How do you mourn without God?January 17, 2014 at 4:09 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments
You could say I’ve been blessed so far in this life with happy, healthy loved ones and family. The unfortunate deaths I have experienced happened to grandparents, ones who were very ill, and I took comfort that they would no longer suffer. I’d never known anyone close to me to die young until just recently. In December, my second cousin in Kentucky took her own life. In January, a close friend of mine experienced the sudden and unexpected death of her toddler, a little boy we had just played with the week before. In the same week, my in-laws’ beloved dog Lucy died of an aneurism. Our stuffed toy’s namesake. My heart goes out to them all.
When Liam attended my Grandma O’s funeral last May, we had our first serious conversation about death. I explained that grandma had lived a long, long life, she had died, we buried her, and she would live on in our memories. He seemed ok with it until we got in the car. Then he just kept repeating his worries. He didn’t want his parents to die, he didn’t want to die, he didn’t want to go in the ground. He was afraid of the dark. Nothing I said seemed to help, until I finally played the Heaven card. Grandma was in Heaven, in a better place, on a cloud in the sky with the angels. That seemed to satisfy his four-year-old logic.
There is comfort in the idea of Heaven. The thought that when we die, there’s a place for us. A place to be happy. A place of light and God. Especially when a loved one is taken too soon, it’s comforting to picture them looking down at you, knowing you still think of them and love them.
So what do you do when you don’t believe in God, or Heaven, or Hell, or any of it? How do you mourn? How do you comfort your loved ones? How do you make sense of it?
I cried every day last week. I felt adrift, an Atheist in a sea of Christians. I feel completely inept at expressing the right condolences. “You’re in my thoughts,” and “I’m sorry for your loss,” just don’t seem to go far enough. “He’s in a better place,” and “I’m praying for you,” sound completely insincere coming from me. Praying implies action; not only am I thinking of your loss, but I’m talking to my Deity on your behalf. It’s a wonderful sentiment I wish I could express.
The funeral Saturday was absolutely heartbreaking. The pastor quoted lovely passages from the Bible, attempting to ease the pain and explain in the best way he could why these things happen. A religious person might say it’s all part of God’s plan. A pragmatist like me might say that death is a part of life, and these things just happen. Neither answer is satisfying.
I think what’s hit me the hardest is the finality of it all. I believe that this life is the one chance you get, and when you die, you no longer exist. There is a strange kind of comfort in believing that consciousness ends, and the person you knew will never witness your grief. There is no one to blame, no malevolent God to question. But what you’re left with is a void, an empty place where that person existed. It’s difficult not to dwell on that potential life, all that living that person was robbed of. The unfairness of it all.
Sometimes I envy the religious their beliefs. There’s a place to turn, a person to turn to, when your life goes in a tailspin. There’s a community of like-minded people all ready to support you when you need it most. There are words, sentiments, scripture at the ready to help you get through your loss. You can feel the presence of the one you lost, and rest assured they are in a better place. The word of God, the teachings of Jesus, are all there for the taking. But I just…can’t.
Saturday I put Liam to bed, and he asked me where I’d been all day. And why was I crying? I explained that the little boy we knew had to go to Heaven, the soldiers in his body couldn’t fight off his illness, and he wouldn’t be coming back. He sat for a moment, then replied, “But, why?”
I wish I had a good answer.