Saturday, March 5, 2011


I've written before that I'm not much for guilt. I didn't have a Catholic or a Jewish mother to serve it up to me. And, as an atheist, there's a whole category of "shoulds" that doesn't exist for me.

But I've always been a sucker for hubris. I remember before Henry got sick thinking that I finally had everything that I wanted in life and that I better be grateful, because if I wasn't the universe may be inspired to take something from me, just to teach me a lesson. Humility and graciousness were intergalactic shields from badness.

Then the badness.

And now, I am quite certainly post-badness. I have a devoted husband, two beautiful, inspiring, amazing, healthy girls, a fulfilling career and a good job to go with it, all the creature comforts I need, and great family and friends.

I have a hard time not equating my grief with being ungrateful. My life, outside of Henry's death, is so wonderful that I should have trouble with sore ribs from the constant gleeful laughing that I can't contain. I feel that if I can't corral my grief, I don't deserve what I have.

What if I lose something else? Will I look by on myself and think, "You stupid schmuck. Why didn't you just appreciate what you had left?"


DIY Health said...

Well now, perhaps now you'll need God.

Anonymous said...

I'm speechless at the cruelty of DIY Health's comment.

DIY Health said...

sorry.. i should have said God sends us troubles so that we can remember him. I don't know what it is on an atheist view..

SOCKS said...

DIY is certainly insensitive and narrow minded. How can one be a physician and not be open to all, without judgement?

Dr Smak, "naivety" and "guilt"? Two "wammies" in one day? These two personal observations are not unique to people who have experienced your loss or have your blessings.

All people have emotional "highs" and "lows", often unexplainable and apparently without cause. And when I am "low", I kick myself around for being ungrateful for what I have. If Henry had not died, these waves of emotion would still be present, manifesting themselves in different ways, for different reasons.

I hope your next post is not called "selfishness" - you are human. To those who don't know your past, you might have the "world on a string". But to those that do know you and your loss, you are duly admired for your grace, outward strength and inward struggle, humor, beauty, parenting and professional skills and love of friends and family.

If you are guilty, so am I.

radioactive girl said...

Well...I do believe in God and every word of this post is somethign I could have written. I completely understand it. I am thinking good thoughts for you.

Anonymous said...

I think the cruelty of DIY's comment is a direct reflection of DIY's belief that God sends suffering "so we can remember him."

If that image of God is what DIY chooses to worship, then I suppose self-righteous cruelty is the best anyone can hope for from DIY.

There's no shield from badness. Dr. Smak, I'm sure you've read it already, but Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking might be helpful. Didion weaves her atheism in with her grief for the loss of her husband and her disbelief that he's gone, and then the very serious illness (and eventual death, although that's not discussed in the book) of her adult daughter. I've re-read it a few times in response to a number of deaths, I get more out of it each time.

Another Anon

A Doc 2 Be said...

I am not an atheist and do believe there is "something" out there bigger than me, bigger than Earth... something equating to a God of some sort.

However, I don't prescribe that this "God" sends us trouble to remember /cough *him* since him could = her or inevitably, in my mind, *it* ... And in my mind, *it* has more going on than to worry about whether *it* is being praised or thought about enough.

Do I pray every night? Yes, for inner peace and acceptance that whatever comes my way, I can cope with. Maybe its only yoga for my mind... I don't know.

In Dr. Smak's case, she HAS dealt with the agony of losing a child, and will continue to do so. I admire her courage in coming here openly admitting to the world that as an atheist it is in many ways more difficult because an atheist does not have the "God" to help sort it all out.

It takes tremendous courage in a regiousity world to openly admit that one does not believe. It takes tremendous courage to openly admit that there is a sense of "guilt" seeping in when thinking about how good one has it, whilst not forgetting the one that is gone.

Dr. Smak, you continue to be an admirable sense of dignity and calm and love and devotion during the two years since little Henry moved along his life's path.

The guilt may ebb and flow for the rest of your life. It does for me with my own son who would have been 25 on the 26th. Along with that guilt is love for my living son, acceptance of what has happened, joy in the life that I have, hope in the life I am trying to create for myself to serve others.

It appears you are on that similar road.

You are not alone. Continued hugs from afar.


Anonymous said...

This post is so honest. I also engage in the falacious, almost supersticious thinking that, if I can just be grateful enough, the universe will leave me alone.

I agree with SOCKS -- these irrational thoughts come and go, often corresponding with a broader trend in my overall mood. I suppose they are just the rythmn of my emotions. Certainly, nothing proves the universe's lack of a plan for me, or anyone, better than the fact that bad things happen to good people, and good things happen to bad people, and so it goes. Anyone who reads your blog knows that you have suffered by any measure, and it isn't fair, and it isn't right.

Much love to you as you grapple with these thoughts. Also, kudos to you for your highly tolerant comment moderation policy. You have grace, something no amount of faith can impart.

Lorelei Armstrong said...

Wow. Want the atheist view, DIY? I was raised without religion or spirituality, in case you wish to stop reading this comment now. Here's the atheist view: terrible things happen, nightmarishly unfair, hideously awful things happen, because everything happens. Wonderful, glorious, lovely things happen as well. Because everything happens. Nobody is being punished or rewarded. Nothing needs to make sense. There is no mysterious judgment being doled out and no final appeal. No one is monitoring you or reading your thoughts. You should do unto others because you are a descent human being, not because you fear punishment.

I need no consolation for death. It is horrible. I think of the loved ones I've lost and am losing and it brings the pain it should. I don't tell myself nice stories to relieve my pain. I grieve. I don't feel guilty when I cry, nor when I laugh. And when I am gone, I shall be gone. Life will go on without me and I shall be no more, know no more, and my pain will end. Until then I shall take life as the incredible thing it is, and do such good and give such love as I can.

That is the atheist view.

Everything in my world is real.

socks said...

To Lorelei,

Well said.

Thank you.

theagnosticswife said...

Yes Lorelie very well said. Thank you.