When Kim and I were preparing to get married we spoke to a priest and a rabbi.
I need to pause there a second. “Preparing to get married”. Can you ever prepare for these big events in your life. We had time to think about the details of our wedding day and of the marriage we wanted to build afterwards. I’m not sure that prepared us. I wandered off on this aside because friends of ours came to the funeral home yesterday who had lost their grandson/nephew Simon at age seven after a long and painful illness. Simon’s mother has also posted in the comments to this blog. I’m sure that knowing he was coming to the end didn’t prepare them. I’m certain that they didn’t feel any more ready to say goodbye than we do after losing Elena in the matter of minutes.
The priest and rabbi asked different questions that were both directed at some of the same issues. I told the priest that I would not sign a paper promising to raise the children Catholic. He said that they didn’t do that anymore. That for him it was more important that the children were raised in a loving home with a strong religious presence than that this be a devisive issue. They did ask Kim, as the Catholic parent, to promise that she would do what she could to raise her children Catholic.
I liked the priest. He had a great sense of humor and an irreverence that was reverent. Just before our wedding rehearsel I said to him that Kim had told me that at many young Catholic boys want to grow up to be priests. He laughed and said, “and girls.” I know it’s dangerous to spend time thinking about what could have been, but Elena would have been a great priest (or rabbi, or minister, or . . .) She has an incredible way of wrapping people up in her energy and making them feel so good.
The priest had us fill out a Meyers-Briggs personality profile to investigate our compatibility. Kim and I each filled out two. One for ourselves and one for the other. For us, compatibility was an interesting thing to investigate, but it was more important for us to see how well we knew each other. We were very good at guessing how the other would answer each question.
The rabbi asked us a set of questions. One asked how we might bring her up religiously. The options were Catholic, Jewish, Both, or Neither. I was willing for the kids to be Jewish, Both, or Neither and Kim was ok with the kids being Catholic, Jewish, or Both. We decided to try “Both” despite being warned by a different rabbi that our children would end up in a cult somewhere.
But the rabbi pressed. “What happens when you die?” he asked. I thought long and hard over the week between his asking and when we returned to his office.
“I don’t know,” I answered. “I think it is unknowable.”
He smiled and said that actually that was our party line. He asked Kim the same question. She spoke of heaven. He then asked her, “what happens to Daniel when he dies.” He explained that his concern was that, as he understood the issue, Christians believe that you must accept Jesus to go to heaven. He wanted to know how Kim would answer the children asking “what happens to daddy when he dies”.
She said that she believed that if you are a good person you will go to heaven. That what, to her, was important was a strong spiritual and moral core.
Today we bury our baby. I wonder if I would be more comforted by a strong faith in a religion that has very definite answers to what happens when you die. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not changing and neither is Kim. This has been a very difficult time for her. She and I both keep asking “what could we have done to save Elena? What did we miss?”
Kim also asks, “why”.
To me, there is no “why”. Horrible things happen and no one notices. We are numb to wars and so called natural disasters and don’t really understand all of the losses in these other places.