My personal religious feelings have always been complicated. Raised ostensibly Christian, I never found a home in Christianity, nor any other organized faith. Viewing the complexity of the world around me, I believe there is probably a higher power, but I don’t feel the need to worship. When asked for a label, I use the term, “agnostic deist.”
Throughout the years, I have reexamined my beliefs. I’ve read the Bible. I’ve studied contemporary literature. I also studied other prominent world religions, and engaged in respectful conversation and debate. (Please note — this site IS NOT a place to engage in spiritual or religious debate).
I had planned to raise my son outside of a religious faith. I wanted him to have the opportunity to learn about the various beliefs in the world without pressure to choose as I would choose. I planned to raise him to be a critical thinker, to ask questions, and to respect that not everyone chooses the same beliefs. In my experience, these three things were more important than that he believe exactly as I believe.
When Adrian died, I again reexamined my beliefs. I wondered if I should allow the chaplain to perform a blessing. I wondered if it would be important to me. I realized it wasn’t. I realized that even in the face of the finality of his death, these ceremonies still didn’t resonate with me.
I don’t know what will happen when I die. I don’t know what happened to my son. This isn’t an existential problem for me. I know that Adrian existed, and that’s what feels important to me.
Because of my beliefs, it was important that Adrian have a secular service. Having never attended a service without religion, I didn’t know what one “should” look like. I even considered for a few days the possibility of a Buddhist or Wiccan-officiated event, but realized both that those did not feel right, and that it was almost impossible to find an officiant in my area.
I eventually asked a Christian chaplain with whom I felt comfortable if he would perform a secular ceremony. I will always appreciate his flexibility. He was respectful, and he listened to the things that were important to me. He found poetry to read in place of scripture. He created a service that felt appropriate to me. He also checked in with me following the funeral. He embodied what I feel a chaplain should be.
Spirituality of Friends and Family
About a month after Adrian’s death, my best friend Jessica* told me that religious solicitors had come to her door. While often open to discussion, Adrian’s so-recent death had rocked her. She told them she was mad at God.
Other friends felt differently. Many are devout followers of an organized faith. Some are agnostic or atheist. Everyone dealt with loss in their own way. A very few tried to pull me into their faith. On good days, I recognized the love in these intentions. At other times, I was easily annoyed.
Something that will always stand out to me, though, is when a good friend of strong faith brought me moving help from his church. In the midst of my grief and often overwhelmed by logistics, these three young men cheerfully moved and organized my house, leaving a tangible sense of peace in their wake. Without ever mentioning religion or God, they were simply pleasant company. Before they left, I offered to let them pray.
I have never felt the need to pray, but I understand it. I understand feeling lost and helpless, and needing to do something to make a difference. The day Adrian died, the midwife who sat with me in the hospital asked if she could pray with me. She asked permission. I said, “Okay.” It didn’t hurt me to allow her to pray. I felt sincerity in both her prayer and medical practice.
That evening back at the hospital, the man who brought me a wheelchair asked if he could pray for me. He asked permission. I said, “Okay.” He held my hands and said a short prayer, and then pushed me in the wheelchair to Labor and Delivery. His actions matched the words he was speaking.
My first week back at work, an older gentlemen paused in the middle of my office space and prayed. He didn’t ask permission. He didn’t consider the environment. He didn’t ask if I believed as he believed. This prayer made me angry.
When people ask if they can pray for me, I appreciate the sentiment. In the right environment, it can be comforting. When asked for permission, I feel respected. This gentlemen’s actions conveyed that his beliefs were more important than anything. It wasn’t comforting. It was hurtful.
I don’t know if anyone else prayed. It’s not something most people talked about. I appreciate that those closest to me often found less religious ways to express their love for me. It showed that my beliefs were respected as much as me.
Platitudes & God’s Will
Before I understood grief, I probably uttered some terrible platitudes. I think most people who say these things aren’t aware of how hurtful they’re being. I can generally keep that in mind when I hear things like, “Time heals.”
It’s more difficult when platitudes involve God’s will. It’s quite hurtful to hear that my child was “supposed” to die, or that this is God’s way of testing me. These are not things I believe. The concept of a god who would purposely kill children is utterly foreign to me.
But sometimes these conversations are difficult because they come from a fellow parent who is also suffering grief. It’s a reminder that faith can be as isolating as it can be comforting, and this is one area where I will often be alone. It reminds me also how important it is for all of us to be respectful, because even with faith, we can’t know the truth inside our fellow hearts.
Strangers of Different Faiths
There have been a handful of additional experiences this past year. There are new friends who call my child an “angel”. There was the nurse who told me I needed to develop a relationship with God. I’ve come to brush off most of these things. It’s generally not worth my strength to engage.
On occasion, I will find someone like me — someone who believes sparingly, or disbelieves entirely. There are also those who hold strong beliefs, but don’t expect that faith in others. We find mutual respect in each other. It is freeing to feel understood.
Things I Believe:
Everyone is fighting something. We are all on our own journey.
Perspective is a beautiful thing, but it doesn’t erase. My pain isn’t better or stronger or deeper than yours; only different.
Time doesn’t heal. Medical care and self-care can be healing. Time is only a measure of the length of the process.
There are things in life a positive attitude cannot erase. There are problems in life that can’t be fixed.
There is no cure for grief.
There is no “meant to be.” There is only what exists.
Grief is real, and necessary, and lasts as long as it needs.
There is no shame in grief.
Despite variability in human actions, there is love and beauty and potential for goodness in the human spirit.
We matter, simply because we exist.
My son matters. Adrian James Hernandez will always be part of me.