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.

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  1. oh dear. I was thinking the same thing the other day. Syd asked why she only had one Grandpa…and it was difficult to explain 1) death and 2) a decent not scary place we go to when we die without mentioning heaven (I opted for saying he lives in the clouds? which in hindsight is a bit creepy). Its hard. I struggle with similar thoughts. Beliving in things/Gods/deities/Religion historically was brought about to give us peace on things we didn’t understand…whether it was fire, rain, famine, floods, love, sickness, death, life…etc. The sad thing is most Christianity has morphed into this wacko politico lifestyle nonsense where you judge everyone and everything which is why I lean towards not ‘believing’. I’d like to think we go someplace nice when we die…It doesn’t have to be a the right hand of God the Father and Jesus Christ…but a place in the clouds…heaven…does sound nice (once you remove the threat of hell). I just prefer to not be guilted during my life on earth into having access to heaven someday.

    I hope you find some peace with your thoughts and with your recent losses. Hugs from afar!

    • Thanks for that, Julie. This whole “heaven” thing has been a bit of a tapdance lately. Liam has A LOT of questions about it, and I’m doing my best to answer them like,”This is the way some people think, and others think this.” But I’m not sure that sinks in for him yet. He’s going to a preschool run by a church, so there was a lot of talk about the baby Jesus at Christmas. And they had a whole week where they talked about heaven, so there’s no avoiding it. I think its good for him to be exposed to all of these ideas, then he can make his own decision when he’s old enough. That’s how my parents handled it for me.

      I saw on his preschool calendar that they’re going to have the pastor come in and talk about the story of Easter in April. Think we might be conveniently planning our vacay to CO that week. Baby Jesus I can handle. Crucifixion…no.

  2. Oh Amanda, This hit home for me on many levels. Can’t say I’m an atheist but also can’t bring myself to blindly believe either … I have LOTS of questions. When my Mom died, I again questioned everything (still do) and had such a hard time trying to explain to Anna where her grandma was and why she wasn’t coming back. My Dad and I had a conversation about religion while we were in CA for his wedding to his new wife and he told me, “God is Love.” It still didn’t really register with me but then I read the eulogy of a minister that spoke at the high-profile memorial for the couple whose two kids were murdered by their nanny in New York a year ago. The father asked him how he can believe in God after what he and his wife went through. Can’t even imagine losing a child; it has been hard enough losing a parent. So, I’ve kept this and I read it when I need inspiration for talking about my mom to my kids, and it helped when I heard the news about Candi. It still doesn’t all make sense to me but it helps:

    “The concept of a God that rights all wrongs and makes all things well is not one that I know. The concept of the God I know is one that lives within you and me. It is the capacity to feel love and give love. That capacity for love was expanded and stretched beyond imagination by your children. And now the place that was made is empty. It is that capacity that will be tested now.

    Heaven may not be more than the memories we have or the love that we feel. But if it is just that, then it is pretty amazing and worthy of honoring. You must continue to love. You must continue to be loved. It is your love-bound obligation not to let your capacity for love wither, but to hold up what you gained and let the love that you have had flourish. Flourish with your spouse, flourish with your child, flourish with those yet to come and those that are and have been. Nothing will erase the pain, and nothing should. The depth of your pain is a measure of the depth of your love.

    My soul weeps for you, but my faith knows that you will love.”

    – Reverend Jon Kitto

    • That was a lovely quote. Thanks for sharing that. I think no matter what you believe, love is the universal truth, and it’s one thing we can all agree on.

      • My favorite line is : Heaven may not be more than the memories we have or the love that we feel. But if it is just that, then it is pretty amazing and worthy of honoring. True Dat!


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