November 22, 2010

Two Funerals and An Atheist: Part 3

This will  be my last post on this memory, and I'll move onto my more regular and less personal topics. The first post detailed the death and funeral of my Grandfather Charlie, while the second detailed the deathbed happenings surrounding Grandpa Allen's death. All that remains to write about are the few curious things that were said around my grandpa's wake/funeral and a choice that I made.

Grandpa Allen was dead, my second grandpa to have died in less than a week. This left my grandmother enough dessert and sandwiches for her to survive a nuclear winter and me just wanting to relax and take my mind off things by watching football. Yet it wasn't possible that day, but at least no one asked me to do any kind of bible readings. However, I was asked if I wanted to say something on behalf of the family during the funeral, I didn't answer, as I was thinking about more fundamental question.

I had been to Grandpa Charlie's funeral and felt out of place, uncomfortable, and unhappy from the onset and that was a funeral performed by a minster that was pretty laid back according to some church regulars. This minister would be less laid back and more long winded, but it wouldn't have mattered if he/she only did a 5 minute talk. What he/she would have expressed is a dogma that I don't accept, through a lack of reason for believing it. Given that it would be articulately spouted bullshit erupting from the lips it wouldn't really have mattered how long the fecal vomiting would have gone on, I didn't want to be a part of it.

Yet, I also didn't want make this funeral about me at all. This wasn't an act of protest that I wanted to be noted for, illogical belief was just something I didn't want to tastily endorse, or having tarnishing my memories as it still does for my memories of Charlie. So while I would have liked to stand up and express how much me meant to me, I wasn't willing to be a part of something I am ardently agianst. The decision was easily to make after looking at my feelings; the funeral is something that I would not go to, all that remained was to tell my family that...

As couple of days passed, it came to be the day before the wake would take place, and two days before the funeral. I was staying at Grandma's that night so she wouldn't have to be alone. It was about 8 p.m. and grandma left to take a bath and mom came down for a tea before bed, it was time I started explaining how I felt.

'I wouldn't be attending the funeral' I blurted out before explaining how I felt. She took it well, but asked if I was an atheist, butt she knew I was already, it was fairly obvious for a number of reasons. I explained the reasons that I've outlined in the previous two posts about why I wouldn't be attending, and she agreed that it was probably the best decision. Yet, she worried that Grandma might not take it as well as she did.

However, Grandma was even more understanding than anyone else. She said that it was fine, and didn't give me a shocked look or question as a response. It was arranged so that I would be there the morning of the funeral and just before it started I would slip out a side door and wait in the car. 

Yet, before the funeral there was the wake where I would shake those many hands again. Except this side of the family was much smaller and many people from my local community would be there. This was fine, although it gets a bit taxing when you have to say the same thing over and over again, especially when you don't really have too many good things to say about your current situation. I'll spare most of the details, but two incidents from the wake still stand out in my mind.

The first being what someone said to me in response to one of my stock responses. As I've written the LSAT's (the test to get into law school), and been in the process of applying, so as I was unemployed at the time when someone asked me what I was doing that is what I told them. When I went into my usual explanation of what I was currently doing and got a response that differed greatly from the, 'Ah, that's great.' it remained memorable.

An older man in his 70's or 80's came up to me and after a handshake he turned away slightly. The line to the casket wasn't really moving; it was time to make some idol small talk. He asked what relation I was to my Grandpa, and what I was currently doing. I explained to him what I stated in the previous paragraph. That's when he overtly stated that,'Well that's good but the law school test isn't as hard as the medical school test'. It was also better to be a doctor than a lawyer. All this from someone I hadn't met before, and he was telling me this at the funeral of my grandfather.

Perhaps the law school test is easier in some way, but like most people with strong opinions that they like to freely assert, he had no evidence to back up what he was saying. Although the tests results are determined by which percentile among the test takers you finish in, and not about an overall mark anyway, so the difficultly of the test a small factor in the results anyway. Either way this guy was a dick for what he said, and for saying it without any understanding of the process of the tests.

Which brings me to the other interesting memory of the wake. My brother was talking to a woman and they were talking about my grandfather, as one would expect in the setting. Yet, this conversation was a strange one. The part that I remember is when the woman said that Allen could be stubborn enough about something that it sometimes made him right. My brother and the woman laughed and nodded, seemingly to agree on the point.

