Monday, August 22, 2011

Dealing with the death of my grandmother

My grandmother never knew I was an atheist, and I'm glad of it. She was not a person I particularly enjoyed or respected. She was a racist, sexist, generally bigoted person. Had I told her I was an atheist, I'm certain she'd never have spoken to me again or spent her time trying to convince me I was wrong and to convert. Despite this, she was my grandmother, so I did what I could to interact with her in peace, biting my tongue when necessary.

Recently she died and I went to her funeral because that's just what you do. The funeral was Catholic. I'm sure atheists right now are rolling their eyes because they know what's coming. Before I realized I was an atheist I just found Catholic masses boring and at times aggravating. Now I see them for what they truly are: disgusting. I, silly atheist, thought that funerals were intended to bring comfort to the bereaved. Well, the only thing I got from that funeral was angry.

We weren't told we were gathered together in honor of my late grandmother, we were told we were gathered in faith and in Christ's name. Repeatedly. I think the priest mentioned my grandmother by name or indirectly maybe three times. He mentioned Christ enough times for me to lose track and that we were gathered in faith a similar number of times. But that's not the worst part. The gospel story they told was the story of Lazarus, you know, the person Jesus raised from the dead? It was implied that if we prayed hard enough we could raise my grandmother from the dead. It was also implied that if we didn't pray hard enough that she would burn in hell for eternity.

At. Her. Funeral.

Wow, suddenly I'm the enemy in the room since I'm not, you know, praying. I'm going to be responsible for my grandmother's eternal damnation by being present! But it wasn't just me that was unacceptable, but any person that didn't claim faith in Christ! And of course, not even only that, but any person who wasn't Catholic was pretty much told, you aren't welcome either. At least I wasn't alone in my rejected and denigrated status. So, as far as I can tell, the Catholic opinion on funerals is that Catholics should be comforted and everyone else can fuck off.

To me the biggest insult to my grandmother was that she was like a side show; the mass was the big deal, she was just kind of an convenient way to get a bunch of grieving people in one place to rub some Catholicism in their faces. I wanted to walk out. I wanted to make a scene, to argue with the priest, to protest the threats of hell. But I didn't. I didn't because the funeral wasn't for me; it was for my father, my uncle, my cousins, the Catholics who were grieving. Though it was repellant to me, this was how they wanted to say goodbye. So I sat there, gritted my teeth, and didn't move but to roll my eyes.

After the funeral my father thanked the priest; I considered shouting at the priest but continued to be quiet. I hoped that was the end of it. But, when we finally got to the grave, the priest came back one more time to mention my grandmother once, Christ and faith several times, and to put my teeth on edge again. The only part that gave me any peace was when the priest shut the fuck up and I put a flower on my grandmother's coffin and said goodbye.

Funerals are supposed to be sad affairs, and that I expected. I didn't expect the seething anger on my part or the utter disdain from the priest for any who weren't Catholic. Still further aggravating was that the Catholics seemed to think that it was a reasonable ceremony and none of the other non Catholics minded it enough to say anything.

I don't know no what I'm supposed to do about this. I don't know that there's anything I can do about it. For so much as mentioning the fact that I was uncomfortable I was given the "you shouldn't talk about that" comment already. The person whom I most want to tell this to is my father and I don't want to create any tension for him right now as he's just lost his mother.

I hate this. I hate feeling helpless. I want to do something, but I've nothing to do.

Lesson 1: Catholics don't give a shit about comforting anyone at a funeral who isn't a Catholic.

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