All Dogs Go to Hell — And Sometimes Grandmas Too
September 12, 2020 / Marissa Rodriguez
Spinning in questions of afterlife and religion.
I was always afraid of death. Even with so much life ahead of me I’d still wince at the clock. I hadn’t even known anybody who had died; it was just the concept of being gone that terrified me. Religion gave me a promise of continuance. I was raised a devout Christian of the Assemblies of God denomination. I lived and breathed the faith and clung to its promises of eternity. My children’s pastor, bless her heart, would detail the Heaven every kid wanted to hear: a life of bliss and an existence free from death. She told me I could have a gummy bear fountain in my room and a mansion made of emeralds and every Taylor Swift T-shirt I could ever want. A Disneyland, tailored to you. I would never have a worry or fear again. My life’s problems would be solved because life never ended. There were a Heaven and a Hell and I fit neatly into one of those. But anxieties don’t listen to guarantees, they cling to the questions.
I had to ask, if my grandmother, my very best friend, did not live according to the text, how would she get to Heaven? How would I be happy in Heaven without my grandma? Well, little girl, here is the thing — she’s going to burn forever. Your grandma is getting cast down to be ripped apart by demons. Sorry. She should try being better. Maybe you can change her? If you knew my grandmother, you would know, you can’t change her on anything. My grandmother is a witty woman who speaks in strength if not stronger. There was never going to be a version of her with enough faith. Weeping to my pastors, to my family, I begged for an answer that meant she could avoid damnation. Hell was my scariest bedtime story growing up, why did nobody tell me my family would be there? But I was told over and over again that I would just BE happy in Heaven. No question about it. You’re at eternal peace. Your grandmother will just BE in eternal pain. The race for grace measured our lives, and I couldn’t tell my grandma I was winning.
Heaven sounded lonely. I’d sit at the top and peer down wondering how my loved ones who didn’t make the cut would feel. God felt merciless and I feared him in all the wrong ways. I lacked the faith to forget their pain. I’m not sure I was ever a good Christian if I never even liked Heaven. The blissful life seems lonely, it seems selfish. I could sit at the pews for hours but I would never feel the serenity of Revelations.
I felt like I had to categorize my life, the Hell sent or the Heaven saved. Wondering what side of the list they fell on I asked the church about animals. My dogs, second only to my grandma, were my greatest companions. I had one growing older and one new pup. Crossing my fingers I’d hoped they’d be spared. In a way they were. I was told that animals don’t have souls. God created them as supplements to mankind, when they go they go forever. The innocent faces would sink into the ground and remain. But, I still didn’t understand. My life was being carved by the creator who loved me. Supposedly loved all of us. My dogs never even got the choice to love him back. I began missing the soulless creature who snuggled me to sleep at night. My youth pastor caught on later how much this hurt me. He told me maybe God would create a being in Heaven that would mimic my elderly dog. He would run and play the same and I’d never have to miss him. I thought Heaven was life, not mechanical clones. Hell suddenly presented itself as the ticket to “at least you exist.” Congratulations, grandma— that’s really something.
I started losing my faith for a lot of different reasons. These questions just gave me the strength to let go. Reality often shows what it means to question your faith. To see a life outside of the one you’ve been given. I had so many qualms with what should have defined my life. I had to recognize I didn’t really believe in my religion I was just too afraid not to. But I still don’t know where that leaves me. I recognize myself as a spiritual person just not a biblical one. I fear the implications of establishing my new belief. Even now I am too afraid not to capitalize the “G” in God. I don’t want to go to hell because I got this wrong, but I don’t want the ones I love to hurt because I had it right.
Now I face the option of none of the above. A fair system. Nobody wins. What if there is absolutely nothing after this. Yes, that’s a statement. I don’t want to say goodbye but isn’t that the only option anyways? I believe in the idea of nothing. There might be something, but maybe there’s nothing. I have to recognize that maybe the worries I have had since I was eight years old are valid. That we pass and we don’t get to say goodbye. We pass and we belong to nothing. Our consciousness goes silent for the first time since we first heard the little voice back there and it never comes back. The universe stretches farther and it tells its inhabitants there will never ever exist a living breathing person like you again. I don’t emphasize this to make each of us sound unique. I say it as a warning to our friends and family to get their hugs in now. I hate this third option. I reject it about as much as Heaven and Hell. I hope my dogs love it.
Growing up, I thought I could feel religion. I thought the tears and the euphoria meant something. But looking back, it was just fear. I was too afraid not to believe and afraid of what believing meant. Believing meant I could live forever. I’d never have to worry about running out of life or running out of time with the ones I loved. But believing also meant condemning the ones I loved to objects of sinners and soulless puppets. Maturing for me is recognizing none of these concepts exist as my safety net. I can’t grasp religion as my anxiety clutch and I can’t fault it for not fulfilling my needs. I choose today to cling to all the maybes. I can’t accept an actuality just yet. They all fail me in some way. But maybe we will all die tomorrow. Maybe we will all go to hell. Maybe we will stand for Judgement and watch our family tree be divided into sinners and saints. Maybe there will be nothing, and I won’t even have a mind to worry about. I guess we’ll have to wait and see. Wait till we all die. I pray for mercy, I pray to no one. I’ll be honest I don’t pray at all anymore. Wish me luck. ■
This article was written as a part of Spark Writing’s first annual summer workshop series, Words With Friends: A Spark Writer’s Summer!
Graphic By: Jennifer Jimenez
Graphic By: Jennifer Jimenez