Monday, December 27, 2010

Psalms 9-17

The Facts (Chapter number: Verse)

9:14 - "so that I may recount all your praises, and, in the gates of daughter Zion, rejoice in your deliverance."

Psalms 10 - No mention of any women.

Psalms 11 - No mention of any women.

Psalms 12 - No mention of any women.

Psalms 13 - No mention of any women.

Psalms 14 - No mention of any women.

Psalms 15 - No mention of any women.

Psalms 16 - No mention of any women.

Psalms 17 - No mention of any women.

My Comments

I have to get some things off my chest. This last week has been a bit trying emotionally for me, and with very few people to really confide in (and I'm also fairly bad at talking about my feelings, so forgive me if this ends up being disjointed and a bit nonsensical) I don't have many outlets for this. So this post will have nothing to do with the Psalms I read, which is fine because the Psalms have nothing interesting in them. Just more people going "Holy crap, God, you're so awesome and worthy of praise even if you shit on us some of the times! Because we somehow know your shitting on us is just some sort of character building and you'll totally help us out later! Or, you know, you MIGHT help us out later if you're feeling up to it... no pressure, we will sing your praises either way!"

My grandmother died last weekend. This is the first major relative of mine to die, so all of this is new for me. She is the only grandparent of mine I have had any relationship with since both of my grandfather's died when I was very young and my mom's mom is one of the most horrible people I've ever met (funny how relatives you liked when you were a kid turn unlikeable once you learn about the horrible shit they did to your parents). My grandmother's death wasn't out of the blue. She hasn't been herself for the last few years since she fell and hit her head and internal bleeding basically caused dementia. My grandmother was post polio, unable to walk, and unable to hold a normal conversation. As much as I loved her she hasn't really been the grandmother I knew and grew up with for the past couple of years. I know it sounds cold, and I hate thinking it, but to me we were taking care of a body, my grandmother had long since died. And it was so hard to visit when she couldn't even recognize me and didn't even acknowledge I was there.

So this all wasn't a big surprise and most of the family is just happy she isn't suffering anymore. Still, I am uncertain with how to deal with my feelings. I am having a hard time sorting through it on my own with no one to talk to, and over the last week I've felt like I can't say a word. I start thinking about saying something or asking something and suddenly someone will say, "I bet she's having so much fun in heaven seeing Clarence and her family again. Wonder how long she'll be celebrating?" and that tends to shut me up very quick. Suddenly I feel I can't ask a question because now if I do it'll be the atheist asking a question. Of course the atheist has questions after her death because the atheist has no answers for death. Only the christians know what's going on, what happened to happen, how to feel and what to say. Since I no longer have my faith (not that I ever did) this is why I suddenly have no clue what's going on. I fear I'll start being pressured to come back to the faith, I'll feel obligated to because that's the only place I can feel happy. Only God can help me through this time, right, because only God has the answers? I know my parents don't have the answers anymore than I do, and pretending my grandmother is somewhere skipping and jumping will not help me because I know it's not true. Covering up reality with a shiny fluffy bandaid doesn't make reality go away, it just covers it up so I'll just have to deal with it later.

Maybe is this is why I've had nightmares for the last seven days. I'm prone to nightmares anyway, but they don't tend to be this frequent or alarming. So of course on top of all this I'm feeling sleep deprived. I can't seem to get any of my emotions out in a productive manner so maybe my brain is just trying to deal with it at night and really just making it worse in the end. I managed to get through Christmas okay, and we actually all had a great time despite having a pretty weird and awkward Christmas Eve. So I probably should have left it there and spent my Sunday just being lazy and enjoying my gifts.

Instead I spent my Sunday morning going to church with my parents because I told them I'd go to a Christmas service with them. My original terms were I would go to a Christmas Eve service with them as long as it was not at their current church (the preacher is a complete asshole and I just do not feel comfortable in all white churches). So since that was apparently the ONLY Christmas Eve service they wanted to go to I said I'd go with them to their friend's church on Sunday.

Note to self: Never ever go to a church where your parents are very good friends with the preacher. The preacher has probably heard all of your family's dirty secrets, including every story about yourself, and most definitely knows that you are "questioning your faith." (a term my parents use because they refuse to believe that I have completely given up on their faith)

I really should not have gone. I think I just assumed because it was Christmas the service would just be a fluff piece with some singing and that'd be it. Instead it was a real service in a VERY small church with a preacher who knew I wasn't a Christian and had a great opportunity to pressure me into rejoining the faith. The best part was the hug after the service and then the very intense stare and smile, "We are so glad you came. I hope you make this a habit." Yeah, sure, what I needed on top of everything was feeling bad for being an outcast in a group of believers. Or a preacher who, in his sermon, made a point of saying that anyone who doesn't have Jesus can't be a good person. That people without Jesus are angry and confused and have no direction or ability to improve themselves or their lives. Yes, that was EXACTLY what I need to hear right now.

