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. 



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I don't feel guilty for "lead[ing] her on," since the reason I kept it from her was to avoid hurting her.  Unfortunately, I probably hurt her anyway by pulling away.  The reason I feel it might be necessary to tell her now is to explain why I became so distant in an attempt to the rift I've caused. 


Yes, my behavior has probably caused her confusion and hurt her.  I don't want to cause her more pain.  Maybe I could tell her I had been having a crisis of faith and I pulled away because I didn't want to bring her down with my doubts...?  Maybe I should just apologize for being distant without explaining it at all...

It sounds like a hard situation Kairan.  Either way it's difficult.  If it was me, I would feel that a real human connection with each other is more important than lying to her about what you believe in order not to upset her belief system.  Again, if it were me, I would be honest with her about my own waning faith, while doing my best to support her in her faith.  As two independent but emotionally-connected adults.  Say, this is what you believe, and you're happy believing it, and you've got to follow your own path.  You respect her path too.  I wouldn't mention you were worried about bringing down her faith.  I would say that you were worried about offending her and hurting her feelings. She will probably cuff you round the head. 


Whatever you do it's always going to be a gamble.  I'd go for the human connection, as a strong human bond is like "gold" in this world. 


If she ends up having a crisis of faith - then I think you would have to try and get her to KEEP her faith.  If she is connected with you again, you can be honest with each other and have a robust debate.  Try, tactfully, to bring her round to a point where she feels happy being a Christian again. 


Obviously the bond you used to have - bonding over Catholicism - can never come back.  Maybe you can bond over this new issue and the openness it brings. 

wait... you actually pulled away because she believes in god?????


yeah, it was that cut and dried.

Sometimes, doing nothing is the best option.

This brought me to tears. I'm in the same place, only it's my mom. My daughter, her granddaughter, is in your position. I just want to thank you for writing this, and to all who answered, as well. I needed this, very much.

The process is difficult. Consciously being as unconditionally loving as possible has been my only solace.


I'm sorry you and your daughter have the same situation.  I try to be caring (as much as she'll allow-she's quite aloof) and show my love as much as I can.  It is just hard to know how to relate to someone whose beliefs mean so much to them and meant so much in your relationship, once you've lost that common bond. 



I recently told my aunt about my atheism, who is in her late seventies but very mentally sharp.  She is a lifelong devout Xtian who has never missed a Sunday church service. I told her of my atheism and my fear of her not having anything to me do with me afterward. She actually was very understanding and accepting of my decision but I believe a bit saddened by my confession. Her love is for me is unconditional and that is comforting.


In your case I would not offer any information as to your lack of belief. If she happens to ask a direct question then you could be forthright but it is probably best to remain silent. I would re-establish your relationship with her on non-spiritual grounds and enjoy the time you have left with one another.

i just think this is much ado about nothing.

let her believe what she wants and you believe what you want, or is it soooo important that she knows what you believe? you can love and support someone from a different religion, so i suppose you can love and support a religous person when you're not.

fro what you are saying you are more worried about your beliefs than she is. 

Thank you everyone who has replied.  You've helped me consider repercussions I hadn't thought of and it's really meant a lot to have your input.  I feel like I am making the best decision now, whereas before I was full of doubt.  Thanks again!    


I think what I'm going to do is try to reconnect with Grandma through our other shared interests.  I think there's more hope here than I realized, because this week we've been getting along much better than we had in months.  Maybe she will chalk up the past few months as just one of those slumps relationships go through sometimes.  If she ever does ask about my faith, I will be honest about my lack of belief and be sure to explain why I kept it from her.  I will not get into the reasons why I lost my faith so that I don't plant any dangerous ideas.  I will try to show her how I'm at peace with my disbelief and that I hope she doesn't worry about me.  By her logic, God is loving and forgiving. This God would realize my deconversion was the result of an honest, "good faith" (lol) inquiry into the "mysteries" of The Faith.  I hope that idea would be some comfort to her and keep Grandma from worrying too much.  


Maybe this way, she will never have to deal with any anxiety related to my faith/atheism, she won't have any Kairan-related reason to question her faith, and hopefully we can still mend our relationship.

Find other common grounds. You're thinking too much about this. I'm not sure if you realize this but it's probably because of all this stress that you cannot communicate with her. Find something else to talk about! Don't think so much about "Oh no I'm an atheist, she must know, should I tell her?" ...etc. Just forget about it. Tell her about your day, if you have nothing to tell her then go do something instead of worrying about this subject and tell her about it, take her to bingo night or do whatever she likes to do. Why would you want to discuss the topic of no God, no heaven with your dying grand mother who's believed in god all her life? Let her believe in god, it will make her stronger. Religion may be bullshit in general but you're not going to change the mind of someone who's near death and has lived all her life believing in it, she will just feel sorry for you. Some people need to believe because they aren't strong enough to deal with the pain and confusion that comes with not believing and dealing with that (not sure if you've been through it yet...) but it's not something a person in your grandmother's state should be going through.


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