Wednesday, September 19, 2012

My grandpa's death and my spiritual journey

September 24, 2012 will mark 10 years since my grandfather passed away from pancreatic cancer. My grandpa and I were very close. I remember sitting with him on the couch in his family room as my mom and grandma met with the lady from hospice in the dining room. He said something to me about how he knew what they were talking about, and that "I so wanted to see you graduate from college," as he started crying.  About a month or so later, he was gone. It was the saddest time of my life, and the thought of not seeing him again, or at least not for 60 years or so, was unbearable.
My grandparents lived in a country setting, and my grandpa loved working outdoors. There was a creek down the road that we often walked to. It was a very peaceful setting, and as a child, I chose to spend almost every weekend there.  Grandpa taught me how to work the old player piano, the kind that uses paper rolls.  I loved that piano, and it is now in my living room.   I played it this summer for the first time in years, and boy did that bring emotions and memories flooding back. We often had marshmallow roasts, and I remember gathering leaves for the fire, and finding long sticks in the yard to put the marshmallows on.  I wonder if my and my sister's heights are still marked on the garage door.
This past year or two, I've started driving out to Fremont occasionally to visit a new friend. I drive on route 20, the same way we used to go to get to my grandparents' house in Luckey/Pemberville.  The first time I made the drive, as I passed by all the familiar sites along the way and then the road we would have turned onto to get to their house, I felt like he was there with me, and I had a long conversation with him.  I don't really think this was a supernatural event; I was just overwhelmed with the memories of driving a route and going to a place that I hadn't been in years.
I have struggled with my faith over the years, even before my grandpa's death. In high school, I was involved in Young Life, an organization which ministers to high school students to teach them the Good News of Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, this good news is that we all deserve to burn in hell for eternity, but that, if we just accept Jesus, we will be with him forever in heaven. All of our unsaved friends and loved ones, however, will be in hell. Alhough I had doubts, I accepted this for a while, and I hoped that my grandpa would come around.  He didn't, as far as I know. 
I started questioning my beliefs even more after his death. I considered turning to atheism.  I felt that if there really is no physical evidence of God in the world, and if you haven't had a spiritual experience to convince you otherwise, why believe in something just because you were taught that it is true? I wanted some evidence!

I think the only things that have kept me from being atheist are the spiritual experiences of someone I know, who saw the spirit of a departed loved one in one instance, and departed family members waiting for another person who was at death's door in another instance. I also have had my own indirect experience, in which a stranger told me my grandpa was as close to me as a 4 dollar bill, and I later found out that my husband had made a 4 dollar bill in elementary school, which I found in our basement. These experiences are my evidence that I can turn to when I have doubts.
Even with this evidence, I had doubts.  I was a jumble of confusion.  Besides my fear that there was no evidence of a God, my belief in hell was quite troubling to me and also threatened to annihilate my faith. I wanted to know if one could be Christian and not believe that everyone else was going to hell when they died. I could not accept a God that would put my loving grandfather in hell for eternity. I asked my pastor at the time about this, and he suggested the book, If Grace is True. I read that book and also The Inescapable Love of God, as well as looked on the Internet. I found that indeed, there are Christians who are universalists, and their reasoning is actually biblically based! I was so happy to discover this.
As I no longer believed I needed to be Christian to escape hellfire, I felt free to experiment with other churches. I attended a Unitarian Universalist church for about 6 months, and I really liked the teachings, but it just didn't feel very spiritual to me (not all UU's are the same though; my aunt-in-law is a UU minister, and her church has a very different feel), and I craved that. I attended a couple New Thought churches, one at which my son was christened. I learned a lot and feel that these experiences were beneficial. While I don't subscribe to all their teachings, I have incorporated some into my worldview. However, somehow I've found myself back where I started, the United Methodist Church.  I've found (or been led to?) two churches that really resonate with my spirit.  On one hand, I'd love to attend both, but on the other hand, I feel kind of like I'm dating two people, except not people...churches.  I am feeling the need to "settle down" and choose one, such that I can devote my full self to one church and also so my son can have a church family.  I really will miss the church I leave behind, as both of them are fabulous.

I've had a lot of struggles in figuring out my faith, but I feel like I may be close to being on the right path...for me.  While I am still a jumble of confusion, I am working out the tangles.  I've found a God, and a Christianity, I can love.
So, my beliefs have evolved quite a bit since my grandpa's death. Would I have had the same spiritual journey if I hadn't experienced his death? What would I be like today? I don't know. I just wonder, if my grandpa can see me now, is he as proud of me now and the person I've become as he was when he was alive? I really hope so.
To my grandpa: I love you; I miss you; I hope we get to see each other again.

This post is dedicated to the memory of my wonderful grandfather, for whom my son is named, and also in honor of my grandmother, who has survived the past 10 years without him.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing some thoughts on your spiritual journey, Heather. I always wanted to know more of your story! For me it really boils down to a search for the truth. I don't want religion that makes me feel good or that I can "accept" and/or fully understand. I want the truth. And I understand that sometimes the truth may be painful or it may not make sense to me, but the truth is far better than any make believe system that I might try to build just to fit God, life, Heaven, Hell, etc into a box that I can understand. It can be so hard to find solid truths in this world, but I consider that to be MY spiritual journey... to never stop seeking what I really belive to be true. I believe God wants us to know the truth. About Him, about life, about lots of things. That's why He says "seek and ye shall find." Sounds like you are still doing some of your own searching as well. Again, thanks for sharing and I pray your faith struggles eventually lead you to truth. :)