Momma, Will You Ask God to Send You Back to Me?

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“Momma, when you die, will you ask God to send you back to me?”

Wow.

That’s not the typical light-hearted bedtime conversation I have with Ava. She is usually fretting over which stuffed animal belongs where and what book she will read to me that night. And I’m usually arguing with her about how she needs to go to sleep, how she needs to wake up early to eat breakfast before she catches the bus.

Discussions of mortality are not the standard for us.

I kissed her on the forehead, evading the question altogether.

“When you die, what kind of grave do you want?” she went on. ”Would you like the kind that covers you from the rain? I could put a Winnie the Pooh on it with a jar of honey. That would be nice.”

I was completely caught off guard. I’m just not prepared for her to ask these kinds of questions.

She hugged my neck and didn’t want to let go. This is her usual routine, but on most nights, she clings to me because she doesn’t want to go to sleep, afraid to miss out on life and the wonders of her bedroom that pique her interest in the quiet of the night. I could tell she was holding on for a different reason this time.

Honestly, I was holding on, too. I fought hard the giant lump in my throat and responded.

“I would love the kind that covers me from the rain,” I told her. “And Winnie would be a really nice touch. Thank you.”

The fact is, I do look at Ava and think about her growing up and what things will be like years from now when I’m gone. When she turns 38, like I am now, I’ll be almost 70. Who knows if I’ll be around to see her get married or have children of her own. I see her as a grandmother, sweet and kind, long after I’m gone. It makes me sad.

Mortality makes me sad.

Momma, Will You Ask God to Send You Back to Me?
Credit: allan_harris.

Probably what makes this hardest on me is that I don’t believe in God, or Jesus or any other religious deity.

That’s right -- I just came out publicly as an atheist.

Ironically, I was raised a Christian and I have ministers in my family. Part of my family is even Jewish. But religion was not passed down to me. Other than Christmas and Easter, we didn’t discuss, or partake in religious practices as a family. When I was younger, I often went to church with my friends and my parents never seemed to mind. I even spent summers at vacation bible schools. My parents, well, I think they tried to give us values as best they could, but religion just wasn’t in the picture.

I spent the better part of my tween and teen years learning about different religions -- Judaism, Buddhism, Confucianism, the list goes on. Aside from the basic teachings of each, nothing clicked. I think my brain is just too scientific to process the concept of faith. I need facts. I just can’t comprehend how faith works. And aside from being moderately convinced that reincarnation is real, I have no idea what happens to us when we pass on. Sure, I’ve seen ghosts and spirits. Souls who seem trapped in a life on replay. They seem lost and lonely, like they are searching for something, someone to make them real again. But I fail to see how this energy, this scientific phenomenon, fits into the religious picture.

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