Last week I helped to bury the patriarch of my extended family. My Grandfather was a strong, noble, wonderful man who held together all of the extended families with his presence. If he said ‘be here on this date’, all of his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren would assemble, ready to do whatever it was he wanted.
His burial was a Catholic one, and I once again found myself in the Catholic church of my upbringing. The funeral home’s services also were Christian in nature as my Grandfather’s faith in the church was just as strong as he was. Even the Knights of Columbus came to give their respects and held their own special service to commemorate his 50 years of service with them.
The tone of the funeral and it being populated with so many strong christian and Catholic overtones reminded me of one many years earlier, the funeral of my great-grandmother. Weeks before my great-grandmother’s funeral, I had come out to my parents as being pagan. At that time they didn’t say much about it, but instead chose to unleash their anger at me on the drive home from my great-grandmother’s funeral. I remember that drive vividly, as it was filled with my mother’s tears and ranting. Specifically aimed at me, my mother ranted about how my great-grandmother, also a devout Catholic, had shown such unwavering faith in her religion, and how dare I belittle her by not following suit with my own faith.
This recent funeral didn’t come with the same yelling, but it did come with a deep silence that felt like an uncrossable chasm between my family and I. In the end, no one took notice of my half-hearted attempt at mumbling through the remembered prayers of my childhood. And the not going up to communion was still easily explained at the fact that I cannot eat wheat without getting violently sick. That isn’t what I wanted though. I would have much rather had a long conversation with them about what I believe and why, and how the values and morals that I carry in my heart are so much like their own, even though we do pray to different Gods.
I wanted so badly to explain to them that my desire to better myself and help others around me steers my life and is based in my beliefs, even though there is no bible that dictates it. I wanted to tell them that they would be proud of me, because I don’t just speak of my beliefs on Sundays and on events like this, but instead I speak of my Gods on a daily basis, and am constantly in a state of communication with them, allowing them to guide my actions as they see fit. I wanted very much for them to see that the faith that they yelled at me years ago for not having is there and is so much stronger than I ever thought it would be.
I wanted to say how much I pray; how often I give offerings, not only things like what is dictated by the Christian church, but yet I give so much more than that and included volunteering, prayers for the dead, prayers and blessings for those around me and actions to help this earth that we all live on. How I wanted to explain that each of my offerings came directly from my heart and was because I felt it was needed, not dictated by Christian doctrine.
I wanted to say I didn’t need the bible to give me comfort in the loss of my Grandfather. I wanted to explain to them that I knew he was home, and that no bible was needed to explain that to me. And most importantly, I wanted to say I knew that someday we would all see him again, regardless of what we believed, how ‘good’ we were at ‘repenting’, or what religion we claimed to be.
In the end, I didn’t say those things. I’ve given up on the idea that my parents or my sisters would understand me. Instead, my family is more comforted in their beliefs that I am an atheist, because this ‘pagan’ ideal is much to hard for them to understand.
So the silence still remains. And I grieve the loss of my Grandfather alone. I have learned to leave the silence in place, as every time I have tried to cross that uncomfortable quiet I am struck down. I am silenced by them again and again because my beliefs do not come from a book, nor do my beliefs need someone else to validate them for me.
In the end, I am stronger for what I believe, and I know this. But it doesn’t stop me from wishing for that one day to come when I can talk to them and help them understand. But I guess that will just have to wait for the time when we are all on the other side of the veil.