Monday, March 30, 2009

Are you there God? It's me, Kelly

"I'd like to talk to Graham about God and Heaven," Graham's babysitter said last week. She is a dear family friend and was my late mother-in-law's best friend.

"That is, if you don't mind."

And I don't mind, exactly. But neither did I know exactly how to respond.

"He keeps asking me about his Oma," she continued. "I told him she was in Heaven with God but he's asking me what that means...I think it might be a comfort to him."

A comfort to him! What kind of mother denies her child comfort - any kind of comfort - when he is dealing with the loss of someone so dear to him?

"Well, sure, of course you can, I don't mind," I stuttered. "I...I've been meaning to talk to him about...that stuff..."

And I have been...kinda...sorta...eventually.

I did not grow up in a religious household. I do not consider myself a Christian, per se. I say "Bless you" when people sneeze and I accept with gratitude offers from people who say they will keep me in their prayers. I may even say I will do the same, but what that actually means is that I will keep them in my thoughts and hope for the very best for them.

Twenty years ago I was deeply touched by the reglious devotion of Grace, my former university roomate and good friend who died in 2006. Just a few months ago I was touched again and reminded anew of how religion can inspire people to be good and kind - so very, very good and kind - when her friends and family came out in droves to thank me for writing about her and to offer me their blessings and prayers.

Only once in my adult life have I felt compelled to truly commune with a higher power outside a church in a manner that was heartfelt and spontaneous. It was four years (to the day) prior to my mother-in-law's death two weeks ago when, after a year of trying, and a doctor's opinion that it wasn't possible, I saw a pink line that indicated a positive pregnancy test.

I fell on my knees and thanked God.

I have never considered myself an Atheist, as much as an Agnostic. That is to say, I think I am typical of many young, urban, career-oriented adults who wrap themselves in a comfortable, vague religious cloak woven with various threads including: "There's probably * some* kind of a higher power" and "I believe in Karma" and "Let's be kind."

But none of those platitudes seem adequate right now.

Vague notions of Karma and kindness are no match for the cold, hard realities of death and I feel silly for not realizing that religion and God, and my views on religion and God, are something I should have figured out by now, for Graham's sake and especially for my own.

Rob is very much a Catholic. He attended a private boys' school, was an altar boy and considers the Pope his spiritual leader. (Yes, he was disappointed by recent pronouncements on condom use to fight AIDS in Africa and assisted reproductive technology, but that's another matter).

When Rob and I first started dating I found his religious beliefs exotic, particularly because they were coupled with a strong scientific bent. I remember being intoxicated by the late-night debates we would have about whether someone leading a decidedly... ahem... modern lifestyle could or should try and reconcile that with their Christian beliefs. I think I fell in love with him the day he showed up on my doorstep with a copy of God and The Astronomers and implored me to read it.

I knew that Rob would go directly from the hospital where his mother died to the church where he received his First Communion and he did just that.

And part of me envied him.

Part of me feels deeply envious of people who are secure in their belief of God and Heaven and part of me feels inadequate for not having provided my son with a belief system that can sustain him throughout this difficult time in his life.

But I fear that rushing to impress the notion of God and Heaven and the afterlife on Graham now because it would make things easier for me would mark the height of hypocrisy, given that for the past three years I have virtually ignored his religious education because it made things easier for me.

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39 comments:

Shania said...

You're preaching to the choir here, sweetie.

(Har. See how I did that there?)

My boy plays basketball for Upwards, which is a church based organization. When it was time to pray before the game? He pipes up with "what's pray and who's Jesus?".

Mother of the Year here.

Angella said...

"given that for the past three years I have virtually ignored his religious education because it made things easier for me."

You hit the nail on the head as to why a lot of people don't go looking - they think that life will be harder somehow. I guess that would be true if God were the legalistic, judgmental dude that many churches have made him out to be, but he wants nothing than to give us all life to the fullest.

The fact that you are questioning it, and trying to figure out where to go from here is awesome, Kelly. If you ever want to chat with someone who knows this loving God, but it not a crazed fanatic, you know where to find me.

xo

Michelle said...

This is a tough one. My H and I are both decidedly atheist and dealing with death is, frankly, never easy whether you have faith or not. I think it's nice to know what people believe, and I might be tempted to tell my daughter if she asked where her great grandfather went (last year), that he believes he's gone to heaven... but I'd also feel compelled to explain to her that other people have different ideas. I think the best you can do is be honest with your kids. Rob might be the better person to answer questions about Oma and God and heaven... I'd personally feel uncomfortable with a sitter doing it. But that doesn't mean that you can't be honest with Graham about your beliefs or your uncertainty. In my humble opinion, the more information he has, the better equipped Graham will be to decide what he believes when the time comes (or what he chooses for comfort now).
If any of that rambling makes sense... Sorry, that was longer than I expected!

