Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Losing My Religion

Feh, the title just sounded cool. What a great song, never have figured out what the heck it's about.

Some comments were made on my previous post, about needing or finding god to help me heal.

I think those comments were made knee-jerk, and without much thought, and certainly not with malintent. DIY is not the first or the last to think or say things like that. Here in America we live in a very theistic society, the vast majority of Americans believe in a Judeo-Christian god even if there is not formal religion, and most Americans find atheism bizarre and boogeyman-like. It's a stretch for a lot of small-town America (where I live and work) in particular to recognize the diversity in our country. Sometimes I feel like whipping out my can of atheist whoop-ass when people say knee-jerk hurtful things, but I never do.

In my many conversations with other grieving parents, what stands out to me is that no one has it figured out. Parental grief is parental grief whether you pray or not. I sometimes picture myself if a huge void of nothingness searching for someone who has the answers, only to see the shrinks, the Christians, the nihilists peering back at me for the same answers.

There is no where to go with grief. It is what it is.

One could argue that there may be those with a better grip on existential pain than I have. People with better answers to "What's it all for?" than I do. People who are more skilled at looking at this life fully, calmly, and openly and being able to handle, or even embrace, the uncertainty and meaning of it all.

But not so with grief. It's there, whether or not you want it. There's no prayer, or pill, or pop-psych book that makes it easier.

That's me in the corner
That's me in the spotlight, I'm
Losing my religion
Trying to keep up with you
And I don't know if I can do it
Oh no, I've said too much
I haven't said enough

PS The one comment that I will choose to be judgemental about was the one made that god sends us trouble to remember him. Whatever you may or may not believe, please NEVER say that to someone whose child has died. It is deeply hurtful.

Saturday, March 5, 2011


I've written before that I'm not much for guilt. I didn't have a Catholic or a Jewish mother to serve it up to me. And, as an atheist, there's a whole category of "shoulds" that doesn't exist for me.

But I've always been a sucker for hubris. I remember before Henry got sick thinking that I finally had everything that I wanted in life and that I better be grateful, because if I wasn't the universe may be inspired to take something from me, just to teach me a lesson. Humility and graciousness were intergalactic shields from badness.

Then the badness.

And now, I am quite certainly post-badness. I have a devoted husband, two beautiful, inspiring, amazing, healthy girls, a fulfilling career and a good job to go with it, all the creature comforts I need, and great family and friends.

I have a hard time not equating my grief with being ungrateful. My life, outside of Henry's death, is so wonderful that I should have trouble with sore ribs from the constant gleeful laughing that I can't contain. I feel that if I can't corral my grief, I don't deserve what I have.

What if I lose something else? Will I look by on myself and think, "You stupid schmuck. Why didn't you just appreciate what you had left?"


It wasn't so much a New Year's Resolution, but after the turn of the year, I felt a shift. I have been feeling so very grief-focused for the last two years that I have a sense of loss of control over myself that is uncomfortable. I was beginning to feel that it was time to move on in my grief, to try to feel less angry, less afraid, less picked-upon-by-the-universe, and more stable, more gracious, more able to say to myself and anyone who wants to hear, "My son died, but I'm moving on with my life and using my experience to become a better person."

As the anniversary of Henry's death approached, the grief took over again. It's akin to watching my patients struggle with substance abuse, they may do well for weeks but a slip will remind them that they are not in control. The analogy breaks down in a lot of ways (not as many depending on your theory of substance abuse) but the loss of control is the same. I feel at the whim of my grief, not able to manipulate my life in the way that I want to.

As the anniversary fades, things are better again. But it's left me feeling somewhat naive for my optimism of January.