My grandmother would not approve of the title of my blog post. She has survived almost 94 years (give or take) believing in god and trying to find peace in this world through him. I grew up in a very religious environment that provided only superficial answers to dealing with hardship. With every loss I endured since childhood, it became more and more clear there was nobody coming to the rescue. I was lucky to have enough friends and family who provided me with love and helped me survive the absence of god. The harder times came later in life. I found myself in situations where nobody could help me survive the absence of god besides myself. If you believe that god is within us, maybe losing everything is what it takes to finding god. Maybe I have found what my godmother has been telling me for so many years.
Three years ago around this time, I received a phone call that I never thought would come. I had experienced significant grief before, but could not imagine this particular kind of grief. This was not like when you imagine what life would be like when your parents are no longer around. My first cousin and I were raised so close that I have few memories of any fun before I got to college without her. She was three years older than me. My brother was three years younger than me. We were a trio of trouble. We wore each others’ clothes as hand-me downs and hated every moment of it. We loved each other and we fought each other. Our relationship was strained in later years and we drifted apart.
I fantasized of a future in which we would all somehow reconcile our grievances, most of which were not even ours, and just have fun together again. What a mistake that was. A fateful car accident on the coastal highway of Athens took her away in the middle of the night. I have spent the last three years learning how one can preserve their sanity faced with a mountain of regrets. I have almost convinced myself that the memories we made can stay alive even though we can’t share them with each other anymore. After all, my grandmother continues to tell me stories of her brother whom she lost when she was very young. He is undeniably very much alive in her memory. Surviving the absence of god requires good storytelling, not in the form of denial, but in celebrating the truth about all that has happened, both the good and bad.
If I survive long enough, I too may find myself telling my grandchildren about the great aunt they never met, the one who confronted her fears head on and who was never afraid to live. If I believed in fate, I would tell them that somehow she knew her life would be short and that is why she lived with such a desire to try everything. But that would diminish my admiration in her passion for life. I would have to tell my grandchildren about the time the two of us confronted the tallest waves of Volos beach, her with her tube, me with my floaties. Or the time she went skydiving and regretted it the moment she stepped out of the plane. Or the time I looked for her at Tinley Park for hours after a concert, steaming in anger after driving 80 miles to get her in a pre-cell phone era.
When the grandkids grow up some more, I may even tell them she could drink any man under the table and could dance for days, even without music. Or how I had to get a third piercing on my right ear out of guilt after wasting two hours at a parlor after midnight because she changed her mind on having her lip pierced before summer vacation. What I don’t know is whether I could tell them than nobody survived the absence of god better than her. My grandmother finds comfort in believing that she will be with her brothers, sister and husband again after her death. Yet she holds onto life very dearly. She keeps telling me that she doesn’t know why she is still alive. I think that if there is a god, he is not ready to give her what she wants yet. In the absence of a god here on earth and having to survive so much tragedy, we selfishly need her to hold on just a little longer. Maybe I am not ready to find god all on my own.