Last week was the 9th anniversary of my grandmother's passing. She died on my mother's birthday.
I decided to visit her grave site for the first time since the funeral 9 years ago. I needed to have some alone time to remember her. The circumstances surrounding her death were rather terrible, but I needed to revisit them. I needed to say a final farewell and set her to rest in my own mind. Aware she could not hear me, I still shared a few personal words with her. I felt I owed myself the therapy.
I loved her very much. Sometimes I get emotional, when I see her strong features in my children's faces. I see her in my father and his sisters and when I look in the mirror and a sadness comes over me, because I miss her.
It took many years following her death before I felt I had the strength to visit the site and have that much needed moment alone with my thoughts and memories. The reason it took so long dates back to my childhood. When I was 6 years old, my parents converted to Evangelical Christianity. From that point on, I was raised on the Christian fundamentals of the Bible. I believed. I was a child.
I was taught that death is not the end, but that we have a spirit that lives on. I was taught that this spirit, by default, is condemned to suffer for eternity, burning in a lake of fire. This notion utterly terrified me as a child, but I was also taught that there is a way to avoid this fate. I was taught that if I believed in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and accepted his "gift" of salvation, my spirit would not be cast into the fiery pits of hell, but rather go on to live in a paradise of eternal bliss with God. This appealed to me much more than the alternative.
Shortly after my parents conversion, my father shared his beliefs with his parents and siblings, hoping they would believe and be saved like him. They were not convinced and did not convert. Considering what I was taught, I believed that my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins were at risk of being thrown into the lake of fire to be tortured forever. This grieved me to no end. I spent the rest of my childhood in fear for them.
About 14 years later, these fears culminated when my cousin nearly died in a tragic car accident. I clung tightly to my faith and prayed fervently for my cousin's recovery and even more fervently for her spiritual salvation. The thought of my innocent cousin suffering for eternity in more excruciating pain than what she was already experiencing in her broken body weighed so heavily on my mind that I became sick whenever I thought of it.
I recall that night that following her first surgery, it looked like she was going to live. My fear for her spiritual salvation subsided gradually, but not completely. During my cousin's lengthy recovery, I began to examine the toll my beliefs in hell were taking on my mind. Then without warning, my grandmother became very ill and died within a few weeks.
Without any evidence of her having converted, I believed that my innocent grandmother, my love, was suffering in eternal torment. This tortured me. This is why I could never return to her grave site to personally pay my respects for so many years. I was sad, hurt, angry, worried and fearful. My faith was causing me such torment. How could the beautiful person that was my grandmother be punished so severely for merely not being convinced by the words of the Bible for which there is no supporting evidence?
Over the next few years, for reasons unrelated to this story, I lost my faith. I became an atheist. I became aware that death is final, but people live on in the memories of loved ones and those they touched in life. Thankfully there is no heaven or hell, only our short life here on Earth that we should make the most of in every possible way. Life is far more valuable with this outlook, because it's the only one we got.
After putting this religious days to rest, I realized that I never properly grieved my grandmother's death and never properly said my good-byes, as I was too concerned with my beliefs that she was being tortured indefinitely. I don't know why it took so many years, even after losing my faith, but I finally made it out to my grandmother's grave site and made my peace.
Now that I'm a father, I notice time go by very quickly and I realize that life is short. Life is too short to hold grudges against those we love and dwell on our own hurt feelings. Life is too short to cut loved ones out of our lives. Life is too short to marginalize our loved ones because of our faith. Life is too short to marginalized our loved ones because of their faith. Life is too short, so live it to its fullest.