It was a day just like today. The sky was blue and the air was warm, and August was upon us, signaling the end of the summer. I got a call, I cried (we all did), and I asked, “why?”
I haven’t been to church in awhile. Over these past couple years, I began questioning the things that I’ve always believed. It took me awhile to understand why bad things happen when they seem undeserving or unwarranted. I couldn’t believe in a blind faith that “all things happen for a reason” and that “God has plan”. I respect people that do believe that, but as the years of my life pass on, it’s increasingly hard to believe that all that bad stuff has a greater purpose.
I’ve come to believe that bad things happen, and after they do, we must adjust. I think that what we choose to do with our time on earth is our choice alone, and that God doesn’t have a playbook for you to follow. And then sometimes, bad things happen. And it sucks. And it’s sad. And you have to pick up the pieces. And you have to adjust to life in the aftermath. Call me cynical or a sinner- either way it can’t change the way i feel because I’ve built that on experiences I’ve had.
Yes, perhaps once you enter the Pearly Gates, God takes you in his arms and the two of you discuss your plan amongst the clouds. Or maybe Heaven is a place kind of like Earth where you can make your own choices and see what you want to see. I have no idea because I’ve never been there. I’ve never met God.
The truth is that all of that is unknown.
I went to church today; a church of a different “faith” than my own. I was raised Catholic and Catholics have a very structured mass: you proceed in, you listen, you pray, you kneel, you sing, you eat the Eucharist, you sit down, you confess, you shake a hand, you “go in peace to love and serve the Lord”. I find comfort in this structure; it’s familiar, it’s easy.
I went to a Presbyterian Church today. It was the church that my Aunt & cousins attend. My mom and I went to support our family and to honor my cousin, Ryan. After 5 minutes, I could tell the atmosphere of this church was different. It seemed friendlier, more relaxed, happier. My mom and I were like fish out of freakin’ water to say the least. There was no Eucharist- it was actual bread that they broke. We all received communion at the same time. There was no kneeling. There was no procession in. There was a guitar. I shook like 23 hands in offering of peace. There was a book of jokes. There were community announcements. It was different. I had to adjust.
I read a quote one time that I pinned on a Pinterest board about a year ago: “It is a curious thing, the death of a loved one. It is like walking up the stairs to your bedroom in the dark, and thinking there is one more stair than there is. Your foot falls down, through the air, and there is a sickly moment of dark surprise as you try and readjust the way you thought of things.”
And that’s how it is. You have to adjust.
And adjusting to this is not easy. And I don’t think some of us will ever adjust. I just don’t think it’s possible to adjust to a life without a loved one. Whomever you’ve loved will be with you in your past, and in your present, and in your future. You just don’t adjust to ignoring about that empty chair at the table; the bedroom full of stuff upstairs; the times when something hilarious happens and you wanna text them; the Christmas Eves without your beer pong partner; the loss of a friend, nephew, cousin, brother, son.
But then I got thinking after I left church today. I felt wildly confused and slightly embarrassed at how bad I was at church. I didn’t think it was possible to be bad at church! The routine of my other church has been engraved in me so deeply that it’s hard to adjust to doing it any other way.
Then I thought of my cousin- how much he respected his faith, how much he did everything with a full heart, how he found humor in any situation. Ryan found what he liked, and stuck to it. He made no apologies for that either. He liked his faith, and made no apologies for his beliefs. I felt that in church today.
I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way to cope. Just like the Catholic me had to adjust to the different kind of mass at the Presbyterian Church today, I will be/have been adjusting to life after losing my cousin. Going to church today gave me new insight into what I’m going to do in Ryan’s honor. I’m going to find what I like, and stick with it. I won’t make any apologies for it either.
In loving memory of Ryan Timothy McGuinness 3.22.92 – 8.2.15