Yet, I'm sure it would be agreed that stubbornness is no way to settle anything, and has no correlation with being right. Stubbornness instead is a quality that hinders being able to really look at the evidence and make an evaluation. The key is often stated as being open minded, but not so open minded that your brain falls out. Alfred Russel Wallace was so open minded that his indeed did, but there are many who error in the opposite direction, and Allen was one of those people. The quality of listening and careful evaluation was not his strong suit, and unlike at least two other people, I wouldn't celebrate it. People's faults after they die, still remain as faults, even with rose coloured glasses on.

That was all that was interesting at the wake, and as it ended it meant the next morning I would be living up to my choice of not going to the funeral. As it would turn out it went pretty smoothly. I would shake some more hands in the morning and just before it started than I walked into the hallway where they kept the coffee and tea. I exited through the door and sat in the car reading Sartre. The reading went pretty well, and so went the funeral from what I learned afterwords.

There was no regret for missing it, and no second thoughts about what I decided. A knock on the side of the car window told me it was over. My memories were persevered, free of bitterness. I was no longer a complacent supporter of religious pathological mythology. Yet, there remained the actual burial and the post funeral gluttony. They, like my Grandfather, wouldn't pass without incident.

At the burial I didn't stand near the casket and with my immediate family beside the priest, I stood far enough back that I didn't have to hear him and my aunt came to stand beside me, which I appreciated a lot. Yet, this priest was determined to have me hear him say something  so he blessed the food later.

I attended that post funeral meal and talked to a few different people. One person in particular wanted to speak with me, my Grandmother Jessie. Up to this point I had spoken with a few people and no one had mentioned my absence from the funeral, so I was starting to feel more relaxed. I was making the rounds, and talking to people, when I got to my grandma.

I gave her a hug and she asked me how I was doing. "I'm alright", I told her and then she let out a long 'ohhhh'. She then asked me where I went at the start of the funeral, and so I told her that I didn't feel that the funeral was something I wanted to be a part of and it really didn't represent my views at all. With that out of the way, she then had the obvious wonderment at why I attended her husbands funeral the week before.

With that I explained what I've explained in much greater detail in my first post of this series,  and told her that, at her husband's funeral I felt uneasy and out of place the whole time. It was the reason that I was able to make the decision not to attend the funeral of my other grandfather. I also told her that what was said at the funeral wasn't something that I had any belief in and was something I didn't want to complicity support.

Well, she looked a little taken-a-back by my candour. She quickly asked a question that still amuses me even now, "So your going to be a lawyer without Jesus in your heart?"

I can quite honestly say that I don't know exactly what my face looked like the moment I understood what she was going to say, but I'd bet I had a smile. Yes, I was going to be a lawyer without Jesus in my heart, but I chose not to answer the question. Answering that question wouldn't get me anywhere and wasn't something I wanted to get into about in front of a room of about 200 acquaintances, friends, and family members immediately after a funeral.

I instead just told her that I still loved her and that, that hadn't changed at all. She returned my sentiment and told me that she loved me as well, but also added that, "She wasn't giving up on me."

I'm sure that atheist's or agnostics that have gone through a similar situation have heard those words as well. The words that you were a lost soul in need of being saved; the type of soul that is sang about in Amazing Grace.

Well I don't need a song, personal opinions or priests to save me, I'll be humbled by the evidence that is brought before me. Show me the soul and it will save itself.

Thanks for reading,
-the moral skeptic


  1. There was no email so I'm posting this as a comment. Please remove after reading so as not to distract from your page.



    This is a selective invite to a new forum. By 'selective' it means that those whom I have sent this invitation to for one reason or another impressed me with their writing and fields of interest on their website, blog, or from somewhere else and sometimes it was just the feeling I got between the lines that I thought they might be interested in this type of forum.

    It's called, Nowhere Forum and whenever convenient please visit to have a look and read the introduction, "Welcome to Nowhere Forum" in the 'Center' section to get an idea of the intent for it. It has been been online for three months now and has 19 participants thus far. There's no rush to fill it up with names or postings, the premise is somewhat different than other forums and the reasons for that are also noted in the intro.

    Though this invitation can be regarded as a solicitation for registrants, my personal attitude is more that I'm letting some individuals know of a place on the map and they can decide for themselves if it suits their itineraries. :)

    Thank You and Best Wishes


    Nowhere Forum

  2. Interesting series, I enjoyed reading them. I've had similar experiences at funerals, but since I was a friend and not family, my beliefs weren't affronted in the same way yours were. However, it did make me write about funerals, mainly how I would want mine to take place.

