On Sunday past Simon and I went to a rememberance service for babies held at the cemetery where Isobel is buried. We had discussed beforehand if it was likely to be a religious service, I thought because the cemetery itself is a municipal and non-denominational one, and because it was in collaboration with the health trust, that the service would be largely secular.
Unfortunately for us that wasn’t the case. As soon as we opened the order of service and saw the extent of the Christian religious content, we knew we had made a mistake in going, but it would have caused too much of a commotion to walk out. And so we stayed, in a room full to standing room only of bereaved parents, like us, but seemingly not like us.
The content included a reading about how all the days ordained for us are written in god’s book before they come to be. If someone was planning this life out, I could really have done without the day my daughter died and those that followed! There was the usual pseudo comforting rubbish about heaven. Yawn. The hymn that really baffled me though was the one about how we know we can always trust god. Experience of all those present would suggest otherwise. Who could trust someone who had either decided to kill your child, or stood by and watched them die when they had the power to save them?
I wondered how others in the congregation felt about the words they were listening to. Were Simon and I the only ones who didn’t believe a word of the assurances of a loving god who cares what happens to those on earth and the promises of seeing their baby again one day? Are we really the only people who finds the idea of a god who could fail to intervene, letting all these babies die and all these families suffer, completely unforgivable? Is it just us who sees the hypocrisy in praising a god when anything good happens, yet failing to hold them to account for the bad? I wondered if the religious content is something that most bereaved parents want or is there just a lack of imagination to plan a beautiful rememberance service without resorting to biblical readings?
I always used to wonder how my atheism would be affected when someone close to me died. I wondered if I would be so desperate to believe that I would be reunited with them, that I would start to believe in a god and a heaven. If anything, losing Isobel has reinforced my certainty that there is no god, that religion is a man made, politically driven enterprise which preys on humans’ desire to feel that they can have some control over their lives and to allay fears of dying. I’m glad that I don’t have to try and reconcile belief in a loving god with their failure to protect the most vulnerable and most innocent of their people. The idea of Isobel being anywhere without me would cause me extreme distress, not comfort. I am reassured that I don’t think of her as existing anywhere and yet I can still find her in nature, in beauty. I feel all the more keenly my need to make the most of the one life that I have, knowing that is all there is. I find it tragic to think of other bereaved mothers living their days, ticking time away, believing they will be reunited with their baby someday.
I fully recognise that for some, belief in a god can be a comfort, and I do not wish to offend those who do believe. I know that anything that helps a person to cope with losing their child is a positive thing. I just genuinely don’t understand how anyone in this century can believe, or would even want to. It’s something I really can’t get my head around.
I would love to have more, fully respectful, discussions on the topic if anyone feels like commenting…