No, what I need right now is a group of people I can talk to without feeling like I'm going to be judged by my lack of beliefs. I don't want to feel like whatever I say concerning my feelings towards my grandmother's death is suddenly how all atheists feel about death, and since I'm an atheist and not a Christian pretty much everything I say will be "wrong." I don't want to feel like someone will try to get me to believe in God with the promise I'll feel better. I know me, and in my emotional and stressed state I can be easily manipulated, which means I will be very on guard with anyone talking to me. I don't want to feel like I have to say something different than how I feel or censor how I feel. I want to be able to ask questions openly and have whomever I'm talking to be okay with just being silent or being honest and saying "I don't know." Lies do not make me feel better, whether they are well meaning lies or not. I don't want to feel like I'm being pitied because poor atheists they just don't have any comfort in their lives.

They don't seem to understand that I'm lacking comfort because I'm tired of feeling like I have to be something else in order to escape their judgment. I'm stressed and sad not because I don't have some unseen holy power maybe or maybe not helping me out but because I don't feel like I have someone supporting me fully. Yeah, sure, they are there physically. When I need it I can get a hug or a reassuring pat on the back. But comfort isn't all physical. And comfort cannot be had when you feel like you're being judged for your feelings.

While we were at the service on Sunday, another family had had someone die on Christmas. The two women who had come to the service couldn't stop crying. During the group prayer, some people went to the front, including these women. As the preacher prayed for God to protect us and comfort us and help us through these tough times, the people up front gathered around the two women and hugged them and held them.

I couldn't stop wondering, if God was really a comfort and a guide during these tough times, why did everyone feel like these women needed imperfect physical comfort? If God was all that was needed to get over a loss of a loved one, or if anyone truly believed in a heaven, why not give the women space so God could comfort them with his perfect and blessed presence? If God was all you needed why couldn't these women stop crying? Why did they need someone to hold on to?

And why couldn't anyone there see that it wasn't God helping these women through this time, but the people who cared enough to be there for them? Why would they give the credit to an invisible sky daddy when it was plain to me that He does not deserve any of the credit whatsoever?

I just don't understand.

Wednesday: More Psalms


  1. I'm so sorry to hear of your loss and pain, and that you feel so isolated while you have to deal with this.

    To me and you, God and Heaven are fantasies that are no more real than Hogwarts, Mordor, or Santa’s workshop at the North Pole. Your grandmother isn’t in Heaven, or the Elysian Fields, but simply gone from this world. “My grandmother was post polio, unable to walk, and unable to hold a normal conversation. As much as I loved her she hasn't really been the grandmother I knew and grew up with for the past couple of years. I know it sounds cold, and I hate thinking it, but to me we were taking care of a body, my grandmother had long since died.” That’s neither cold nor cruel, but facing the truth of what you feel. You didn’t hate her for it or walk away from her in her need, but saw to her to her needs to keep her as comfortable and happy as could be done, right?

    The fantasy of Heaven is a crutch. Imagining that someone's pain is not only relieved but rewarded is seeking the sort of emotional lift that one gets when the hero triumphs in a tale. I’ve dealt with the loss of family members by remembering why they were special to me, why I miss them, and why I love them still. If anyone mentioned heaven, I didn’t try to fight that but turned the conversation to missing the person in the here and now and sharing the real grief we both shared. Those women at the front of the church were receiving the community's support in dealing with their grief, and it hurts you that you don’t have a similar community. You'd like to confront your grief with a like-minded individual who won't turn to wishful imaginings for solace.

    I encourage you to send a copy of this post to Ask Richard at Friendly Atheist (AskRichard at ca[dot]rr[dot]com). He’s former family counselor who addresses the needs and questions of atheists. He seems a very sympathetic sort with much good advice from what I read. You might also consider Googling for atheist grief to find other resources online. Whatever you do, don’t keep it to yourself.

    I wish you all the best in your time of grief.

  2. First of all, let me say I am very sorry to hear about your loss. It's never easy to lose someone. She sounds like a good woman, with a life well lived. I hope you find comfort somewhere.

    A warning--I'm about to share my own story. If you're not in the place for it, feel free to ignore it.

