When someone loses a loved one, it amazes me that some people think that what that person really needs to hear is that the person offering condolences has a magic invisible sky Santa who killed them on purpose. Oh, certainly they clean up the phrasing a bit. “She’s in a better place.” Or “He’s with God now.” “It’s all part of God’s Plan.” These phrases are intended somehow to confer some sort of relief to the grieving; as if somehow it’s better that they just lost their mom, their son or the love of their life as long as it was part of some Divine Plan.
I lost my mother when I was twelve years old. These were the types of things grown people said to me. I was distraught, broken and motherless. I watched my father fall to pieces and had no clue how life could possibly go on. I listened to these people and wished I could throw these words right back in their faces. How dare they!? Their God took my mom? I wanted nothing to do with them or their God. It certainly didn’t provide me with any relief. It made everything a lot worse for me. Not only had I lost my mom, but now I had to hold resentment against an imaginary being.
I’ve grown up since then. I had to raise myself. I realized the folly of that resentment. My dad stayed broken. The closest thing I’ve had to an actual father since then has been my Godfather. Funny that we both still recognize that bond, even though neither of us adhere to any of the other tenets of that empty faith any more, if we ever did.
My godfather just lost the love of his life, his wife of nearly a quarter of a century. I’ve stayed close with him. Well, as close as I know how. We text, we see each other for holidays. He took me in once years ago when I needed a place to stay. His daughters are like little sisters to me. I knew his wife too, their mom, my Aunt. Perhaps not as well as I could have.
I drove up to be with them for the last couple weeks, as much as I could. I saw in their eyes the pain I felt when my mom passed away, the questioning, the searching for answers, for a reason, for some kind of sense that wasn’t there. I missed my Aunt, too. My grief for her was overshadowed by the pain I felt watching my Uncle and his daughters suffer her loss.
I knew then the comfort that those of faith must feel, the relief it gives them to convince themselves that it really is for the best. To tell the bereaved that it’s a good thing that their loved one died and that they would pray for them. That last part is the best. “I’ll pray for her,” they say. And they think that this means they are actually doing something to help. They tell us that our lost ones are in Heaven above and “They’re probably looking down on us right now.”
I know that those words are empty, though. The only person they relieve is the person who said them. And that to me is selfish. They’re pulling their religion out in public and waving it in the suffering faces of grieving people so that they themselves can feel like a righteous person.
The truth is there is no God, there is no Heaven and there is no Divine Plan. This doesn’t mean that our loved ones don’t live on after death, though. Every time we think of them, remember something they said or did, they are alive in us. We tell stories about things they did and we are the people that we’ve become in part because of them. Who I am is a result of who my mother was. My aunt shined her light on her daughter and my Uncle. They are, in no small part, her life after death. Everything they do, and every decision they make will be colored by the life lessons she shared with them, and that is far better than some pearly gates stuck on a cloud. So if you must pray for me and my family, please keep it to yourself.