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Dealing with Death: Just a Few Thoughts

by David Gray, February 20, 2012

the weeping angel

In 2011 I was talking to my mother on the phone, and somehow we got into reflecting on death of her oldest sister, Jean, who she loved greatly.

Mom said, “I know she’s an angel in Heaven now.” Oh, how I hate when people say that, but what was I supposed to say to her? Was I supposed to be a jerk and tell my mother at that moment how horrible her theology and understanding of the Bible was. Was I supposed to say, “Sorry Mom but humans actually don’t become angels after they die. Chances are that Aunt Jean is either in Heaven, Purgatory, or Hell, but wherever she is, she doesn’t have wings and, guess what, she’s never gonna get a pair either.” Was I supposed to rip apart such a warm image she has of her dearly departed and leave her the pieces to pick up? Was I supposed to ask her to draw of picture of what she thinks her sister looks like now in Heaven and then take a pair of scissors and clip the wings off? I could have done any of that, and thought about doing all of it definitely, but I just left it alone. There’s a time and place to correct bad theology.

Death is absolutely harder on the living than it is on the dead. For a number of personal reasons we sometimes find letting go harder to do when we weren’t prepared for it. Being able to eventually move on can sometimes come by the way of simply telling ourselves a comfortable little story about our loved one, such as: “He wouldn’t want my life to stop.” “She’s in Heaven now.” “He’s with God now.” “She’s in a better place now.” “He’s at peace now.” “She’s an angel in Heaven now.” Indeed, people from faith traditions have a number of comforting stories that they can use to make themselves feel better. Somehow we have to find that mechanism that helps us to move forward and stop living in the past that may be filled with regrets, pain, and unfulfilled expectations.

When I was a Freemason I participated in countless funeral rites of deceased members, and that coupled with the fact that I was a Deist leaning Agnostic at the time helped to make me quiet indifferent to death all-together. Even today I still don’t have an emotional reaction to death. I don’t know if I suppress it or if I just don’t have that switch. Even when my father Oscar died I was emotionally cool as the center seed of a cucumber. My eulogy for him was a stand-up comedy routine that had the church full of laughter. Not to say that I’m not still dealing with my dad’s death in my own way. I still haven’t watched the video of photos of him that was played at his funeral. I still have his phone number in my cell phone (I don’t call it) :D. I also have pictures of him laying in his casket on my phone that I occasionally look at. I think about him all the time, but no typical emotions and no tears – just memories that I think about. I also think about my Grandmother Minnie and my stepfather Roy a great deal. Well, I did cry about my Grandmother one night, but it was after three shots of tequila, so I don’t know if it really counts. I also abhor the whole drama of funerals, but I’ll save that for a different day.

For the longest time I use to think that something was wrong with me; I really did. Why does everyone else cry at funerals but me? Perhaps that should be the name of my memoir. Then it happened. You know that moment right when you think you have it bad and homeless person comes to ask you for money, or that moment right when you think you might be crazy and then you take one scroll down Facebook, or that moment right when you start to think that maybe the reason why you aren’t married is because of you and then your ex calls you and you remember that the reason why you aren’t married is not because of you, or that moment right when you think you might have been adopted because you don’t look like the kid in those supposed childhood pictures of yourself and then you . . . . what? Am I the only one who thinks that? Yeah right!

Anyway, like I was saying; so there I was thinking that something was wrong with me and I stumble upon a Facebook Page called Grief Beyond Belief, which has for a Mission Statement:

    “Grief Beyond Belief is an online support network for people grieving the death of a child, parent, partner, or other loved one — without belief in a higher power or any form of afterlife. Atheists, agnostics, humanists, freethinkers and anyone else living without religious beliefs are invited to participate. If you are in the process of reevaluating or letting go of previously held religious beliefs, you may also join the community and seek support.

    Religious grief support — including prayer, faith in god, and belief in an afterlife — is not welcome in posts or comments. Grief Beyond Belief provides a safe space for atheists and other non-religious people to share and process the death of a loved one. Because bereavement is sometimes the catalyst for questioning or letting go of religious beliefs, people who are still struggling with these issues are encouraged to join. However, the page is not intended as a venue for debate, but as a space for shared compassion and support.”

After spending a few moments reading the comments on that page of Atheists trying to cope with death I feel so utterly human and alive. I may not be able to cry at funerals, but least as a Catholic Christian I won’t be lost in loss as so many of the people on that page seem to be. My heart and prayers are really going out to them and encourage you to visit that page and say a prayer and/or a Rosary for them privately. Dealing with death can be difficult, but it has to be unbearable for some to handle on their own without Christ Jesus to turn to.

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