Help please! Coming Out, Hurting Others, End of Life Issues

Please let me know what you would do.  I need your wisdom.  Thank you for reading.

 

I haven't told my Grandma I don't believe in God because I knew it would cause her a lot of pain and worry.  She's in her late 70s and we used to be very close.  We used to talk about our common faith, Catholicism quite a lot.  I had a lot of issues with the religion and she was my mentor as in my early teens.  Later on I saw her more as a sweet old lady that I loved, whose ideas I didn't quite agree with.  We still talked like friends and I shared a lot of theological discussions as I brought back new ideas from college.  The farther and farther I strayed from Catholicism, the less open I was with her about my exact ideas.  I still shared that I was struggling to understand and come to terms with my 'faith.' 

 

Then last year, I stopped talking to her about it entirely.  When one day she mentioned her own struggles with trying to understand why God made "things" the way He did, I couldn't offer my usually platitudes or even commisserate with her, because I didn't know how to do that without betraying us--either her trust in me or my honor.  Completely unprepared for this moral quandry, I could only stutter, "uh-huh," nod, frown, and try to add a few "mmm-hmms."  I felt like the spot light was on me--would I reveal that I had lost my faith and that I was happy?  I offered up some evasive Socratic questions.  It was nearly impossible to be a neutral sounding board with someone directly questioning you, and it was a bit obvious... 

 

Grandma was in a lot of emotional pain, more than I'd ever seen her in without a fair dose of anger involved.  I felt awful because there I sat, relaxed and finally free of all the strife Catholicism and various other Deisms had inflicted upon me--yet Grandma was still in the throws of it.  Her religion was failing her during a crucial time.  She revealed that she had struggled for years with these questions, "as we all do," but "somehow we find a way to trust that God has a plan," she went on.  I wanted so badly to pull her out of it, to let her see the light and feel the clarity I felt.  But I know that her whole identity is wrapped up in subservience to this religion and I thought it might shatter her to shake it from her so late in life.  I don't know that it could be done.

 

It's been a many months since that day and we haven't talked about it.  It galls me to think of her suffering and worrying about anything more than she has to at her age, with all that she has lived through, and all of the physical pain that she is in.  However, as I know, religious questions don't magically resolve themselves for those of us who use our brains.  I hope that Grandma is able to put it out of her mind and take comfort in something else.  I don't know...she has aged rapidly since then (there is nothing we can do about the real world issue that caused her to doubt her faith).

 

I've come to terms with the fact that I must be willing for her to discover that I am an atheist if I am unwilling to lie outright.  I try to be discrete and bow out of conversations when personal beliefs come up.  I don't want to make it obvious.  I'm not alltogether successful at censoring my political opinion when religion pops up in the news and I do love a good joke at the sake of the church...but I've always been that way, to a certain extent.  I honestly don't know how I come off.  It seems one of the effects of not talking about our spiritual life has been that we don't seem to connect as well in other areas.  I feel like there is a wall between us now.     

 

I am afraid that if Grandma knew one of her grandchildren is an unrepentant atheist it would be terribly upsetting for her.  She would surely worry about my 'immortal soul,' and just a bit about the impropriety of it all.  :-)  But, she's a good woman at heart, so her true concern would be for my 'soul.'  She worries so much already, that I wonder if it affects her sleep (4 hours a night).  I don't think it would be right to tell her.  But surely, she must suspect...perhaps I should let it hang over the family, like various other embarrassing "secrets."  On the other hand, if she does suspect, she is certainly worrying herself to death about it already. 

 

I feel keeping my atheism a secret is really coming between us but I don't want to hurt her.  I really miss being close to her.  This week, my mom and I talked.  Grandma may be developing Dementia or Alzheimer's Disease and we all (Grandma included) believe Grandma is nearing the end of her life. 

 

I don't know what to do. 

 

 

Tags: coming out, doubting faith, emotional intimacy, end of life, ethics

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I feel for you - however, ask yourself this, in the particular case of your grandmother: what will it change in her life, in her current situation and health issues, to learn that you are an atheist?