Chantal said...

I stil find it hard to talk to my boy about death. He went through a phase where he was obsessed with it. My father passed away before he was born and he still cried his eyes out when I told him. He was so truly upset. I wish there was an easy answer.

Amy @ Milk Breath and Margaritas said...

This was so honest!

I hope you can sort some of this out. I've been blessed by never really questioning. I drifted away for a while, as many young people do, but I never didn't believe.

I'll pray for you and for Graham.

InTheFastLane said...

It is often things like death that lead us to question what it is we really believe in. Where ever your questions take you, it might be a good thing for both you and Graham to at least have an understanding, some basis, for the answers that you give him. What a hard time for both/ all of you.

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

I feel exactly as you do. I have actually tried to believe in God, but I just can't.

My kids were a little older when my mother died and we stressed more the "circle of life" viewpoint--this is what life is and how it plays out.

Good luck.

caramama said...

Religion and faith is not an easy thing for most people, myself included. I've found what I believe and where I am comfortable, but it's going to be a different place for each person.

When I read this, I was thinking along the lines of what Michelle said above. Perhaps Rob would be willing to talk to Graham about God and heaven. Personally, unless I knew exactly what the sitter believes and how she will phrase things, I would be uncomfortable with the sitter talking about this with him. But you might trust in this completely, and it might be a good conversation for them.

I also like the idea of saying "Some people believe ___" and letting my kid(s) know what I believe and letting them know that different people have different beliefs.

I'm sorry about the whole situation. I think you do what you need to (and what Graham needs to) get through this difficult time.

Mrs. Chicken said...

I'm like your Rob. When my father lay dying, I chanted the Hail, Mary while holding one of his bare feet. It helped.

Don't beat yourself up. Faith is hard-won, even for the faithful.

Thinking of you.

for a different kind of girl said...

This is a tough area. I go to church, and have for several years. It's a nondenominational church, and when we started going there about eight years ago, it was the first time I had ever really set foot in a church for the purpose of attending a service. Now, even after this amount of time, after being baptized, surrounding myself with friends who are deeply (and, I suppose I could say enviably) spiritual, I still very much struggle with the idea that this is The Only Way. I struggle with the idea of God, and instead sometimes feel more like 'yeah, well, there's something, I think. I mean, it feels like it, but God?'

I don't know if I'll ever 'get it.' I think I want to. I think I want my kids to. I just know I'm not the best one to answer all their questions nor always point them in the best directions for their answers, but all I'm kind of hoping for now is that I'm helping them by leading by some kind of example.

Melissa said...

I've had the same conversation with my dh in the past few weeks. My parents are continuing to pressure me to let my dd go to church with them. I know I'm keeping her from experiencing it but somehow I feel it should be with her parents and in my time.

Hmm, how's that for no help at all?

Lisa said...

I think everyone has a different walk coming to an understanding about what they believe and why they believe that. You've gone through a tremendous amount of hardship over the last couple of weeks and months. Explore your feelings and thoughts right now - there is nothing hypocrytical about it at all. People build relationships with God at all different points in their life. Do what is right for you first and also what feels right for you to do as a mother. I'm sending prayers your way, Kelly!

Mr Lady said...

I MISS that comfort, but I don't envy anyone it, personally. I totally understand what you're saying.

Here's what I told my kids, and what I believe as much as I beleive anything:

When you're alive, you have a spark inside you. Some call it god, some call it soul, some call it spirit, and some just call it electricity and particles and stuff. When you're alive, that spark attracts itself to other sparks, like a magnet. That's how you chose your mom and dad, that's how you'll choose your spouse, that's how you'll find your friends in life.

When you die, that spark leaves you and finds its way to the people you loved, who loved you, where it can be at home. Those people carry a bit of you with them for the rest of their lives, and your spark lives on in their hearts.

Headless Mom said...

I'm with Angella and Amy. And I'm happy to answer questions if you'd like.

That said, all it takes is faith the size of a mustard seed, and God will do the rest. (I hope you don't mind the link to the bible passage, but it is what I spoke of above. Feel free to delete my comment if you feel uncomfortable with it.)

http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?book_id=47&chapter=17&verse=19&end_verse=21&version=31&context=context

Autumn said...

Oh dear, I could have written that post. I am very much agnostic. I know more of what I don't believe than what I do. My husband is christian and it bothers him that I don't believe the way he does. My son goes to a christian daycare where he is taught about the bible but I have been honest with him and tell him that isn't what I believe. But I follow it up with, daddy does believe it and I tell him he is free to believe whatever he wants. When he wanted to pray for his grandma, I prayed with him. When we scattered her ashes I let him do it. He told me later that he was returning grandma to the earth and nature. He also says that she is in heaven, so I understand that he is forming his beliefs before my eyes. I don't correct him either way.
That is how I was raised. Believe what you want to believe, just be a good person.

