Experiencing grief for the first time made me search for faith

My grandparents have always played a big role in my life, both as a child, and also as an adult. I’ve been lucky to grow up with both sets of grandparents living close to me, so I’m very close with them all. I was fortunate enough not to have to experience real grief until my late teens, so when I finally had to deal with it, it hit me hard.

My Nanny Jean had a condition called muscular dystrophy, which is a condition that weakens and wastes away the muscles. It affected not just her, but everyone around her. It meant she was bedridden for the last few years of her life; she needed machines to be able to breathe, and she couldn’t be independent anymore. But the striking thing is how positive my nan was, even when she was very ill. She never complained about her illness and continued to make us laugh and smile despite being so ill. My nanny was the kindest person, she was an incredibly loving grandmother and mother, and looked after her children and grandchildren until the very end.

When someone has such a huge presence in your life, it’s difficult to accept that they’re going to be gone. When I was a child, my grandparents were all always pretty healthy, and able to keep up with family life. It never crossed my mind that one day they wouldn’t be around anymore. It was only when my nanny got ill that I realized that my grandparents would not be around forever. It’s a horrible realization, and one I think everyone has at some point, whether it be in their childhood years, or once they’re older. I think no matter how old you are, it’s hard to deal with. I couldn’t come to terms with the fact that soon my nan wouldn’t be around. I don’t know if it’s better or worse to know that you’re going to lose someone close to you in the near future — it gives you a chance to say goodbye and cherish every last moment, but for me, I feel like I started to grieve about what was going to happen, before it actually happened.

I was 17 when my nan passed away, and the memory of day is still very clear in my head. My dad had been at hospital for the whole day and night before, and I knew what was happening. I went to college in the day, but my mind was elsewhere. As I was walking home, I turned the corner to see my house. My dad’s car was in the drive, meaning he had come home. I knew what had happened, and I didn’t want to go home. I wanted to turn around and walk the other way, because even though I knew what had happened, I knew that the moment I walked through my front door, it would be real. I would actually hear the words come from my dad’s mouth, and I would have to come to terms with the fact that my nan had gone. It’s a horrible feeling.

I could never have predicted how grief made me feel. I knew I would be upset, but I did not predict my anger. I think when we lose someone, it’s so difficult to come to terms with the fact that we will never see them again. I was in denial for a long time. I couldn’t come to terms with the fact I would never see my nan again, and I couldn’t get my head around the fact that she was gone. I wanted some kind of answer. I think this is when I started to realize that maybe I could have answers if I had some kind of faith.

I thought about faith and God a lot after my nan passed away. I have never believed in God — it never seemed like something that could be possible in my eyes. At first, I thought about faith and God with anger. I was angry that, if there was a God, he had let this happen. I always try to be rational with my thinking, and I understand that suffering is necessary in order for us to experience happiness, and a God would have to allow for this. But the thing is, it’s hard to be rational when you’re totally heartbroken. I couldn’t accept that suffering has to happen when it happened to my nan, right in front of me. As a family, we watched my nan get more and more ill, and the experience was so upsetting.

When people know you have lost someone close to you, they try to make you feel better and tell you something that you will find comfort in. A lot of people told me, “She’s in a better place now.” I didn’t really find comfort in this. Where is this better place? When you don’t believe in anything after this world, it’s hard to suddenly start thinking that there’s a place for loved ones when they’re gone. If anything, I was jealous of people who had a religion, because I had never had that. I didn’t have the answers to the questions that I wanted, and religious people seemed confident in what was going to happen when we die. Obviously religious people still grieve, but they have faith that their loved one is somewhere else, somewhere better. I wanted that kind of comfort.

I started to look into different people’s answers, in order to find my own. I had never wanted a God before, but suddenly I craved that kind of presence in my life. I wanted to know where my nan had gone, because I couldn’t accept that the end was really the end.

I spent a long time looking at different views of death, but nothing seemed to fit. I’ve grown up in a schooling system where the nativity story, and Christ rising at Easter are taught to young children as fact. I didn’t go to a religious school, but the Biblical stories were still taught to me as fact, and not belief. This was confusing as a child, and when I was very young, I accepted the Bible as history — because that’s what I thought it was. When I was old enough to understand that the stories of Jesus were actually religious belief, and not solid fact, I abandoned belief in God and Christ. Christianity wasn’t for me. I wanted to think that my nan would be in heaven somewhere watching over me and my family, but that just didn’t fit with how I view the world. As much as I’d like to believe in heaven, I don’t want to blindly follow something, just because I find it comforting. I’m the kind of person who struggles to believe things without proof, and heaven just wasn’t something I could believe in.

Reincarnation is something I’ve always been interested in. After losing my nan, I was even more intrigued but it, and wanted to learn more. The idea that humans can come back to earth and live again as something else seems so magical to me. I wanted it to be true so much, but I just couldn’t believe. I don’t believe humans have a soul that lives on after their body dies, so I just didn’t see how reincarnation could be true. It’s something I really enjoy learning about, and I think it’s such a beautiful idea. In terms of whether I found comfort here though, the answers is… not really. I wanted proof, and I couldn’t find that.

I searched for answers for a long time, and it was a while before I could accept what had happened. I didn’t find comfort in any kind of spirituality, but I did find it with time. My nan will never be gone, because she had such an impact on my life, she’s always with me, and others that loved her. Sometimes I’ll see something or go somewhere that will remind me of her. For me, this is anything from a walk in the country side or seeing people crabbing round a lake. It’s those little reminders that make me smile, and that’s where my nan is now. She’s still with us now, making us laugh and smile like she did when she was here, just in a different way to before. When it comes down to it, we all have different experiences of living in this world, so we’re all going to to come to different conclusions about the big questions. But whatever you believe, I think it’s true for everyone that the ones we love stay with us forever.

(Image via iStock.)

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