When tornadoes hit our city;
When our friends or family died,
Though we knew they’d gone to Heaven
Still, the congregation cried.
Lots, after the jump:
So I was watching CNN yesterday, and their coverage of the tornado devastation. They interviewed the pastor of a church, who spoke of a family who had lost, I believe, two members (looking on CNN.com now, I don’t see the video, so I am relying on my poor memory). They had told the pastor (already!) that they wanted the memorial service to be a celebration of their lives, rather than a mourning of their deaths. I am, of course, in complete agreement with this, although the mourning will assert itself no matter what you try.
What got me was that the pastor, in speaking of the fact that the family was taking comfort in their faith, ended with (I am trying to get the words exactly, but I can’t promise it) “the important thing isn’t where they were when the tornado struck, but where they are now. Now, they are in Heaven, where we will see them someday soon. It’s a sad, sad day for all of us.”
Ordinarily, I’d point out the 180-degree turn between those last two sentences, but Shakespeare did that long ago (Twelfth Night, I.v.). But of course we mourn, and of course it is a sad, sad day. The alleged comfort of religion may work for some people in the face of the death of a loved one, but I have yet to see it happen. I have, instead, seen religious faith add the pain of betrayal, the insult of self-doubt, to the anguish of grief. I have seen devout believers blame themselves for not praying hard enough, or for selfishly doubting God’s goodness; I have seen them rage at God, adding a misplaced anger to grief; I have strong men with strong faith cry like babies when the knowledge that their sons (three very different circumstances, but the same grief) were in Heaven did nothing at all to assuage the sorrow over losing them from Earth.
The pain of losing a loved one is one measure of how well your metaphorical heart works. If you love, you will grieve. This goes for atheists who know they will never see their loved one again, and for devout believers who know they will meet in Heaven. I have not seen faith help. It may; I have not seen it. I have seen it hurt. My heart goes out to the families who have lost loved ones in yesterday’s tornadoes. I can’t offer anything to make it hurt any less, unless you think somehow it was your fault. In that case, I can tell you that this wasn’t God’s punishment for anything you or your loved one did.
It’s still going to feel like someone ripped out a piece of your heart.