In thinking about death and preparing ourselves for that inevitable reality, it is good to avoid two extremes. One extreme is to think that it is impossible to get into heaven. We call this despair. It is the sin of Judas, thinking that our sins are so great that God will not or cannot forgive us. It is the Devil’s main trick to make people believe that they are unworthy of God’s forgiveness. The other extreme is to think that everyone will go to heaven no matter what they believe or how they have lived here on earth. We call this presumption. It is wrong to presume that everyone will go to heaven or even that a particular person is now in heaven because we are somehow convinced of his or her goodness. Only God knows what is in a person’s mind and heart and conscience. God’s offer of salvation is indeed made to everyone through Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection, but God also respects our freedom to accept or reject this invitation. Not everyone accepts it; some may certainly reject it.
While we hope that our loved ones are in heaven with God, if they are not, it is at least our hope that they are in purgatory awaiting their final reward. The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes the doctrine of purgatory in this way: “All who die in God’s friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven. The church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned” (paragraphs 1030-1031).
~ Bishop Thomas John Paprocki; excerpt from here ~