Death & Disbelief

Posted: July 25, 2011 in Uncategorized

I’m going to get a little personal here, as I sometimes do. I’ve written before about reconciling my non-faith with family affairs. As far as I know, I’m the only non-believer in my family and only a few of my family members are privy to that information. Additionally, I’ve only recently come to the conclusion that life does not continue beyond this world. I lost faith in religion long ago, but I still held the idea that perhaps something existed besides the physical world. As I began to explore and challenge my positions on these things, I slowly shed all supernatural  certitudes and ultimately concluded that this life is the only one any of us have.

This realization is both beautiful and terrifying. The scary part isn’t so scary when I realized that I would have no idea I was dead. I imagine it to be exactly like not being born yet. Not being aware, not existing, not thinking or feeling…I only think I’ll miss it because I really can’t imagine anything other than the experience of my own being. My ego doesn’t want to give up its existence.

The beauty of it, is that I will never be troubled with any of these things after I’m gone. My life holds so much more meaning because I know that I only have a short time to live it. I am more driven to make my mark and leave a legacy that will continue to enrich the world I will one day leave behind.

I’m writing about these things because less than two weeks ago I found out my Grandmother, Cece, is dying of pancreatic cancer. This will not be the first loss I’ve experienced since changing my views of what death actually means. This, however, is much more significant and is challenging not what I believe, but how I feel about what others believe.

Cece has made her peace with this world. She’s in home hospice care and ready to go when her time comes. She talks about having her mansion in heaven, and makes jokes about “telling” when someone is crackin’ wise. Considering what she is facing, she’s been in a pretty good mood. In her view, she’s going to a better place.

She still talks as if there is a future for her. An eternal future where she will be reunited with dead loved ones and in the presence of her savior. It’s fucking weird. Weird that she believes it. Weird that I once believed it. Weird that some of my last conversations with her will be conversations about imaginary things.

I change the subject sometimes. I’ll talk about a memory we shared, or something that happened with me that week. Other times it’s too hard to do anything but listen. I’m not comforted by thoughts of a heaven, but I’m comforted by the way it eases her. I’m unsure of what is going through her mind. She could be hiding a lot of doubt and fear to keep us from worrying. Facing this from my perspective is so painful that I find myself wishing that I could go back to pretending I’d see her again somehow.

The rest of my family has the hope of the afterlife to comfort them as well. “She will be with the Lord soon.” It’s like a holding place for all we’ve lost so we don’t have to face the cruel reality of this short life. Cards are pouring in with bible verses. “God bless you,” visitors say.

The funeral service will be religious and we’ll recite the prayers and sing the hymns. Everyone will say, “she’s in a better place.” None of that will bring me peace. I’ve been to one funeral since the reformation of my thoughts on life and death. The ritual mourning was strange to me. This was a funeral for an episcopalian priest, so I expect the funeral service for Cece to be a little less formal. All the same, the evocation of heavenly hosts and spiritual fathers just seems like an odd way to mourn.

It’s odd to me, but I see my family in pain and I can empathize. I see them consoled by the rituals and prayers. I’m not ok with the fact that they’re choosing to deal with death this way, but I’m not judging them for it. It would be stupid for me to choose a time like this to call them out. This isn’t the time for philosophical debate.

I still feel alone. I don’t know how to go through the grief process of something this intense. I have friends, who are amazing and supportive, but only my family can really share my pain. They don’t get it either.

I’m trying some things to cope:

-I’ve made a donation to the Cancer Research Institute.

-I went on a hike and took pictures of Indian paintbrush, a flower she taught me about when I was young while she’d take my siblings and I on walks through the 4 acres of prairie she lived on.

Something that will always bring back memories.

-I’m smoking a ton of pot. Maybe not the best way to cope, but I’m a heathen among the clean and being shitfaced drunk is much too noticeable.

-I’m seeing Cece and the rest of my family as often as I can. I want them to know that I love them.

At this stage these things are doing a fine job of helping me through. These are hard times but I’ve really found joy in being around my family. I’m also reminded of how awesome my friends (who are more of a family to me in many ways) are in times like these.

Through all the ritual and preparation going along with this, I found out something I can stand behind. The news of this instantly brought me to tears. When Cece is gone, she is donating her body to science. It means more to me than I can really describe. I have hope that this act will aid in a greater enrichment of human knowledge and leave a lasting legacy much like the one I hope to leave when I’m gone.

For my Cece now, and when you’re gone:

Before the sublime mystery of life and spirit,
the mystery of infinite space
and endless time, we stand in reverent awe…
This much we know:
We are at least one phase of the immortality of life.
The mighty stream of life flows on, and, in this mighty stream,
we too flow on…
not lost…but each eternally significant.
For this I feel: The spirit never betrays the person
who trusts it.
Physical life my be defeated but life goes on;
character survives,
goodness lives and love is immortal.

-Robert G. Ingersoll “Mystery of Life”

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