Here is the thing: Easter celebrated in the wake of experiencing the death of a loved one is a much more REAL experience.
It is a verifiable fact that Jesus of Nazareth died.
It is a verifiable fact that Jesus rose to life - an entire religion based upon a lie would not have survived 2000 years. It would be exposed as a lie. The followers martyred in the immediate years after Jesus' resurrection by the Romans, had the Resurrection been a lie, would have been the last (followers of JC). But, they weren't.
This strange sect of Judaism grew. It kept growing in the face of intense persecution and orders forbidding it to spread. If these were lies - it wouldn't have continued.
Jesus died. Fully dead, he was entombed.
Then, he came back to life - and remains alive - fully alive in heaven - body and soul.
It's important that Jesus ascended into heaven - because we need to note that the body is part of our spiritual life - not just our soul.
Today, I visited Dan's tomb. His body is there. I believe his soul is somewhere else. Near me. Near Jesus. ...but not with his body. His body is buried. ...but someday there will be a resurrection of the dead.
Today at Mass, during the Liturgy of the Eucharist, while singing the Agnus Dei [Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world; have mercy on us. Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world; have mercy on us. Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world; grant us peace.], I was overcome with thankfulness.
I was "filled to all fullness" (today's reading from Ephesians 1) with Jesus - expectation and gratitude to be one with Jesus in the Eucharist - to receive Him and not a symbol - but the living God.
This thankfulness was a cementing of my commitment to Catholicism.
(I know some of you will be surprised by that statement; just bear with me.) there was a thought in my head as I was joining the church (6.5 years ago) that maybe I wouldn't always be Catholic - like if Dan died early - maybe I would go back to being a Protestant.
...and today, NO. Today, it was like I could never go back. I am Catholic and I love being Catholic. I love Jesus more today and know Him in a more profound, deeper way than I did as an Evangelical - and in a way I never could as an Evangelical - and it is ALL because of Dan.
I was just sitting there (in church), so thankful for Dan - so immensely, eternally thankful.
...and God suddenly filled my mind with this image of Dan receiving his crown of life, and there was a huge jewel in his crown - and that jewel represented me. My jewel - my commitment to Catholicism and to Jesus - that is Dan's jewel.
...and that is my first vision of Dan in heaven.
...and I was so happy for Dan...so filled with all the fullness: gratitude, joy, immense happiness.
Prior to this, I just couldn't picture Dan in heaven. He was a person who was just so "of the earth" - not ethereal, that I just had a hard time imagining. There's a belief that when your loved one enters heaven, you'll know. Since time doesn't exist out there, I don't know "when" Dan received his crown; I just know that he has.