My sister died yesterday. Unexpectedly. Shockingly. And really.
On my other blog I said what needed saying a few hours after I learned of Carol Ann's death. Now, I want to add on to how this experience has affected me.
Basically, it's made me more appreciative of genuineness. When my brother-in-law phoned with the news, he told it like it was: "Your sister is dead." I took it the same way.
Face to face with the truth, no turning away.
Deep into our conversation, Bob said that he knew Carol Ann wanted to be cremated. He wasn't sure, though, what to do with her ashes.
I told him, "I'm pretty sure that if she were alive, she'd say it doesn't matter to her. And I'm damn sure that now she's dead, it really doesn't matter to her, because almost certainly she doesn't exist any more, and if she does somehow, what happens to the remains of her body is immaterial to her."
Bob agreed. My sister and brother-in-law were/are as churchless as I am. Maybe more so. Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust. Atoms to atoms. That's how they look upon death.
When someone you love dies, grief is inevitable. Natural. Genuine.
Not for an instant (well, maybe one, which passed quickly) did I think, "Carol Ann has passed on." On to what? She's dead. That's what I know. To assume anything else is to deny reality.
That seems disrespectful. To my honest grief. Also to my sister's dying.
I understand why people want to deny the reality of death when a loved one dies. It hurts to know that you won't ever see them again. Imagining that this is possible, and/or that they are in a "better place" is a common way of pushing away the pain.
Inauthentic. But common.
Recently the Oregon (as well as national) news was filled with updates on the fate of three climbers who attempted a wintry climb of Mt. Hood. One was found dead; the other two are missing.
Watching reports on local television when all hope for the climbers had been lost, I heard their relatives say what Christians so often do in situations like this. Lie.
Perhaps "lie" sounds harsh. But when I'd hear someone say, "We know that Katie is with God now," I'd yell at the TV screen, 'No you don't! You believe it!" Big difference.
For ten years my niece, Cathy Ferguson (my sister and brother-in-law's only child), refused to allow Carol Ann and Bob to see their two grandchildren. Or Cathy. This deeply hurt my sister and brother-in-law. Their house is in Walnut Creek, California, just a few miles from Concord, where Cathy and her family live.
As I said in a blog post about this craziness, religion played a big role in Cathy's obstinate and cruel refusal to reconcile with her mother -- who now is dead, and died without having seen her beloved grandchildren for a decade, ever since they were eight and ten.
Cathy and her husband were (and I assume, still are) fundamentalist Christians. They saw my sister as part of the "dark side." Meaning, everyone who doesn't accept Jesus as lord and savior.
This bullshit belief system supported them in a ten year crusade to keep their children from being exposed to the influence of godless grandparents. They professed other reasons too, of course, but this clearly was a major factor in their cruel and unusual grandparent abuse.
The reality of a fairly minor family disagreement became engulfed in an overlay of religious fantasy -- another example of how genuine human emotion ("I'm mad at my mother") can get turned into fake dogmatism ("She's an evil ungodly influence.")
Life is complicated. It's full of pain and suffering. Facing this reality head-on is the best way to deal with it.
Cry. Laugh. Then cry and laugh again. But for non-God's sake, let's make our crying and laughing genuine.
Have it flow naturally from the heart, unblocked by a rigid artificial religious belief system that stifles our authentic humanity.