offspring.
There is no essential opposition between the mothers and the fathers, but the difference in emphasis is striking. Both in their own ways are looking to the innocence of wisdom, the innocence of relying completely on the Lord, in which we find the only true and lasting peace. A non-biological kind of motherhood continues in heaven, while fatherhood comes to a clear termination, making way for real Fatherhood.
Anyway, no doubt the Lord will bless you and Margie with growing peace, and probably in the longer term you will also see some of the good the Lord has brought out of the permission of her early passage into the spiritual world.


November 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLawson

Hi Abby,

My mother passed away almost 6 years ago, and I miss her too. Zach was born about 18 months after she died. So I've put some thought into the subject. Here are my 2 me there isn't any point to thinking that she isn't with me, that she isn't there, or that we are in different goods and truths. Those thoughts don't help me. They just bring me down. And it does no harm to me to think that she's with me.

God isn't dumb. He understands your concern, and He loves you and your mom. All the more reason to believe!

All the best


December 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTodd Beiswenger
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