    I became an atheist last May. Almost immediately, my grandfather was hospitalized for the first time. It wouldn't be the last. It started a pattern of hospitalizations, leading to his death in late October. Terrified, I reneged. I bargained. I didn't care anymore, if I found this god morally repugnant, hateful, a brat. I'd worship him if he kept my grandfather alive. I'd go through the motions, go to church, donate, sing...
    Because I loved my grandfather. In an abusive family, even extended family at times, my grandfather was the only good man I knew--and he was beyond good. He was decent and honest and caring. He was everything Christian's claimed to be, all the time.
    So I prayed to the god he had believed in and I had rejected.
    There was no answer. He got worse and worse.

    As you did, I started realizing he was long gone, and that now we were prolonging a body in pain. When he finally died, I was not as devastated; I had been mourning him for over a month. So I was able to help my mother and my brothers.

    The worst part about losing this faith, for me, was losing Heaven. It wouldn't have hit me so hard if I hadn't lost Grandpa so soon--and thus been struck with the loss of ALL his life..and afterlife, that I was expecting.

    It was hard. It IS hard.

    So I began to wonder...what if there is an afterlife? There's no evidence for it or against it, and to think it so gives me comfort. So, in a way, the ones we love will live on... if not in Heaven, then a greater place called "Memory."

    I don't know if it'll help you at all. Some days, it doesn't even help me. But if you do ever need to talk, tell me, and I'll reply with my email address. We can at least hurt together.

    As for your questions about Church...*shrugs* I remember my Christian days. By going to comfort someone in need, I always thought I was being God's hands and feet, as we are called to do. God knows we're social creatures after all, and so he sends to someone in pain more people to comfort them. Instead of doing it himself. Because it's...better that way?

    I never questioned that god, being perfect, could just make it go away with a blink of an eye. But being comforted by or giving comfort to made you feel like a part of the plan--god's messengers. Angels.
    And sometimes it's just plain empathy and sympathy, with no thought to god at all. As it should be.

  3. I went through this when my mom died in 2004. All the talk about her work, about how she was waiting in heaven for Dad, about her merits as a good Christian ("wearing her crown"). Very little about remembering who she was as a person; didn't matter, did it?

    I was the only atheist, and not out, because of wanting to preserve contact with my grandkids. It was a lonely time.

    It was the same when Dad died, a few years later. My nephew sang, "I can only imagine", a song about heaven. Dead on, but he didn't realize it; all they had for comfort was in their imagination. It may be harder, but I'd prefer to stick with the known truth.

    They're gone. I don't like it; I don't have to. And I don't have to pretend they're happy and waiting for me in some fictitious fairyland.

  4. Thanks for your comments. It is nice to hear about loss from people who aren't religious. Loss is tough for everyone but it is easily made worse when you feel alone and disconnected. I'm sorry for everyone's loss, and am glad there's a space here where we can all share.

    Susannah: "They're gone. I don't like it; I don't have to. And I don't have to pretend they're happy and waiting for me in some fictitious fairyland."

    Agreed. From what I can see, at least with my parents, the idea of heaven doesn't seem to help their grief. It almost seems like pressure because they are almost EXPECTED to be happy for her because she's in a "better" place. They can say, "We really miss her and are sad she's gone," but almost immediately have to follow it with, "but we're happy she's in heaven with God and her loved ones." Sometimes it's better to just say, "No, I don't have to like this. I don't have to feel happy that someone I love is gone. Eventually with time I will get over the grief but for right now I don't want to pretend that I'm okay with this." Heaven is just one more thing making you bottle up feelings that are natural and normal to have.

    Efogoto and Lurker: I have always thought memories are how people live on. And I wish I had more memories with my grandmother. A lot of the time we had together was when I was younger, and unfortunately I don't remember much from then. I remember some Christmas Eve's we spent there with family, staying the night with her sometimes, how she always took me shopping for my birthday even though I was a huge tomboy and didn't really like all the girly stuff she really wanted me to get.

    And I understand the want to bargain, Lurker. I think those are the only times I really think about a god and whether I should believe in one or not. But I think that's the point, isn't it? We always want a god to be there when the natural chaos of the world enters into our own life. That is why it's easy to get people to go to religion. Mention all the uncertainty, the pain, the suffering, all of which is guaranteed in life, and claim you have a solution for it. People will line up for miles because no one likes uncertainty and fear of the unknown.

    Me, I personally don't mind the unknown (at least when the alternative is giving my life up for a judgmental deity). Chaos is comforting in its lack of prejudices and feelings. It's never personal, it just is.

    I did email Ask Richard early last week, Efogoto, but haven't gotten any sort of reply yet. I guess he's probably got a lot of emails to answer. And thanks for the offer to talk, Lurker. I'll keep you in mind if it starts getting really bad again. :)


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