I can only recall visiting my paternal grandmother three times, and only her specifically on the latter two visits, when I was 16 and 32. The first visit I was three or four, and although I have a few glimpses; even some of those I think were more manufactured than real. For example my memory of walking down the street with some of my teenage aunts and uncles, and a car pulling up and offering us candy, and one of my uncles getting in. I would have heard about that since if it was real.
So it’s with a kind of detached sadness that I learn of her death yesterday, on her 91st birthday. My great uncle died earlier in the week at 96, but life brought me closer to him, and so I cry more. Or honestly at this point, at all. Sometimes it takes time. When I heard of the death of a friend from highschool, it took two weeks to register. And then hearing “Two Suns in the Sunset” while washing the dishes, I bawled.
It seems sacrilegious to bring atheism into a discussion of my Roman Catholic Grandmother, but if psalms could be recited in memory of my other grandmother (an atheist) then I hope I can be forgiven for bringing my own perspective.
One of the biggest headshakes I think I get from theists surrounds facing death. As Mark Twain said
I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it
Whether one believes in an afterlife or not, it’s clear we have limited resources on this planet. Probably we could sustain more, but if we all lived forever, we’d quickly run out of room. The only way for someone else to experience life is for one of us to die.
My step-father often talked about an Inuit custom (at least supposed, I don’t know if it’s true). When a new baby was born, if there wasn’t enough food for a new mouth, the oldest member of the family would take a long walk and never come back. My step-father had a heart attack in the house, and made it outside to start his favorite walk. It was also late January. In fact, it was the same day in 1981 that Steve Podborski won his third straight downhill (skiing) race. Strange things register in your brain when you’re in a state of shock.
We are alive because we were lucky enough to be born. And although I wish to take full advantage of the opportunity, it would be selfish of me to not want someone else to have the opportunity. We miss and mourn those who die, but that is mirrored by rejoice in those who are born.