I remember the first time I thought God wasn’t real. It was during a period where I watched someone extremely close to me suffer for an ongoing period of time.
I was attending Bible college at the time in a suburb of Chicago, the same suburb my grandparents lived in. I’ve been very close to my paternal grandparents my entire life. I was their first grandchild and much to my grandmother’s delight I happened to be born with female genitalia. Much to her dismay I wasn’t much into anything girls are “supposed” to be into. Luckily she would have many more granddaughters who appreciated her gifts of frilly dresses much more than I ever did. Despite that struggle between us, we remained close. Her and my “papa” often took the place of my father after he passed. We spent many weekends at their house so my mom could enjoy being an adult and get a break from the hard job of being a single parent.
One day my grandma suffered a heart attack that led to her hospitalization. There were all sorts of complications from her heart stopping for so long and she was in terrible shape. She needed a breathing tube and the tube didn’t allow her to talk. She barely had the strength to move. The whole, very large, family rushed to be with her and Papa at the hospital. We didn’t know what would happen, but we knew her death was a real possibility. The wonders of modern medicine helped her to hang on. But it wasn’t the same.
She was there enough that first day to communicate that she wanted to hear a song, and I used my brand new iPhone to download the song that named the same as her, Jeanne. My middle name, Jeanne, was given to me by my dad to honor his mother. I don’t know if she was named after the song, or if she came to appreciate it later. I don’t even remember who the artist was. It was an old song, but as we played it for her she cried and smiled. Even though she couldn’t speak she was still there.
The hospital stay was not short though, it stretched on and on and on. I was going to school about a mile away, so I would spend my lunch with Papa eating in the hospital cafeteria. Sometimes one of my uncles would be around as well. I was the only grandchild who was there day in and day out becuase I was in the neighborhood several days a week.
As the weeks went on she suffered another heart attack and lost more of herself. I was now going to see her and Papa during lunch and skipping chapel as much as I could to visit as well. By this point most of my small school knew what was going on and had started praying for her, my family, and myself regularly, as had my church, as had everyone who knew what was happening. We were all praying, and everyone was offering support. But she just. got. worse. She suffered slowly, and for a very long time. The weeks turned into months and I started going to visit less becuase it tore my soul to pieces every time. I started begging God to let her die already! No God I could believe in would allow this suffering. “But everything happens for a reason” people said. Bull. Shit.
There was no reason for this. This was senseless ongoing suffering of someone I loved dearly, and her suffering lead to her husband’s deep suffering. Watching him watch her, knowing he was praying for a miracle might have been even worse. I fully questioned God’s existence, but I couldn’t tell anyone at my Church or School that.
I had to listen to their prayers and watch them be unanswered, until finally, she passed away. I had never been so glad for someone to die in my life. And I feel horrible even typing that now. The weight of watching her suffer so much was not something I was ready for at 21 years old and it was the first time I started to really have deep doubts about this faith I had been sold. Where was God in this?
This song always brings me back to this experince.
That every plan
Is a tiny prayer to father time
In the ICU
That reeked of piss and 409
As I said to myself
That I’d already taken too much today
On the LCD
Took you a little farther away from me
Away from me
And year old magazines
In a place where we only say goodbye
That our memories depend
On a faulty camera in our minds
I would rather loose
Than to have never lain beside at all
At all the eyes on the ground
As the TV entertained itself
Just nervous paces bracing for bad news
And everyone lifts their head
But I’m thinking of what Sarah said
Songwriters: Benjamin Gibbard / Nicholas Harmer