People are always making assertions about what heaven must contain in order for it to qualify as heaven for them, some of these assertions being more jokes than anything else.
“It’s not heaven without sex.”
“It wouldn’t be heaven if [insert name of favorite pet dog] isn’t there.”
“If heaven doesn’t have Egg McMuffins, I don’t want to go there.”
When people are serious about such assertions, I tend to roll my eyes. Yes, the desired features are (generally) nice, but sometimes I think we have very low expectations of God. Is it really that hard to imagine a state of existence so transcendental that it makes us forget all about these earthly pleasures which seem so essential to our current lives? Can’t we just trust that the God who made us knows how to please us and check our small-minded expectations at the door?
However, I think a legitimate concern revolves around the fate of unbelieving loved ones. Are we really going to be able to be happy if our dear family members and other loved ones aren’t there enjoying eternal bliss with us?
I believe in a permanent hell, as do most evangelicals. However, I don’t view it as a place of literal gruesome physical torture; I see the torment encountered there in terms of dishonor, shame and agency.1 To paraphrase C. S. Lewis, the people in hell are there by choice, and the doors of hell are locked from the inside. I also don’t believe we’ll be able to visit the inhabitants of hell, or vice-versa, for “between [heaven] and [hell] a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from [heaven] to [hell] may not be able, and none may cross from [hell] to [heaven].”2
For Mormons, the situation is less dire depending on your perspective. Some Mormons believe that the opportunity for progression between kingdoms never goes away, therefore there isn’t too much to worry about. If your loved ones don’t make it right away, they will eventually. Others believe that assignment to the lower kingdoms is permanent once someone willfully rejects the gospel and there are no “second chances;” you get one chance, be it in this life or the next. While those in the celestial kingdom should be able to visit with loved ones in the lower kingdoms in either scenario, the latter system still leaves our loved ones trapped in an inferior state due to their own choices. I’ve long felt that such a system isn’t at all unlike my own beliefs about hell as a place of dishonor and shame to varying degrees.
So, with all that in mind, here is what death has taught me about heaven and hell. My mother died last year from pancreatic cancer. She was 51 years old and otherwise in good health prior to being diagnosed. Watching my lovely, radiant mother literally wither away and die because of that awful disease definitely rates as the most painful experience of my life. She was my best friend after my husband (yes, I’m that much of a loser) and a force in my life which constantly challenged me to be a better person than I am. If you had told me two years ago that I would be miring through life right now without her, I wouldn’t have believed it was possible. Not only am I getting through life without her though, I’m learning to be happy and find joy again.
I’ll never understand all the reasons God allows death to reign in this world as He currently does, but I believe we can learn a lot from it. If we can learn to be happy after losing our loved ones here in this life, surely we can learn to be happy in the eternities should we “lose” our loved ones there, for whatever reason.
 If you are interested in better understanding my perspective on hell, I would direct you to the following online articles: “The Crucifixion, the Nature of Hell, and Shame” by James Patrick Holding (see the second half of the article), and “Why Is Hell Eternal? Or ‘Will One White-Lie Send Someone to Hell For All Eternity?’” by C. Michael Patton.
 Luke 16:26b (ESV), from the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. I’m aware that many scholars don’t regard this passage as referring literally to heaven and hell and, in fact, I think it refers to paradise and Hades myself. However, I do think the chasm statement will hold true for the final destinations of mankind as well.