An Atheist Marking the Untimely Passage of a Family Member

Ok, I give up. I don't know if this is writer's block or some internal need for catharsis, but I haven't been able to make myself sit down and write anything of any significance since learning that my father-in-law had passed away four weeks ago.

Well, calling him my 'father-in-law' is simplifying things quite a bit, but that is what he was. Grandfather to my children, husband to my wife's mother. True, the man that my wife called 'father' died several years ago, an event that changed all our lives quite a bit. But does that fact make the passing of this man less than her father's passing?

This was a good man; a man of the earth, and a man of deep faith. A widower who was just as alone as the woman he met at church one Sunday. After a few years of friendship they decided to spend the rest of the time they had together; and they were happy together. My children enjoyed spending time with G-ma and Grampa Henry; would it be wrong to observe "more than when Grandma lived by herself?" Henry reminded me of my own long departed grandfather in many ways. He had a sharp wit, and a gentle disposition; someone who was sure of who and what he was in life.

Looking back, I wish "the rest of their time" had been more than it was. Four short years after we witnessed their marriage, Henry was gone from us, taken by a disease that none of us had heard of before. My son, now about the same age as his sister was when she had to say goodbye to her first grandpa, looked at me with the same questioning eyes; what does it mean, where did he go?

Questions I don't have any answers for. Other people comfort themselves with stories of a beautiful afterlife that is much like this one; fanciful visions of angels and visiting loved ones who are long gone. Though I never spoke to Henry about his beliefs, as a practicing Catholic, I'm sure his views of the afterlife were similar. I hope that his beliefs were comforting to him; in the end, that is the purpose of religion.

The answer I offered my son was similar to the one I offered my daughter, "he's in a better place". Since both men were in constant pain (when un-medicated) before their deaths, it's a fairly safe bet that the observation would be true. But what does it mean? I don't want to delude my children, nor do I want to crush them with the weight of harsh reality. For me, the meaning of "better place" is somewhere between non-experience (the ending of this consciousness that is 'me') and surfing the cosmic flux, and I don't really know which end it will favor when the time comes. Nor, after reading some of the weightier reflections on the subject, do I find that I really care. Having decided that spending time in fear of being sentenced to hell by a vengeful god was a waste, I instead actually try living my life; so that when it's "Times Up" I don't experience the "I should have's".

Which is perhaps the reason why I've been absent for the last month. Just making sure I'm spending my time wisely.



As an afterthought, the other thing that these two wonderful men had in common is they both trusted MDs at the local hospital to diagnose their maladies. And in both cases, the doctors failed them miserably. The wife's father was killed by overdoses of radiation used to treat a non-existent tumor. Grandpa Henry was killed by the failure of these same doctors to properly diagnose a disease; a disease that 'the wife' correctly identified just using the symptoms and looking it up on the internet, a process that took less than an hour. Not that knowing what it was did any good. Cancer is like that when it is in it's advanced stages.

The MDs could possibly have averted it if they had done their homework when they were first presented with the problem. I only wish that we had realized that he was going to the same doctors earlier than we had. Perhaps we would still have grandpa Henry with us. Probably not. Cancer is like that.

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