I lost my father two months ago.
Well, he's not lost. He's actually in a very classy, muted black urn sitting in my closet at the bottom of a white Macy's shopping bag.
Not exactly the beautific afterworld one might imagine, but for a man who never expressed (at least not to me) any clear location of where he thought his soul would end up, I suppose taking residence next my shoes and a half-full bag of guinea pig bedding is just as fitting as any ending.
Truth is, my father isn't in that urn. He is not dust, collecting dust. I know that as sure as I know my father wasn't in the stilled body that lay on the gurney on that horrible day in May.
So where, pray tell, is he?
That depends on what you believe. Or more precisely, what I believe. Not an easy task when tagged a non-believer. Not that I believe in nothing, a common misnomer for us heathens. Truth is I believe in many things, even things I can't see -- love, gravity, black holes, radio waves, the goodness of humanity -- I just don't buy many (OK, all) of the world's religion's viewpoints and thus, I am a "non-believer."
As I said in my last entry, death is one of the biggest tests of one's committment to non-committment. And on May 25, 2009 my test came in the form of a brutal pop quiz entitled: "Where's Your Dad Now?"
Well, were I a christian, I suppose I would believe he was in heaven. Indeed, many at my father's service (hold on, I'll get to that), spoke of my dad being in heaven, or at least "looking down." I admit, heaven is a great idea. An endless sky cruise for the great people of the world. Assuming you're not Hitler or R. Kelly, admission is pretty much gauranteed by most folks' reckonings. And honestly, not even Hitler's cousins think he's in hell. No one goes to a funeral where the minister/pastor/guy at the podium says "too bad he was a galatic asshole who's now hotfooting it in hell." I mean, no one looks down and says "I wonder if mom is looking up at us now."
Still, my father was not a hypocrite and he read the bible, so he knew there was only one real way to get to Christian heaven which is ACCEPTING JESUS CHRIST AS HIS LORD AND SAVIOR (that sentence just begs for all caps, right?), an act I'm sure my father never did. Now, I can't be sure that he NEVER did this, much in the way that I can't be sure he NEVER stuck a cat in the microwave, but it just feels wrong.
(Honestly, my plan was examine each of the world's religious views of the afterlife, but the closest any of my family got to one was Christianity and since we all know how that turned out, I'll save you some reading time.)
So, back to the question at hand -- where is my dear old dad if heaven is only for Christians? And what kind of service do you have for a non-believer?
First question first: I don't know where my father is or even if he still "is." I know physics dictates we are all energy and energy cannot be destroyed which is only reassuring had my father been a light bulb. Alas.
The worst part is, I know he isn't here anymore. I cannot call him, email him or laugh with him again. But I do hear him, like a song in my head that is both with and without sound. So perhaps that is something. But I hold no illusions that we will reunite on cloud nine for glasses of Coke Zero and Snyder pretzels. I mean, it's possible but at this point it feels more like self-deluding fantasy than a real occurence, but hey, I never thought we'd have a Black president either.
As to the question of what kind of funeral do you throw for an athiest (actually he claimed Agnostic)? Simple, you throw a kick-ass party. So that's what we did. We invited his closest friends, co-workers, family -- everyone who loved him -- and we ate, drank, laughed and shared stories at a restaurant. Yes, there were tears but they were outweighed by the smiles and hugs. Gone were the dour processions, the ghoulish open caskets and too-long renditions of "His Eye is On the Sparrow." We replaced them with a digital slide show, the "Star Wars" theme song on replay and an open bar.
Even if he went nowhere, I like to believe we sent my father off in a way that made sense of the man he was. Fun, a little crazy and very loving.