On the Bright Side

My grandmother is in the hospital and I heard in the worst possible way: Over my friend’s phone speaker. I literally overheard that my mother’s mother, who hadn’t answered the phone the last few days, was taken in. The details were hazy and unfortunately, left much to the imagination.

I am a big fan of the mantra ‘expect the best, prepare for the worst’. It’s a great way to tackle any kind of challenge, so I thought it a good idea to stand there and picture the worst that could happen and how I could practically and mentally prepare for it. I fell apart where I stood.

She’s fine, thanks for asking. A cold that wouldn’t pass, meds didn’t seem to work so the doctor found it prudent to have her monitored. The hospital she’s in is brand new and they take care of her well, there.


You see, because of our national medical insurance, our hospitals are of extreme quality and available to literally every citizen of Belgium. Free healthcare is a good thing. I’m not sure why I felt compelled to share that.

I don’t know why this happens, but if you mentally damage a person enough times, they will stop healing. It just stay an open wound and whenever that sore spot is touched, reactions are violent and extremely painful.

With my history of losing people to physical and mental disease, you might imagine why I don’t like to visit hospitals. The very concept of old age and death has the power to send me into a blind panic. Not that it has happened before, but if I estimate my sensitivity to events relating to those, I’m pretty sure that one day, they will snap me in half.

"Only with pain in your heart, can you have a rainbow in your eyes," a colorful poster told me in the hallways. What I used to dismiss as random religious BS now effortlessly reached into me and poked that same old place, that same spot were my armor has left a gaping hole.

The sheer unfairness of it all. The nerve. If I would let it, it would give me the strength to destroy the building. How insanely angry it could make me, that people who are loved, who want to live, are taken from us. People whose time hadn’t come because there is never a good time for it.

In my utterly stupid moment of considering the worst possible outcomes of my grandmother in the hospital, I imagined what life would be without her. I would say I couldn’t imagine life without this woman, who does not only represent all that is good in the world, but the presence of my mother as well. But truthfully, I can picture it all too well.
It would look just like my life today, where I laugh, dance and love, but forever with the gaping, cold empty feeling in the back of my head, the knowing that my grandmother is gone and I will never see her again. That the only change in our relationship will be the inevitable event that I too, will come to pass.

Atheists have it hard dealing with this sort of thing. One might say we made a poor choice but fact of the matter is, “choice” is not a luxury we have. Surely life would be easier if we saw it how we like it and ignore the rest of it, and some of us manage this and we have a word to categorize them: Insane. Or religious. Which is the same thing. Imho.

So while I would love nothing more than to believe I will see my mother again, and ultimately my grandmother and my adopted nephew and my childhood friend and my father’s acquaintance and my first girlfriend’s uncle and all the god damned mothers, fathers, sons and daughters whose life was or will be taken by their own or someone else’s hand, sadly, it is just bullshit and it’s about time we find a better way with dealing with their loss. I for one, could sure use some answers that make sense.

Instead, I get left behind and live on because it’s all I know, while the hole in my emotional defenses widens with every stab. It makes me wonder how others can hold themselves together for such long stretches of time. I deal with it using dark humor and cynical nihilism, but to be honest those only last until I get blindsided and get reduced to a sorry excuse for a dogmatic, atheist human being.

As long as I will love people, it will happen time and time again. It’s become a familiar feeling. Like Superman tearing his shirt open, except there is nothing underneath but ribs, lungs, and a slowing heart. I figure I will die before losing the habit of loving and I’m not so sure anymore if that is a good thing. Worst case scenario, one of them will drag me along with them and I join the endless rows of people who could have been… But aren’t.


One response

  1. Line

    Maarten zeg, pfff tears in my eyes. You are loved as well, remember. Dikke kus. Maar wij atheïsten (onder andere) kunnen wel gebruik maken van symbolisering, van het trachten te uiten van onze emoties. Zoals bij alles wat ons overkomt, is vormen en manieren creëren om onze pijn te tonen en te delen, een manier om ze te verlichten. Eén van míjn favoriete spreekwoorden: ‘gedeelde smart, is halve smart’. :)

    24 May 2017 at 13:10

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