David and I each had a crisis of faith, in the week after Clara died.
David was raised a Baptist, raised to believe in God and Jesus and Heaven and Hell. There are a thousand ways to go to Hell and one very narrow path that leads to Heaven’s gates. He was taught to believe that when a loved one dies, it was just “their time” and that “they were called home” and other such platitudes that are intended to give comfort. He went through the major loss of his Uncle Ricky dying when we were in high school and three years ago, lost his Aunt Connie as well. He dealt with these deaths by falling back on his lifelong Baptist training… they are there waiting for him to join them, one day when it’s his time, and they will all be reunited in the Kingdom of Heaven.
I was raised to question the beliefs that the majority of the Southern population hold dear. I was raised agnostic, raised to believe that there might be something out there, but we don’t know what it is. Over time, I have become less agnostic and more atheist. I don’t believe in God or Jesus or Heaven or Hell. I believe that when a loved one dies, they are dead, and the only way they live on is in our hearts and memories, not in some arbitrary “beyond” that can never be confirmed.
I lost my best friend Patsy in 2007, and at the funeral, the preacher said something about walking on streets of gold, living in a golden high-rise in the sky, and that “if she could choose to come back to Earth, she would turn down the offer, because she is in a better place now”. Immediately I thought that he didn’t know what he was talking about, because there is no way that my friend would choose to be anywhere else except with her seven children. These are the things people tell themselves to feel better in the face of loss, but it brings me no comfort.
After Clara died though, David wasn’t so sure anymore of his beliefs, and neither was I.
I desperately wanted to believe in the things that he was taught to believe. I wanted to believe that my baby was in Heaven with her Great Grandma Edith, who would rock her and make sure she was well cared for until David and I are, one day, able to join them. I wanted to believe that Clara’s Great Grandpa Lemon, Great Uncle Ricky and Great Aunt Connie are with our sweet girl. I wanted to, because it’s a beautiful thought, but I really don’t believe that, deep down. I have always felt like it must be such a comfort to “give it up to God” and feel that “God will always provide”. I have felt jealousy, at times, of those who have such blind faith, because I just don’t work that way, and can’t quite make myself believe that.
David, on the other hand, realized that his long-held beliefs weren’t bringing the same comfort he’d come to expect. He still believes in God, but the idea of our daughter being an “angel baby” who is watching over us from a cloud in the sky… not so much. He’s discontented with the notion that “she was too perfect for Earth, so Jesus took her to Heaven” and angry at the idea that this happened “for a reason”. It wasn’t “supposed to be this way”, or any of the other things that well-meaning people say to try and make us feel better. I think his family was always afraid that living with an atheist would steer him from the spiritual path that they believe is right for him, and in the end, it was something completely out of my hands that shook his faith.
It is a natural human need to explain things, and religion is one result of that need. Believers perceive the afterlife as being “as real as flesh”. Wars are fought in the name of God and laws are written to conform with God’s will. But, of all the faithful who carve out the world as they believe God wants it to be, most forget that the most important function of faith is, well, faith in the endurance of our immortal souls. Religion is a deeply personal thing, and there is no one right way to believe.
David and I have done a lot of talking over the past six weeks. We want to understand why this happened to us, but have come to feel that there is no why. Some things just happen, with no rhyme, no reason, no promise or punishment. Neither of us is completely confident in what we believe anymore, and that’s just as okay as feeling absolutely sure of one belief system or another. We know that we have each other to bounce ideas and feelings off of, and that neither of us is going to judge the other.
Nothing makes us feel better, but we’re hopeful that one day we will be able to celebrate the little time we had with our daughter, rather than mourn the time we weren’t able to have with her. We have been enduring a crisis, but through the tears and sadness has emerged a faith in each other, stronger than it has ever been before.