My sister-in-law Gwen recently suffered the loss of her grandmother – a woman that raised her for about 5 years of her life, and was more of a mom to her than her own mother. It was a hard loss. Her grandma was diagnosed with cancer, and each time they beat it back, it would come back with more strength, or so it seemed. In the end, she gave up the battle and died in peace.
The day Gwen found out her grandma died happened to also be her and my brother’s wedding anniversary. She found out, in fact, on the way to my parents’ house to drop off my niece for the evening. She was, understandably, in tears. My parents consoled her along with my brother. They knew how important this woman was to her – and Gwen had confided many times how scared she was of losing her grandma.
My dad made a statement while he was hugging her that they will be together again one day, so she needs to hold onto that fact and be happy she is at peace. I think he also said something about her grandma always being with her, as well.
Gwen immediately broke away from my dad and said very firmly that “we don’t believe that in my family.” Then she wrapped up the good-byes and left.
My parents were a bit dumbfounded at her reaction. My mom as they were exiting gently told her that she understood – and changed the subject.
Here is the great irony – she is the only one in her family that doesn’t believe. Her sister is a church goer. In fact, she posted something on her Facebook status about trying to hold onto the fact they will be together again for all eternity when they meet in heaven. Once again, Gwen lashed out – “Why do people have to believe in that? When the lights go out, they are out. Be comforted in that.”
I won’t got into my own beliefs. And I openly acknowledge that during her time of grief, Gwen may not be reacting to situations in ways she would normally react. But, this is just the latest incident in a string.
I am continually baffled by Gwen and my brother’s reaction to religion in general. My parents journey back to religion began after my dad almost died. Hell, he did die, but my mom brought him back. The fact my mom reacted to the situation like she did (thus saving his life) was a miracle of and in itself – none of us kids or my dad can believe she acted in such a calm rational manner. The fact she knew what to do in this situation was quite amazing as she never completed so much as a basic first aid course let alone any other medical training. And, when faced with even the smallest emergency, my mom freaks out – like, you must remove her from the room sort of hysteria. All of us believe in some level of intervention that night – call it whatever you will – mom had a bit of help. (Even Garbanzo, the Buddhist adamantly agrees with this statement.)
Afterwards, my dad found Jesus. (He was behind the sofa the whole time – sorry – family joke.) This really helped him get through the next year when he struggled with anxiety and depression brought on by the fact he no longer trusted his body to not fail. Religion got him through it. He and my mom both found support and community and friendship that had been lacking. They were, for the first time, involved in a community. They were volunteering. They were on committees. They were teaching classes. They were truly happy and felt truly blessed.
Could my parents be preachy? Yes. My dad having found bliss through God was very quick to share his story. But, he came across not as someone trying to recruit, but someone sincerely in awe of what he had in his life and would freely tell his story of enlightenment.
They could get a bit much with their kids, but it was like they were sharing their favorite book or movie. They spoke of their community and their beliefs with an almost childlike exuberance. And, it was no surprise given how involved they were in the church and church community that much of what they had in terms of life updates centered around the church.
My youngest brother N wished he could find that enlightenment himself. As a person who has struggled lifelong with anxiety and depression, he looked at my dad and saw hope. You will never hear N blatantly disagree with my parents and their beliefs. If anything, he makes fun (which is really a family trait). And, just to be clear, he makes fun not of their belief, he makes fun of the drama that occurs at church, the things my mom will mis-speak when explaining a teaching. In short, he makes fun of the actions, not the people.
My younger brother B and his wife Gwen – well, they are brooders. They will listen to it – hear it as preachy – and get angrier and angrier as my parents talk. They will never address their discomfort head on. So, my mom specifically will keep talking. And, then it ends in outbursts – not only to them but to my brother N and I on the side. Oh, and I should also mention, that they act as though my parents are targeting them personally which is NOT the case at all. They are equal opportunity in their talks.
And, here is the great irony of things. If they were direct, my parents would back off. When my dad was getting sort of preachy late one night, I looked at him and said “you know Garbanzo is a Buddhist right?” From there on out, the preaching ended. They respected his beliefs – and moved on. That doesn’t mean there is not the occasional dialog. Garbanzo will share interesting books, for example, that he has read about a particular religion that he has found interesting. And, my parents will read it and they will discuss it like adults.
Whenever B and Gwen rant and rave about my parents, I look at them and say quite directly “whatever gets them through their day is fine with me”. I will take the preachy if that means my dad will get out of bed in the morning instead of hiding under the covers from the world. I will take preachy if that means my mom and dad have a social life through church events and church friend gatherings. I will take preachy if it makes them happy.
So, I can’t help but ask my sister-in-law Gwen – in her time of grief – is it really hurting you to have people try to make you feel better anyway they know how. My parents love you, and they do not like seeing you in pain. We all feel that way. And we are all, in our own ways, trying to help you through this and be supportive. People can say some pretty inconsiderate or even wrong things when dealing with the grieving – was this really one of them?