When I die - and I will, for each man owes one death - do not send me off to heaven, with talk of your god and his glorious works.
He’s not my god. He will never be my god.
Do not mourn that I didn’t know your god. I knew the legends and stories of your god well. I knew the gospels of your Savior, and I loved him for the myth he was and the inspiration he was made to be. Don’t mourn that I didn’t think him a deity. Mourn that I’m not here with you, where I would want to be right now. Where you would want me to be.
Mourn for the days to come that you will have to live without me, for that is the loss that really matters. I’ll be gone. I won’t know the pain of living without you. But you. You, my dear, will know of the pain of the empty spaces where I used to reside. Mourn for the empty parentheses that you’ll never really fill. Don’t say, “She wouldn’t have wanted me to cry.” Who wants to live a life that isn’t worth crying over? Cry. Mourn. Do what you need to do, and do it knowing that I would have wanted you to. Do it knowing that I always understood that to love hard is to grieve hard. That grief is falling in love, but backwards; that mourning is romance in reverse.
Don’t pray for my soul. My soul was fine. If my soul was the part of me that made me ‘me’, it was FANTASTIC for time I had it. Really. It was dissonant with rage and love, and full with ideas and communities and relationships and creation. Instead, remember the rage it instilled in me to hear “I’ll pray for you” used as a substitute for action. Find someone who needs prayers. Then find out what else they need and do it. This will do more for my soul more than any prayer ever could.
Don’t worry that I didn’t have a church. Instead, remember that I loved to build community. If it makes you feel better, remember that most of what I learned about community building, I learned in church. But then remember that I was never more in my element than when I was working to create safe and supportive spaces. Remember my Tuesday Night group, and my community building work in the beginnings of BWNI. Remember the ice cream socials and the Mother’s Blessings, and the time I tried to start a commune (and failed spectacularly!). I didn’t need your church; I had a church all around me.
Don’t fret over my failure to believe in your god. Instead, remember what I did believe; that social and economic injustices were unconscionable. That being kind was better than being right. That love is a verb. That injury needs validation, and that holding space for the hurt can be the best way to give it. That sometimes words are useless things, but being there is immeasurable. That it’s never a bad idea to ask, “What can I do for you?” if you don’t know how to help. That love wins. Go out and live that. Find someone who is hurting and hold space for them. Find someone who is marginalized and fight for them. You will find your mind is too busy to fret.
Don’t worry that I’m in hell. Or that I’m separated from god. Or whatever religious tragedy you might be inclined to believe about the afterlife that awaits me. I don’t believe in an afterlife, and because of this my life was so much richer. There was no ‘greater kingdom’ to wait for; only a vast open space in which I had the freedom to build the kingdom of my life for today. I lived fully, because today was all I had, and for that I am thankful. If I’m wrong? If there’s an afterlife after all? I’m not worried. As Lewis implied at the end of the Chronicles of Narnia, if there is a god who delights in good, then my deeds will have been done in his name, whether I knew it at the time or not. It’s not a thing I spend any time fretting about, and neither should you.
When I die without your god, don’t reduce me to all the things I wasn’t - a believer, a church go-er, a woman of prayer. Instead, remember what I was;
Remember that I loved to sew. If you’re someone I was close to, chances are you have something I made. Know that I often turned down requests for projects, so if I was sewing it was because I wanted to be. If I made you something it was because you were important to me, and I wanted you to have those hours of my labor. Go home and snuggle the thing you can find that I made, and remember that I loved you.
Remember how hard it was for me to balance rage and love; how love incited rage for me because of the world’s injustices. I couldn’t love you and also sit back and watch you be marginalized. Laugh about the time Curt told me I was the angriest person he knew, and followed that up with clarification that that was a compliment.
Remember that I struggled with body image for the whole of my life, and that while I fought back, I never really won. In my honor, try to believe you are beautiful. In my honor, vow to never body shame anyone, ever.
Remember that I loved to sing along to the radio, but I usually stuck to the harmonies. Laugh about the few times I’d listen to a song and realize I never learned the melody.
Remember that words saved me. Constantly, over and over again, without fail. Books saved me, blogging saved me, grant proposal writing saved me. In my honor, pick up one of the books that I found myself lost in, over and over again. 1984. The Dark Tower series. Hey Nostradamus! Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption. Enjoy it.
When I die without your god, remember me. Don’t diminish my life by speculating on where my soul might be or whether I might have converted at the eleventh hour- I assure you, I will not. Don’t diminish my life by mourning what you wanted me to have of your religion. Mourn me, and the empty parentheses that can no longer be filled.