 

Putting the question another way: does her knowing that you are atheist matters more to you than to her, as she lives out her (declining mind and health) ending days - even if you know that there is no heaven or hell?

 

Just a thought ...

 

I wish you the best.

Thank you for your response and well wishes.  Perhaps I should make a chart.  I am very nearly serious.  I am in over my head!

what will it change in her life, in her current situation and health issues, to learn that you are an atheist?

1. There would be an difficult, emotional discussion in which she would try to save me from atheism. 

 

2.  She would probably be very disturbed by the revelation and her failure to move me for the rest of the day.  She may worry obsessively about my fate, which would interrupt her sleep that night.  Emotional strain and fatigue would compound her physical pain. 

 

3.  I don't know how long she would remain emotionally disturbed but she would probably always be "worried" to some extent and remember to pray for me/worry about me. 

 

4.  She and I may be able to come to a better understanding of one another.  We may begin to rebuild the close relationship we had.  She would gain another close relationship with a family member.

--or--

She may not be interested in doing that.  She may be too hurt.  She has been scornful of my Aunt for converting to Buddhism, but they have other issues.  Her isolation would increase and she would mourn the loss of a relationship with another grandchild.

 

does her knowing that you are atheist matters more to you than to her, as she lives out her (declining mind and health) ending days - even if you know that there is no heaven or hell?

I know my opportunity to try to "free" her from here religious burden has passed--and I have steadfastly decided that it would be unfair for me to try to take that from her when she is so dependent upon it.  So,  coming out to her would only serve the purpose of trying to mend our relationship and explain why I've been so distant...To expose the side of me I've been hiding.  Maybe there are other ways of doing that, but it seems the core issue is that one, giant omission.  I absolutely agree that she could live out the rest of her life blissfully unaware of my atheism, but I do think she may miss the way things used to be between us too.  It's a matter of weighing what harm it might cause against the possible benefit.  As Kris reminds me, do I even have the right to "protect" her from the truth?

 

 

 

 

 

I feel for your pain.

 

I was a minister of religion, and when I lost my faith, I had a community of people who had relied on me for support and pastoral care ... it was very difficult to navigate my way through leaving that community, explaining while I was going while maintaining my integrity and also not causing some of them psychological damage by threatening a pillar of their self-belief.

 

Since you ask, I think you need to consider both your grandmother's needs and your own needs in this. You are clearly a person of integrity, and this is a very real issue for you - whether to disclose, or not. Yet you speak about her being frail. There is a real, non-trivial decision to be made here.

 

You will find the best way to proceed by thinking for long enough on the matter (and by "not thinking" - allowing your subconscious to do the work!) but could I suggest something to try in the meantime? Perhaps relax, and visualize yourself telling your grandmother about your changed belief system. Make the visualization as vivid and realistic as possible; imagine sensory details, the sound of your voice, the sound of her voice, etc. Allow the conversation to proceed however it will - you cannot be harmed, and you cannot harm anyone, in this scenario. Then perhaps some of your own burning need to tell her will be dissipated and you may be able to think more clearly about the way forward.

 

I wish you peace.

You will find the best way to proceed by thinking for long enough on the matter (and by "not thinking" - allowing your subconscious to do the work!) but could I suggest something to try in the meantime? Perhaps relax, and visualize yourself telling your grandmother about your changed belief system. Make the visualization as vivid and realistic as possible; imagine sensory details, the sound of your voice, the sound of her voice, etc. Allow the conversation to proceed however it will - you cannot be harmed, and you cannot harm anyone, in this scenario. Then perhaps some of your own burning need to tell her will be dissipated and you may be able to think more clearly about the way forward.

Catie, I think this is sound advice.  I will definitely try this. 

I hope it may help! :) And I'd be interested to hear whether it does or not.

 

Once more ... I wish you peace!