Mandy said...

You're very brave for bringing up the subject, but the discussion seems very civilized. I love Mr. Lady's description... I may steal it.

I hope that you find a path, whatever it may be, that is best for you, Graham and your family.

My thoughts have been with you these months.

Cheri @ Blog This Mom! said...

I kept trying to not believe in God, but he kept trying to believe in me.

This is where I say that, to me, God comes in many forms and I don't think there is only one way to seek something greater than ourselves in this world.

But there is something greater than ourselves. Some find the path to it through God, some through Jesus, some in the Universe, some through Buddhist practice, etc.

That's what I think about anyway.

Amber said...

I didn't grow up in a religious home, either, and I think it's hard to embrace religion in the same way as an adult. The people I know who are truly religious often have a childhood association, an emotional attachment. It feels right to them because it's something that's always been there.

Adopting these beliefs as an adult is harder. I tried really hard, and I couldn't get over my doubts. Having doubts when you're a member of a church you've always belonged to is much different than trying to convert while you're doubtful. How can you pledge allegiance to something you're unsure of?

But I'm also a mom, and I want my daughter to have something. So I attend a Unitarian church. No belief required, but we talk and learn about religion. My daughter is hearing what people believe and why, and I'm comfortable with it. It works for us.

The Redheaded Lefty said...

I grew up in the American South---for my family, church wasn't only about faith---it was social and a foundation on which to build a life. Today, I consider myself an Agnostic. I am comfortable without the presence of God in my life and find comfort in having faith in other things. I'm annoyed that Christians have co-opted that term to mean something it doesn't.

Over the years, I have decided I don't need organized religion. After the death of my dad in 2003, I didn't struggle at all with "Where is he?" I think he died and I don't know what happens after death.

I completely understand the confusion over having someone talk to Graham about God---I, too, would struggle with the good intentions of family friends. Totally normal.

You'll forge your own path, Kelly. You will. Have FAITH in yourself.

Mighty Morphin' Mama said...

I think that any time is a good time to search and discover what you believe. It is a lifelong process. And be honest with your son, and yourself. It is okay to tell him that you don't know. Have Rob share his beliefs too. This will be a part of Graham's journey as well.
I truly believe in an infinitely loving God, who looks at our hearts and holds us when we are struggling. And I have truly been praying for you over this past year, and will continue to do so as you journey this life.
xo
K

OHmommy said...

i am a super duper catholic. and find comfort there.

however, on that note... what Mr. Lady said is pretty brilliant. there is a children's book i have, somewhere, i will email you the title. it is all about your inner spark.

flutter said...

I have no idea how I would handle this with kids...I honestly don't

Kelly said...

I completely understand. I am trapped in that place right now. I feel like my son should know those things, but I don't exactly know what I feel about them - how can I pass on the knowledge if I don't have it?

I always feel like modern organized religion is about money. I do belong to a church (Catholic at that) and they send me donation envelopes and schedules that tell you how much you should give based on your family income. It's crazy really.

Tracey - Just Another Mommy Blog said...

I didn't read the other comments, but here's my 2 cents.

I have a whole theory that has helped each of my kids, especially at Graham's age, to understand what a soul is. I do not believe that we disappear when we die. I do believe that our energy continues on, somehow, in a form that we, as humans, simply cannot see.

But we can feel it. Like the wind, the soul is invisible and undefinable, but we can sense that it is just as real as the air moving around us.

On my blog, I have a post called "the balloon theory." Really, it has helped me explain to my kids my own views on what the universe is all about.

kgirl said...

It's about what you and your husband are comfortable with. I would have a difficult time with someone else addressing anything religious with my kids because, chances are, we're not aligned.

If you are, than I'm sure Graham could use all the words of comfort he can get. As long as you believe what he's being told. We don't need to lie to or sugar-coat things for our kids.

When my dad died, we were very upfront with my daughter (her sister was 6 weeks from being born). There was no talk of god or heaven, because that's not our thing, but of a gentle lesson of death and what that means. It doesn't have to be scary.

The most important thing is to keep talking about your mother-in-law. She doesn't have to go away just because she's no longer with you.

Mimi said...

My husband and I are the opposite, I am religious, he is not. Prayers for Graham and for your MIL's Memory to be Eternal.

The other day, my mom who is not religious said to me, "I admire that you can believe". It was a powerful statement, and humbling since, I fall get up, fall, get up ad nauseum.

common mom said...

Oh I hear you!!! I think about what I should or shouldn't be doing with Dude and Princess as far as religion every day. I'm a recovering Catholic, as is my Hubby . . . our kids have been Baptised and that's it. No church.

It's tough.

emma said...

