My mom has very advanced Multiple Sclerosis. It’s eating her from the inside out and she’s powerless to stop it. There’s no cure, no reversal, no relief. It’s just us watching her slowly and uncomfortably crawl toward the end of her life. Having lost the ability to move herself around (even if she had a wheelchair she couldn’t get from point A to point B without help), she relies 100% on my dad for her care. It’s inevitable that she’ll die relatively young (she’s just now 60 but her mom is still alive and coming up on 90). It is this truth that causes me grief, but not for the reasons you might think.
I have grief over my mom’s impending death because I don’t want to go to her funeral and my family will undoubtedly hate me for it. You see, I understand the concept of death and I don’t need closure, nor do I need someone patting me on the back telling me she’s in a better place, etc. When she dies she’ll be gone forever, I get it. I’ve come to terms with that fact and I can be at peace with it when it happens.
I’ve only been to one funeral in my life and that was because it was a high school friend who died while I was a sophomore. It was also while I was a Christian. I cried over my friend’s death and prayed to god for understanding into why she was taken so young. I felt so sad for her family and I felt her loss in the hallways at school. I wondered if she was in Heaven or if she was – god forbid – suffering in Hell. The possibility of her soul in torment ripped me to shreds. It was a bad time for me and god never found the time to get back to me and offer something in the way of comfort or understanding.
I didn’t go to any of my grandparents’ funerals. My family was upset when I refused to be a pallbearer at my grandfather’s (my mom’s dad) funeral. I simply didn’t want to carry a box containing a corpse – is that so bad? Regardless of whether or not the corpse was my grandfather it was still a corpse. No thank you. I have fond, happy memories of my grandparents that aren’t muddied by death. I think the experience of being at the funeral would have changed that for me.
As an atheist I find it much easier to cope with death. It’s a part of life and it happens to everyone irrespective of their beliefs. I’m not completely numb to the loss of a loved one, I just find more joy in my memories of them alive than grief in their loss. Instead of thinking they live on in some ethereal plane of existence I allow them to live on in my mind, just the way I want to remember them, and I find that this keeps them closer and dearer than believing that I’ll see them again.
I don’t want to remember my loved ones wearing makeup in a coffin. What good is that going to do me? What possible joy can I find from that? Why would I allow my love and memory of them to be stained by some grotesque* ritual?
Everyone keeps telling me that the funeral isn’t for the dead, but for the living. I don’t agree. I think every day is for the living. Every single day I can give support and comfort to the ones I love and help however I can if they need it. I don’t need to designate one special day to do this. What makes a funeral day so special? Why are condolences and hugs confined to a couple of hours on a specific day in a specific location? Why not have them available all the time?
Just because I don’t want to attend the funeral doesn’t mean I don’t want to be a part of the family. Just because I don’t want to attend the funeral doesn’t mean I don’t love my mom. To be honest, once it happens my mom isn’t going to care if I’m at her funeral or not. Neither will my dad, my brother, my sister, or anyone else when their time comes (assuming that I outlive anybody at all).
Some people take this attitude as a slight. They think it makes me cold and callous. While I don’t agree, they’re certainly entitled to their opinions. I’ve already explained that I’d rather have their life than their death in my memories and it’s very sound reasoning to me. I’m happy with it. I just know from past experience that this will garner me negative attention from my Christian family members and I’m not looking forward to it. If I can respect their beliefs and their desire to have a funeral for my mom, why can they not respect my beliefs and my desire not to go? I hope I’m wrong about it, but I fear I’m not.
That being said, I’m reasonably certain – barring major obstacles – that I’ll travel up to Iowa to be there for my family after the funeral (maybe even before, but not during). I’ll share stories of how funny and intelligent my mom was and how much I loved her. I’ll tell the story about how she (unintentionally, I’m sure) threw me down a flight of stairs for calling her an “old hag” and we’ll all laugh about it. And life will go on. Is anything wrong with that?
Do your views on death conflict with your family’s? Do you have any beliefs that your loved ones condemn?
* I find the funeral ritual to be grotesque but I realize not everyone does. Please realize this is my opinion only and that I do not condemn those who find it useful for the mourning process.