I never trusted heaven, until I had a dream about being there.
As a hospice volunteer I'd sat by the bedside of people dying, part of a ministry of presence for those in their last few hours of life. I did nothing special but be there as their shallow breath slowed, sometimes noisily, and then not at all.
Grief was a heavy burden for family and friends, the unknown making them act strangely.
Fear came in two ways.
First, ice cold. A heavy stone in the gut, bringing a person to a standstill, a paralysis where they walk around in a fog of indecision.
Second, a flurry of heat. A person flutters incessantly, unable to finish a sentence or thought or task, all fuss and bother like they're being burned by a thousand matchsticks.
The dying, well, they were easier. Mostly accepting in a way that made me wonder. That last breath, the moment of letting go and going, did they know where to?
I imagine the moment of death like floating down a river. With that last exhale, giving myself permission to leave, trickier if my loved ones have yet to give it to me, I drift through the amniotic darkness, warm and safe and towards something bigger.
Once, I woke to find myself in a wooden rocking chair. I didn't recognise the room I was in, yet it was familiar in a way I couldn't grasp. The room was poorly lit, shadows in the corners, the dimness making me squint to see.
Oh yes, there to the left is a picture on the wall that's mine, a cabinet against the wall with trinkets I know. The window in front of me is huge, taking up almost the entire wall and it's only when I focus properly that I see there's an ocean right outside.
Waves are rolling in from far away, curling into monsters, then crashing and rushing towards this house I'm in. They settle quickly, occasionally running all the way to the window, softly licking the glass. I am safe, but whose house is this?
The room I'm in makes up the whole of the bottom floor. Behind me there's a doorway and a stairwell. I can hear voices above me, murmuring. I am not alone.
I look up and see the night sky. But wait, aren't there rooms above me? Something is not quite right. It feels like I'm in one of those off-kilter, fun houses at the carnival where nothing is as it seems.
The night sky is awesome and bigger than just that. It's a universe, maybe even more; infinite in expanse, pretty pinpricks of stars all the way.
I've always loved the awesomeness of the ocean and the infiniteness of the sky. Maybe this is where I live after all.
And now I see bright, white light, a room to the right of me. Why haven't I noticed this before? I get out of the rocking chair and step down into the room.
It's my home. I recognise everything. An open space with a glass-topped kitchen table, the gleaming surfaces of a kitchen and in a nook to the right, a long, organised writing desk. There's Murray my husband, looking for something on it.
"Murray," I say. "What are you looking for?" He seeks, I find. Like most women, I anticipate well and this is one of the many rhythms we've comfortably settled into during our many years of marriage.
He hasn't heard me. I move closer. "Murray!"
Frustrated now, I reach out my hand to touch his arm. Something is wrong. I feel my arm moving, but nothing is there.
Only then do I realise what this is and where I am, a dream where I'm on the other side of that last breath.
There's something I desperately need to tell him. It's simple, stupidly so - I need to say everything is okay, it's alright over here. I yell: "It's okay!"
Leaning over my desk, he's suddenly still. He turns and I think he looks right at me.
People from across the belief spectrum will tell you all about heaven and hell, and how to get to one and avoid the other. I've never trusted anyone who thinks they know it all.
"It's okay," I whisper to him, over and over, because I'm lost for words, and any attempt to describe this rich, euphoric feeling of being whole over here, will water it down. Then he's gone, the bright, white room is gone, and so am I.
I'm back to the house of many rooms, with the infinite ocean and sky all around, a space where I'm complete and safe and feel an overwhelming joy that I don't yet fully comprehend.
Breath in, exhale, let go. It's okay.
• Jennifer Watts writes part-time and lives in Hawke's Bay.