Whatever you do or don't teach Graham now, he'll search out his own answers as he gets older, as we all do. There's no wrong or right way to teach about a faith. In anything.

JCK said...

I think it lovely that you are open to someone talking to him about what it means. At least their interpretation. You have an interpretation, too, that is important. You just have to find the words to share it with Graham.

MIT Mommy said...

Sounds to me like you are ready to figure out what isn't just easy, but feels right too.

I was raised Catholic, and am very Catholic now, but I have spent a lot of time making that decision and (in certain ways) disagreeing with some Catholics here on earth. No Church is ever perfect because they are all run by God's children, not God Himself. That doesn't make them bad, just reflections of us.

Good luck (and I am not just saying that).

Expat mum said...

I was raised in a fairly religious household and neither me nor my two sibs are religious now. My kids were baptized (husband wanted it) and I have said I would support them and him if they wanted to go to church, but I would NOT be the one taking them all over the place every week. So- it didn't happen. Interestingly, my older two have both given something up for Lent - I didn't even know they knew about Lent!

Woman in a Window said...

I think it's a great opportunity for Graham to hear that dear woman's beliefs. And then you can tell him that yes, that is what she believes. And you tend to believe in more undefined things. And there are yet others that believe in completely different ideas. A dialogue will be opened and he'll start formulating what fits for him. He'll find his own comfort. It's natural for us to do that. Kids are amazing that way!

A Crafty Mom said...

I loved Mr Lady's comment too - what a beautiful thing to explain to a child. I wouldn't worry too much, this is very common in today's society - even for both parents to be of different beliefs/religious backgrounds - and Graham will figure out his own faith over time. All you can do is answer any questions he has the best you can.

It is a young age to really "get it". My middle son (same age as Graham) doesn't really understand God or a lot of other religious concepts. He knows his auntie's dog went to "dog heaven" and that's about as far as we could get.

Melisa with one S said...

Nah, it'll be for both of you. Many people who claim to be "not religious" feel a deep-seated need to find a more active faith when their kids are starting to be little people with questions. I think when a kid is a toddler they can't grasp a lot of those ideas about faith anyway, so Graham won't suffer for it in the end, even if you start educating him now. :) xoxo

Jaina said...

Kelly there's nothing hypocritical about searching for God, especially in this particular instance. Sometimes it takes getting to that really hard place to be inspired to faith. When you get so far into the darkness and the world seems to be caving in, sometimes that's when we need to reach out and remember that we aren't alone. It's never bad to reach out like that. It's quite the opposite. You would not be a hypocrite to start teaching Graham about God. Maybe it's exactly what you both need. ::hugs::

Karen MEG said...

I'm conflicted a bit here with you Kelly; I was raised Catholic, my parents were very active in the church, kids are baptized... and I did pray to the high heavens both during and when we managed to get pregnant not once but twice. But I haven't been that active in the church in the last few years, my kids don't attend Catholic school, and hubs is borderline agnostic.

But I found through prayer during the weeks of Dad's illness and then after his death, especially during the funeral mass and services after ... quite comforting not just to me, but to the kids as well. We almost felt like he was in Church in with us. It helps answer some unanswerable questions for them; that Heaven is a safe house for their Grandpa, a place where he no longer feels so ill and he can be happy and free to look down on them and watch them grow up.

I hope Graham does find some comfort from some sort of explanation.

Beck said...

I think that even though you'll want to eventually, of course, discuss your views on religion and faith with your child, right now he needs to be surrounded by love and comfort. Whatever words you need to say to him right now are probably the right ones: if you're not comfortable talking to him about Heaven, then of course don't, but I do think that a gentle faith offers children a real and tangible comfort at times like this.

Monique said...

Hi Kelly,
First, I have to thank you for all the wonderful posts I so enjoy reading them!!
As you probably know, like Robbie(sorry some names can't change for me hehehe) I was brought up the same in a very Catholic household and I have really always counted myself lucky. It has instilled in me a deep seated feeling of trust and faith.I know the world is a hectic place but when good or bad things happen, I find that because of it I can find the quiet time within myself talking to God. It does bring comfort in bad times when you feel that loss of control of things happening too fast around you..... or not the way you feel it should be...that is when I take a moment to quiet down within myself and say..."Lord I don't know why these things are happening and I don't know what to do, please help me to accept it and please take care of it, help me do and say what's right. I know you always do what is best for me!"
Sometimes it feels like he doesn't do what we want when we want, but then sometimes we don't know what's good for us either....or the outcome down the road.
I don't beleive that going to church is the be all end all, but the church inside of you whispers to you all the time. It just depends on if your willing to listen.
You are an awesome person and you will do what is best for your son because you Love him and you know what he needs. You can always ask Robbie to share with Graham if you are unsure and be there with them so you can be part of it....just my thoughts for you to ponder on...
Love you all...your western cousin.
Monique

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