    I was actually moved by your last event; the one where you chose to tell your grandma you loved her as a response to her question about not having Jesus in your profession as a lawyer (and we all know what people think of lawyers). It was the right choice, one that I'm not sure I would have done. I know your point of view; I know that you don't need someone else's teachings to figure out your own ethical system. But for someone who defers to organized religion to tell them what's right and what's wrong, this kind of belief is simply not understood, and in a state of perplexed misunderstanding people tend to make wild accusations on character. But you didn't choose to reason with her, you simply expressed love, which was probably the most effective way to answer her question.

    It seems there is a tradition to defer to religion when someone dies. It's easy because the infrastructure is in place. The church has always been the "midwife" from life to death. They are, in a way, obsessed with death. They can't stop thinking about it, everything culminates to the afterlife. In a desperate attempt to ensure the continued survival or their soul, they reassure themselves through ritual and tradition, bible thumping as you call it, and remind everyone that those who dies before us are "waiting for us in heaven."

    I just googled "atheist funerals", and found an interesting link.

    After reading the article, I realized that I have already attended an atheist funeral, and actually a very good. #5 suggests playing the person's favourite music while the friends and family walk in the room, something we came up with ourselves.

  3. Now I’d like to share my experience at the most significant funeral I’ve attended.

    Even the most beautifully deliberated service will offend some people. It's impossible to satisfy every belief present. I'm sure that some religious friends/family at Heather's funeral didn't like some of the decisions that were made at her service, even non-religious people who might believe that a funeral should be very traditional and simple. For example, there was a slideshow of pictures shown along with music. Specifically, a Sigur Ros song from the album Takk, though I can't remember which one it was. In any case, it was an extremely intense experience (Sigur Ros being an epic and very intense kind of band), and I think that coupled with images of Heather as a child and in her prime, it reached a level that was unbearable for some people. For someone like me who knew Heather on a friendly level, who listened to music with her, and who could relate to many of the pictures being shown (some being taken by myself), it was a very satisfying experience because of the intensity of it. But to someone in her extended family that has never even heard of Sigur Ros before, never mind which language they sing in (Icelandic I think), and who thinks that a funeral should affront death with a very delicate, light, and in my opinion escapist way (such as the "in a better place", "laughing in heaven" BS you referred to), then this kind of celebratory, yet visceral and unforgiving display of lost beauty and happiness without that "but in the end it's ok because she's in a better place" thrust, I think, made some people despair instead of find release and closure (perhaps rightfully so?). Near the end of the song, there was this tension in it, like you knew the song was ending but it took so fucking long. The music stretched out as picture after picture of Heather unfolded; smiling, laughing, doing silly things, but you knew that it was going to end soon because the song, epic as it was, was in its concluding hymns and melodies. Yet the song was painfully drawn out to the point of having a cathartic effect on many people in the room. Some left before the song was out, and as people were walking to the door I heard a man cry out in some kind of outrage or annoyance, as if what was happening was a terrible thing (don’t remember his exact words, I was focused on the slideshow quite a bit). Now, I don't portend to know exactly what he was thinking; maybe he was having his own cathartic moment, but at the time I remember getting this impression that he didn't agree with what was going on. Like her death was being too glorified or too intensified somehow, and that an offense of some sort was taking place. And actually in that moment I felt it too, and I felt instantly ashamed for having objectified Heather's death this as I reached catharsis, as if I were getting some kind of pleasure from her loss through an artistic expression of it.

    Anyway, I kinda got away from the issue at hand here, but thanks for sharing. It made me think of all the funerals I attended, and how it's inevitable to be pretentious, or disingenuous in some way due to the gravity of the situation. The fact is that we all deal with death differently, inwardly, privately, and so any communal or public display of our feelings will undoubtedly clash with others. In a way, I think we need this division in order to make sense of death, being subjective beings, and death being at once completely unknown and ever-present in our lives.

  4. My post was too long, so I divided it into to. Both funerals I talk about are actually the same.

  5. Wow, thanks for the extensive comment. Well all funerals are for the living, it's kind of an awkward necessity that way. That said a funeral is meant to satisfy the needs of the people around the person who died, all of which are different for different people.

    As my collected knowledge leads me to think differently than a lot of people about this kind of event, my 'needs' don't really get reflected, and it creates a separation.

    I think that's kind of the only way I can look at your experience, although I don't think the division is necessary, just a product of different views. A cult might not have the problems we talked about.

    Unknown and ever-present...well stated.