Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Heaven and Hell

Last night was not a good night. 

I've always had delayed reactions to things, and most of the time I don't know what I am reacting to until I have a good cry and then, tired and empty, I figure it out. 

So yesterday was just a regular day - a pretty good one, actually, because I wrote, crafted, cleaned, and cooked, checking things off my productivity list. It was a Tuesday, and there isn't much excitement on Tuesdays, just the regular pattern of living. I thought that nothing was bothering me - in fact, I had gotten through the day before, the anniversary of my Grandpere's death, without any upset. 

Ahh, yes. That was the problem. 

Delayed reactions. 

I've written here at some length about my grandfather, and while I could probably go on and on about him today, I think you might have gotten the general picture of a man of intensity - French pastries, good restaurants, a passion for organs of all sorts, an incredibly valiant (or perhaps, it being my Grandpere, incredibly stubborn) battle with pancreatic cancer. A lover of good grammar, a teacher, a jokester, a person very much in control and running everything. 

He was a good man, who, like all of us, had wonderful qualities as well as his fair share of flaws. 


Thinking about him yesterday, I tried to write a blog post and just couldn't do it. How could I attempt, yet again, to do justice to this powerful figure in my life? I'm not a person of few words (shocking, I know) but still, I couldn't use my many words to describe how I was feeling or what he meant to me. 

I kept on thinking, though, about little details which have stuck with me over the years - not only of his life, but of his years of struggle before his death. I really think that he put death off so he could make sure that we were all going to be okay; he taught me how to balance a checkbook, we sorted through boxes of pictures, he told me about raising a child and about his experiences with and opinions on God. 

The God stuff - that was hard. 

I remember our priest coming over to perform the Eucharist. My grandfather and I were upstairs, Grandpere in his bed, and as the priest said the words and served us wafers and wine I couldn't help myself - I turned away, just for a moment, so that they wouldn't see me cry. 

You'd think that I would be upset with God because he let my Grandpere get sick - and I was, a little, but now I've realized that death is a necessary part of living, and without my grandfather's illness and passing, I would not have learned a lot of valuable lessons. Without it, Grandpere might not have told me all the stories he wanted to pass down, and I would be the poorer for it. Some of the stories and lessons were difficult, deeply personal. Some of the stories I needed to hear, and some of them he really needed to tell. 

One story keeps going 'round my head, has been since Monday. 

Grandpere told me about a woman in his life - and I don't remember quite who she was, other than a relative from long ago - who was a good, Christian woman. She went to church regularly and was very devout. In itself, that's not a terribly remarkable story, but what Grandpere told me next has stuck with me. He said that she, despite her apparent commitment to the church (and very much shocking my grandfather as a boy), didn't believe in heaven or hell. 

She said that heaven and hell didn't matter, as long as one lived a good life of compassion, charity, love. 

For myself, I never wanted to believe in that kind of afterlife. Reincarnation made a whole lot more sense to me, because I couldn't imagine any God who would be so unforgiving, so spiteful, as to disavow any of his children. Hell seemed like a fairy tale to me - the bogeyman, keeping you in line, threatening retribution for unkind acts, sins, hatred. And still, I'm not big on the idea of hell, because I don't think that God would reject any one of his creations; it makes much more sense to me that all of us have many opportunities to learn and improve, many lifetimes in which to make better choices.

I didn't believe in heaven, then, either. 

Until my Grandpere died. 

How comforting it is to think that our loved ones can watch down on us, that we can talk to them, late at night in the dark when we can't sleep. How lovely to imagine that there is a place, a real place, of no pain - a place where we all can go to be reunited with the people we miss most. How fantastic to think of a God, a loving God, waiting to embrace us. 

A place of Victorian couches and as many French pastries as we can eat. 

A place with organ music. 

A place where I can see him again.

But there's something niggling at the back of my mind, a squirming thing of discomfort and doubt and betrayal. Maybe I still am angry at God for letting Grandpere get sick - and I know I am angry, very angry, that God would make me live my life with mental illness. 

As I was talking with my husband last night, finally crying and working through what was bothering me, I said, 

"I want to believe that my Grandpere is in Heaven. But how can I believe in Heaven and a loving God when God is such a jerk?" 

Note for honesty: I did not say jerk. I will admit that my language got rather blue.

But isn't that the truth? The thing all people of faith struggle with, the thorn in our feet, the torn pages of our prayer book? Why me, God, and, how could you do this? If we imagine the anthropomorphic God, the God of icons and Christ and gendered pronouns, then God really is a huge jerk - and I, for one, would not want to be his friend. It's so difficult to separate the male, gilded, person-like God from what we are supposed to believe: otherworldly power, vision, and love. 

A power which is powerless over the natural order of life. A power which somehow lets us get sick, be sad, and die. 

I've been struggling with my faith for quite some time, for a lot of reasons. God is hard to reach, now, because the treatment for my bipolar disorder takes away a lot of my perceived connection with the divine: no more euphoria, no more passionate relationship with someone I can't see, no more feelings of completion at Mass. It's difficult to describe what it feels like to be mentally ill and a believer - let me just say that faith is very easy when you feel disconnected from reality and tuned in to the glory of creation. 

I've been struggling with my faith because damn it, my Grandpere was too young. The heck with you, you jerk, who took him away. 

This post doesn't have any answers. I haven't figured this out, probably never will. God is not a person who you can touch and blame and kick in the shins. I can't expect a conversation with him - I have many words, and God has none. Sometimes I pray. I usually pray to Grandpere. 

Even knowing Grandpere's flaws - rigidity, control issues, anger, and a singular mistrust of my bipolar disorder diagnosis - I miss the hell out of him. He's the one I talk to at night, and I just have to live with the cognitive dissonance which is praying and being mad at God and wishing He were real and not necessarily believing that He is. 

I don't know how to solve this problem - the God who is careless with the lives of his children. The God who gave me bipolar disorder. The God that everybody talks about as being so nice but who is a big fat jerk. I'm trying to let it all go, but the process of figuring this stuff out is endless. 

Five years and a handful of days ago, we had to say goodbye to Grandpere. Seven years ago I started treatment and had to say goodbye to God. 

Is there a Heaven? I don't know, I really don't. 

I hope there is. 

1 comment:

  1. That was truly lovely. I think, for some of us, there will never be an easy answer for? about? God. For some of us, that struggle, those questions, will actually come to define our faith and our journey.

    Thank you for sharing this part of yours.