all in the family

Are There Nightclubs in Heaven?

Photo-Illustration: by the Cut; Photos courtesy of the subject.

Apparently, my sister is eating macaroni and cheese in heaven. She has other hobbies up there too. She loves to bake cookies, go out dancing, and take care of the only pet she consistently asked for since she was a little girl: a pink teacup pig.

I always thought heaven to be a stiff, morally restrictive place, but when our mom recently spoke to my older sister via a medium, Kait wanted us to know she is having fun. She likes to go out clubbing, party all night. I try to imagine a club without the tricky human bits: the seedy bouncers and long lines, the crying girls in the bathroom, the drunk texts and sloppy mistakes. She loved that lifestyle when she was alive, but back then, that was part of the problem. Now it doesn’t have to be.

My sister passed away three days before my 17th birthday, and I spent the better part of the past seven years searching for her. I read up on different religions, looked for answers in everything from ancient philosophers to modern neuroscientists. I sat in cold, marble-wrapped churches, lit incense and candles, consulted spiritual experts and academics’ lectures. And yet in all of my research, in all of my imaginings, I never pictured finding her eating mac ’n’ cheese after a night out.

The medium was recommended by one of my mom’s friends. She came with high reviews and a monthslong waitlist to schedule a 60-minute over-the-phone reading. I was skeptical. I had gone through this phase earlier than my mom, seeking the insight of psychics and mediums out of desperation shortly after my sister died.

Since then, I had learned to let go, to stop searching for the divine. I had come to terms with Kait’s life and death: the years she spent struggling with mental illness before her eventual suicide. But still it was hard to ignore the beckoning when my sister explicitly asked to speak with me from the other side.

During my mom’s session with the medium a few weeks earlier, Kait supposedly seemed distracted, scatterbrained but cheery. She referenced an old inside joke, and our mom could practically see the glint of mischief in her green eyes. The medium said Kait kept changing outfits, wanting to show off her “bright and creative” fashion. This was my sister, too. She was singularly the most colorful, original person I had ever known. She mixed and meshed different eras of fashions, wore anything she wanted when she wanted: purple suede boots, a sequined daisy top, rainbow moon shoes, a Hawaiian-patterned ski jacket. She was exuberant, maddening, and achingly alive. She stressed to our mom that she was at peace. She said it three times, actually: I’m at peace, I’m at peace, I’m at peace. Kait then told the medium she and I were “working on a project” together. (It had felt like that often, whenever I wrote about her life.) She told me not to “sugarcoat” the past but to try and remember the funny moments too. She said she was around if I wanted to schedule a call and talk more about it.

I booked an appointment immediately.

The medium asked to start the session with a grounding technique. Her voice was airy and saccharine like a Hallmark card. She told me to imagine myself bathed in a golden light with everyone I had ever loved surrounding me. I did not do this. A confession: I have never successfully completed a meditation; each time someone tries to walk me through one, I let my mind wander and fake it. So maybe it’s my fault the session was a disaster.

The woman made some initial wrong turns: grandparents and aunts and boyfriends who wanted to talk. I felt like a jerk for being so deeply uninterested, but all I could think about was Kait. She had asked to speak to me, so where the hell was she?

When there were only ten minutes left in the session, I explained to the medium that she had a session with my mom a few weeks ago and made contact with my sister. I was desperate for any solace — even if it was a lie.

“Oh, yes,” said the medium. “Of course! I’ll call her up now.” I waited for what felt like several minutes until finally: “I found her! She says she was busy partying, but she is so excited you came to see her.” The medium giggled. “She wants to show you her outfits! She’s so fun, such a bright soul.”

There were three minutes left on the clock. “Does she have anything she wants to say to me?”

Here’s what I wanted: for my sister to tell me that she loved me, that she was looking after me, that she was proud of how far I’d come, that she cared, that she was sorry.

This is what the medium said instead: “Have you changed your hairstyle? Your sister wants you to know she likes the curls.”

Like that, the time was up. When the medium asked if I was satisfied with my reading, I cried harder than I had in years, more than I had since my sister died. “Why wouldn’t she show up sooner?” I wailed like a teenage girl ditched at the prom. I told the medium I was sorry for crying, but I was so disappointed.

The more accurate word I was looking for was heartbroken.

I never imagined heaven to have nightclubs or mac ’n’ cheese or pink teacup pigs. If anything, I pictured souls as pure light, energy reused and recycled. I did not consider the possibility that our flaws might come with us.

Before she died, my sister was suffering from a traumatic brain injury, a mood disorder, and ultimately schizophrenia. It is difficult sometimes to remember her before these battles, before she was a “patient” — before she was someone delicate, someone I had to protect and needed protection from. In other words, it is hard to remember her in all of her glory, her messy humanness. When someone dies, we tend to gloss over their less admirable traits, but this erases their essence too.

It is possible my sister is as flighty in the afterlife as she was in life: hilarious, effervescent, but still careless and at times superficial. It is more likely the medium was a sham.

I do believe my sister is at peace, but I have no idea what this realistically means. I never will. Meaning, meaning, meaning. I always search for meaning. Kait searched for fun. She didn’t need to know the why and the how. Kait would just tell me to let it go. Kait would just laugh it off. Kait wouldn’t try so hard. Why can’t you just have fun with it? My sister was the kind of person who would be late to her own medium session.

So I laugh it off. I entertain the possibility that it was all true — that my sister is partying in heaven. I let it go either way. After all, sometimes it’s better to let sleeping sisters lie.

I hope Kait is eating mac ’n’ cheese in heaven. Mostly, I hope she’s happy. And I must admit, when I curl my hair before a night out these days, I think of my older sister and the years of beauty demonstrations passed down to me by her. I think of her plucking my eyebrows in our shared bathroom or teaching me how to apply concealer before middle school, when I had my first-ever breakout. I always wanted her approval.

I wanted the medium to be real; I wanted her to provide a meaningful reunion, something to hold on to. She didn’t, but it is nice, I suppose, to think there is at least a possibility Kait likes the way I’ve been wearing my hair lately.

It’s almost like we’re still sisters, continuing a decades-long conversation. Maybe it’s foolish to ask for more.

If you or anyone you know is considering suicide or self-harm, contact the following people who want to help: Crisis Text Line (text CRISIS to 741741 for free, confidential crisis counseling); The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255); and The Trevor Project (1-866-488-7386).

Are There Nightclubs in Heaven?