Today is the first anniversary of my grandfather's death. As much as I feel tempted to write about that at some length, and I'll probably do so in the pen-and-paper journal that I still keep, I find that my thoughts are turning every bit as much to my family's reactions to that terribly difficult time, not least because of the role that religion played, particularly in the last week and a half of Grandpa's life.
I was almost surprised, actually, though I suppose that I probably shouldn't have been. While I was raised Roman Catholic, since my mother's family is/was Catholic, most of my relatives on my dad's side are Anglican, at least in name; most don't go to church very often, except for my aunt and uncle who live in Manitoba and my cousin who was living in England at the time. But when Grandpa was in the hospital, and particularly when it became clear that he was dying, suddenly prayer became extremely important to my family. I lost count of the number of times we said the Lord's Prayer. Psalms 23 and 121 each made a couple of appearances. Particularly in the last few days of his life, we'd gather around his bed and one of my aunts would lead us in prayer at least once a day, and often twice. I've often wondered since then exactly what was going through his head at the time. (He was still demonstrably conscious, and did his best to communicate with us, but he'd lost the power of speech by then, so it was, at best, difficult.) I know that he had his faith, so there's hope that this was at least marginally comforting to him, but there's really no way of knowing for sure.
As for what I thought...even a year later, I'm still trying to sort it out, really. Because of the rather unique nature of my spiritual life, I have to admit that I felt a little uneasy. Just to be clear: it had nothing to do with this sudden explosion of devotion among my relatives; I believe that everyone has the right to believe—or not believe, for that matter—as they choose, and to act upon that as they wish, provided that it doesn't hurt them or anyone else. (All things considered, it would be highly hypocritical of me to believe otherwise.) It's more that every time we gathered around Grandpa's bed to pray, I couldn't help but wonder: was I part of those prayer sessions to help comfort my family, or was I just there because I was expected to be?
I did pray. I spent a lot of time during those long days and nights at the hospital praying that his suffering would be over soon. But my prayers were silent. Sometimes they happened while I was crocheting; then, I'd often revert to some of the prayers I learned when I was still Catholic. ("Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee..." "Hail, Holy Queen, mother of mercy, our life, our sweetness, and our hope..." "Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to your protection, implored your help, or sought your intercession, was left unaided..." I could probably write an entire other post on the possible reasons why I chose these prayers, and will probably do so at some point in the future.) Other times, especially late in the night when I sat holding my grandfather's hand, the room as quiet as a place in a hospital could possibly be, I simply felt what I wanted to say, and for all that I didn't direct those prayers in any specific direction, they were no less prayers than the ones I thought, or whispered, as I crocheted, or the ones I actually said along with my family.
It was never going to be anything but a thoroughly difficult time for all of us. I have no idea how helpful all that praying may have been for Grandpa or for anyone else in my family, but if it brought any comfort whatsoever, then I find that I can't be upset about having participated in it, personal reservations about the prayer sessions quite aside.