   Kairan:

   If your grandma specifically asks you about your beliefs, it would be disingenuous and hypocritical of you to not tell her the truth, as gently as possible; but I fail to see any compelling reason for you to initiate any confrontation with her, which might risk hurting her more.  At this stage of her life it is highly unlikely that what little bit of reason and reality you could instill in her could compensate her for a lifelong dependence on her comforting fairy tales.  Catholics, especially, are not usually amenable to self-examination; they are in fact discouraged by the church from doing so.  If the church says that the wine and wafers consumed at the eucharist are REALLY the ACTUAL blood and body of Christ, then they ARE!  Good Catholics DON'T question it.  There is a reason Catholics don't knock on your door on Saturday mornings as do J.W.'s and Mormons: they fear contamination of their illogical beliefs by people like me (and you, presumably).  They are more than willing, of course, to go all around the world in search of ignorant, poor, suffering souls upon whom they can foist Catholic dogma with threats of hell and damnation (which is at least better than the stick they have historically wielded - TORTURE AND DEATH!); but they are highly resistant to examining at their own beliefs critically.

   Frankly, I am more concerned that, although you are obviously eloquent and thoughtful, when you carelessly use the word "throws" to mean "throes;" and you don't bother to check a dictionary before misspelling words like "commiserate," "quandary," and "altogether" it gives religious apologists ammunition to disregard the competence of "those of us who use our brains." 

 

I fail to see any compelling reason for you to initiate any confrontation with her

I would discuss it with her, not confront her with it.  I feel it may need to be addressed because I've damaged our relationship by pulling back and shying away from certain discussions, which seems to have bled over into other areas as well.

At this stage of her life it is highly unlikely that what little bit of reason and reality you could instill in her could compensate her for a lifelong dependence on her comforting fairy tales.

Sadly, I agree.  I think the emotional turmoil would negate any benefit, which may take longer than she has left to come to fruition.  Erm, thanks for the run down on your philosophy of Catholicism.  As a former Catholic, I never once met a parishioner who believed the bread and wine underwent a chemical change after the blessing and transubstantiated into flesh and blood...not all American Catholics are so orthodox (especially so long after the Second Vatican Council).  Most of them don't believe the Pope is infallible...you'll also be relieved to know it's very hard to find a "good" Catholic who buys into the entire doctrine and all of the Church's positions on modern issues.  Just exactly how The Church's history of torture and murder relates to my relationship with my grandma...I'm a little fuzzy on.   

Frankly, I am more concerned that, although you are obviously eloquent and thoughtful, when you carelessly use the word "throws" to mean "throes;" and you don't bother to check a dictionary before misspelling words like "commiserate," "quandary," and "altogether" it gives religious apologists ammunition to disregard the competence of "those of us who use our brains."

You, know Dale, spell check was at the top of my mind when I wrote this--yes--as well as giving ammunition to religious apologists.  Did you see that post about atheist trolls on you tube, Dale?  I think your passions are misplaced.  Luckily, when reaching out for personal advice, I know I can also receive spell check services from caring, compassionate community members like you.  Thanks!  

 

 

 

You, know Dale, spell check was at the top of my mind when I wrote this--yes--as well as giving ammunition to religious apologists.  Did you see that post about atheist trolls on you tube, Dale?

 

@ Kairan - LOL!

I feel for you.  I was very close to my grandmother too until I told her I don't believe in a god. She hasn't spoken to me since and it hurts.  Though I don't regret coming out as an atheist, I miss the times when we'd talk on the phone. She's in the Philippines and I'm in Canada so phone call is the only thing we had to connect with each other.  It's been a couple of years since and still no calls.

Anyways, prepare for the worst but hope for the best.  Explain what made you come to this realization.  Whatever you do, don't feel like it's your fault if she gets hurt.

Joshua, that's so awful.  I'm sorry.  Can you try writing to her or another family member who lives near by?  Maybe after all this time she would be open to an olive branch...letters are easier for proud people to accept at first...

Tell her ...

After we are born we spend a lifetime growing, learning and loving, and then we have to die to make way for the new life that we have created to have its turn at the journey.

Out of a bad situation, a lot of good usually comes. 

People she has lost, she will see again in heaven. 

God could never make a perfect world.  If we can accept the one we have, we can see it is a good world and a bad world. 

etc.

 I think she goes to church every Sunday to hear these things.  It has been months since she had her crisis of faith, which wasn't about her immortality but some other family issues.  I don't know if she even needs spiritual support any more...we don't talk about spiritual things anymore. 

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