The Invisible Atheist – by Garnet

Mourning My Mother

The end of October has become a melancholy time for me. A time when I’m prone to fits of sadness and episodes of morose contemplations of my life. A time when people closest to me are likely to experience the sharper edge of my tongue and my temper. A time in which I realize fully that my mourning for my mother is not yet finished, not quite yet. She died two years ago on October 26.

Hers is the first death of a loved one that I’ve faced as a strong atheist, without any remnant of the comforting notion of a happy afterlife where there will be no more tears and no more pain. This is the first time I’ve had to forcefully face the fact that there will not be any after-death reunion, that there is no walk through a dark passage towards the light of another, better kind of existence. She is gone and the only remnants of her are memories and some few possessions. In the realization of the finality of her loss are the ghosts of other dead loved ones circling around in my mind and whispering, “We’re gone too.” My father, my nephew, my fiancé, my friend, my uncle and on and on. All those I loved and have died are forever gone.

This is the time when I look back wistfully at the beliefs I held in my youth. Those warm, fuzzy, magical ideas that there was some sort of God up there, somewhere who loved me and would take care of me in the end. Those beliefs are long gone now; as dead as the loved ones I mourn. Those beliefs were doomed first by my short-lived conversion to Christianity in which I was taught that my notions about God were all wrong and, in fact, bordered on blasphemous. Those beliefs were finally and irrevocably eradicated during my search for convincing evidence, first, of the Christian God and then later, of anything divine.

So at times like these, when memories of my mother are welling up inside me, when I miss her very, very much, where do I turn? What do I do? How do I deal with the grief of her death?

By remembering that I am the daughter of a strong, compassionate, sometimes foolish, often wise, woman. While I miss the sound of her voice, the touch of her hand, the way she looked when something struck her as funny, her love, her acceptance and the way she cared about everything I did and how I felt, I must also remember this. If she was with me right now, she’d tell me to wipe my eyes, blow my nose and put this grief away. She’d tell me to live my life and enjoy myself in ways that she couldn’t. She’d touch me on the arm and tell me how proud she was of me. Then she’d arch her brow and tell me that it’s time to let go and get going.

Those who are gone still dwell in my memories. The lessons they taught me and the love they gave help me every day and buoy me up when I feel like I’m drowning. The realities of those relationships, both good and bad, are a part of who I am today. While I will always miss my loved ones, I know that the raw harshness of my grief will ameliorate over time. Living hurts sometimes. But when all is said and done, I find that I’m in a better place for living in reality than in the fanciful realms of magical thinking. I find that facing the facts of the deaths of my loved ones, while painful, is better than trying to believe in primitive or fuzzy notions of the afterlife. I find that I’m more able to appreciate my life here and now. In the end, it is better to live understanding the finality of death than in the throes of wishful thinking and cognitive dissonance.

So, when next October rolls around, I’ll likely experience feelings of sadness and perhaps I’ll be a little more difficult than usual to be around. But it will be a bit easier for me, as this year was easier than last. My melancholy moods will be shorter and as the years pass, those moods will eventually dwindle away. As long as I am able, I will hold dear the memories and lessons of those who are gone. Those are treasures. Real treasures that are far more valuable than any notion of heaven.

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