Monday, March 18, 2013

Grief Without Gods

Chris's grandfather passed away over this weekend.  He was amazingly healthy and active for any age, let alone 87 years old.  Sadly, he had an accident he could not recover from.  It's been a whirlwind of emotions for everyone with a lot of sleep deprivation, love, and support.  It saddens me to think that I won't get to know my grandfather-in-law better, but from the stories shared this weekend I can tell he was a remarkable man.

As I'm in the midst of transitioning from Chris's girlfriend to his wife, his family has become increasingly important to me as they will soon be part of my family.  I love my own family deeply and am glad to find that, despite the vastly larger number of people in Chris's family, I love them as well.  They're very supportive, caring, and engaging.  We may not always see eye-to-eye on some issues, but that's easy to put aside.  I feel that through this process of helping him and his family, especially his grandmother, I've become even more rooted in this bond of trust and understanding.  Does marriage still intimidate me sometimes?  You bet.  But I think it's just the same intimidation we all feel when facing the unknown.  The thought of joining this family fills me with nothing but pride.

I don't want to talk about too many details of his family's loss.  That's a private matter and not something for me to talk about on a public blog.  But I do want to talk about the role religion played.  Chris was actually the first one to call his grandparents' church and request a minister to be with his grandfather as he died and his grandmother as she grieved.  While some found it interesting that their atheist grandson called the church, Chris summed it up perfectly when he said it wasn't about what he believes or wants, it was about helping his grandma.  The minister, Alice, who worked with his family was a very kind and understanding woman, and I believe she brought a great deal of comfort to many.  She took the time to learn about his grandfather, to gather stories and details so that she could put together a fitting memorial for him.  She worked with his grandmother to put together a memorial service with a very short amount of time to prepare.  While a small portion of her eulogy had religious themes, it was done with the aim of comforting the religious survivors and not to push an agenda.

However, there was some discomfort at the words of the head minister, who seemed keen to preach more about Christianity than about Chris's grandpa.  Thankfully, this was at the beginning, so that the lasting impressions were the eulogy given by his great uncle and Alice and the stellar flag presentation by the Marine Corps.  These are the moments that will stick for me, and I suspect that is also true for both the religious and non-religious family members.

Does religion help with the grieving process?  I'm not sure.  I personally don't think thoughts of being reunited in the afterlife are helpful for moving forward in life, but I can't deny the social network that a church can provide.  Religion seemed to take away from the memorial service rather than add to it, but I can't deny that pulling off something so elaborate so quickly may have been impossible to do secularly.  Alice was obviously a great help to the family, but I suspect people like her become ministers because they want to help, rather than helping because they are ministers.  I guess at the end of the day, it all comes down to circumstance.

It's been a complicated weekend and we'll still be dealing with the aftermath for a long time to follow, but I needed to unpack a few things.  Sorry if I seem to be rambling, but chalk it up to sleep deprivation and high emotions.  This blog is my way of dealing with the world and this weekend has given me a lot to think about.  I thank you for thinking about this issue with me.  What are your thoughts?  How has religion affected your grieving process?  Was it helpful or harmful?  Please feel free to share.

1 comment:

  1. When my great-uncle died the family was bonded strongly by the comfort that family brings just being together.

    I can say that the vast majority of my family is Christian but we are somehow separated by 3 different Christian branches. Although there has been disputes among family members about defending their religion, there was none of it throughout the grieving process. We all stuck to our own beliefs and prayed.

    Not having to deal with confrontation helped bring peace and easiness. Ironic how before his death we were separated by beliefs and then when he passed away we were reunited by each other's warmth rather than religion itself.