*For longtime readers who were following the "Leaving The Fold" posts about my deconversion, I know I left ya'll hanging back in October. Since then things have "unfolded" enough for me to complete the series (for lack of a better word), which will conclude with new posts on Thursday and Friday. But for any newcomers or those who need to refresh their memory, I've decided to re-post the first three parts. Here's part two.
Death had brought the family together again. This time, it was one of my mother's maternal aunts, but unlike my other great aunt, she didn't live out of town, so we were close. Trips to her house growing up were always fun--Easter egg hunts, goodie bags(ya'll know ya'll remember those--full of candy and other assorted treats:), and plenty of food (she made the best spaghetti and meatballs)--plus she had satellite TV, which was like a revelation to my basic cable eyes.
A retired school teacher, she was a big believer in education, and would reward her great nieces and nephews who made the honor roll with money. Bribery always a good motivator chile. She was very active as well, driving herself around and going on cruises and trips as long as her body would allow her. But aside from all of that, she was a sweet, beautiful person who in many ways acted as a surrogate grandmother for me and my brother, since my mother's mother had died of cancer before we were born. So her death hit me harder.
Like the funeral that previous winter, it was marked by warm remembrances, emotional tributes, hymns, tears and laughter, and wistful imaginings of what she and other deceased relatives were doing up in heaven (and she came from a family of ten, so if there's an afterlife, they're running thangs up there!) Unlike the first service, I had the task of recording it. Before you flood your keyboard with whatever liquid you're drinking and exclaim "what the f*ck," let me explain. An older cousin of ours (her and my mom are close enough in age to be sisters) had had heart surgery the week of the funeral service and couldn't make it. She had been my great aunt's primary caretaker (her son lived out of town), visiting her at her house to make sure she was okay, taking her to the hospital for her appointments, and then looking after her when her condition worsened and she moved into a nursing home. So my mother and a few other relatives got together and decided since she was recuperating, a video of the service would be the next best thing. And since I work in TV, I was asked to film it.
Filming something as it's happening, even if it's not a funeral, is a strange experience. In many ways, you become detached from what's happening on the other side of the lens, no matter how innocuous or gruesome it may be. Observing everyone is around me--my mother and female cousins crying at various points, my brother, father, great uncle and male cousins trying their best to remain stoic, my great aunt's church friends and pastor smiling as they told fond stories of her wry humor and friendly personality--through the camera view took me out of the proceedings. I didn't feel much of anything because my thoughts were on making sure I got good footage. I don't even remember the sermon. It was as if I was shielded from it all.
That out-of-body feeling lasted as everyone started to file out of the aisles. Through the loud wails as the pall bearers began to move her white casket to the front of the church for final viewing. It stayed as I filmed everyone exiting the double doors. But it exited quicker than a roach at the flick of light switch as soon as I caught a glimpse of her face. The joyful, smiling face I'd seen so many times now devoid of all expression, but still powerful enough to break through the camera's temporary shield and bring me face to face with my grief. And the feeling I'd first acknowledged the past winter--that I may be an atheist.
Although I couldn't say it, let alone think it, the months that followed had been marked by intense introspection and investigation, reading and studying. In some ways, it started before then, as I'd stopped praying months before that, an act that was put to test by my immediate post-grad life: working for menial wages at Wally World that barely covered gas and food bills, temporarily going on food stamps, dealing a hit and run accident that left me without a car and with the options of either walking or riding a bike to and from work when I couldn't secure a ride, dealing with the stress of what was at the time a long distance relationship with my boyfriend, and sending out resume after resume into the dark void that is the current job market in search of a full-time gig. After seven months I made it through the other side, moving back home for a full-time position and living in apartment with my boyfriend. And not once did my knees hit the floor and my palms come together in prayer.
As I lowered the camera and simply stared at her for a moment, I realized something. I knew she wasn't burning in hell with Satan or balling out of control with Jesus in heaven. She was simply gone. She'd spent 84 years on this Earth, some of it good, and some of it bad, but now her time was over. And I could accept that fact. And I didn't have to worry about the fate of her immortal soul. Because I no longer believed...