To Forgive

5 11 2012

Erica and me, Christmas, 1957

It’s been a rough couple of months. Losing the first cat wasn’t so bad (I wrote a nice article for the newspaper about that). The second cat was a lot harder (see the previous post). But that was nothing.  Nothing.

My brother-in-law called yesterday morning and told me my sister had died. I didn’t even know she was ill. Everyone else did. All her friends, the entire family, her church. Not me. Because she had expressly told them she didn’t want me to be told. They had their chance to visit her in the hospice where she lay dying of cancer. Not me. They begged her to let them tell me. She refused. Why?

Because I am an atheist.

It was her final gesture to me, her final retribution for my lack of belief in her god.

We had been estranged for a long time because I did not share her fundamentalist Christian beliefs, or in fact, any belief in a god at all. I am not an “evangelistic” atheist. I don’t push my beliefs aggressively on others, although if they push theirs on me I’ll readily push back. If a claim, religious or otherwise, seems patently ridiculous to me, I have little patience for it. But although I do not believe in God, I do believe in tolerance. Besides, she was my only sister. Our parents and grandparents were gone, and she was the only close family I had left. She could have believed in alien abductions and fairies in the back garden and it wouldn’t have mattered to me.

Those who knew her and loved her, knew what they had lost when she died. I can never know because she denied me that. Even at the end, when she was dying, she denied me the chance to speak with her one last time. That was the deepest cut of all. But I don’t blame those who knew she was dying and didn’t tell me. It was her wish and they felt compelled to honor it. I forgive them, and moreover, I feel deep sympathy for them because of the terrible position they were in. I am sorry they had to deal with that on top of dealing with Erica’s death.

I cannot know what possessed Erica to do this to me. She said it was because I had no faith. Because I am an atheist. She held her love for me hostage, demanding a payment I could not give, because belief is not a choice. It comes from the heart. It is a conviction that you cannot argue yourself out of even if you try. It is what makes sense to you, even if it is because you must throw up your hands and admit you don’t understand. Credo quia absurdum. I respect that.

You see, I had no problem with Erica’s faith. We cannot know what compels a person to believe in one thing and not another. We argue, debate, but we rarely change each other’s convictions. Still, if the debating is done in the proper spirit, it has its use, as a means to help us understand what it is that each believes. Because we must all learn to live together, in spite of our differences. We can do this through compassion, through understanding, through tolerance and forgiveness. This is what I believe. It is not a Christian thing; it is not a Buddhist thing; it is not an atheist thing. It is a human thing.

I always hoped that some day Erica would relent, and would welcome me into her heart and let me know her. Now that she is gone, so is that chance, that hope. That is what I have lost. She was my only sister. We should have been close. We should have forgiven each other our differences and shared the love of family. Her nephews, my sons, will have no memories of her. She denied them that. What a tragedy. She said she believed in a god of love and compassion, why then had she none for me? She said she believed in a forgiving savior, why then, could she not forgive me? It baffles me.

But I forgive her, because she must have had her reasons, reasons I cannot understand. And if I am to see any good come from her death, and the way she denied me, it is by appealing to all of you, theist and atheist alike, but especially Christians: Do not shut others out of your heart because they do not share your faith. If your god is true and real and as powerful as you believe, what defense does he need? I am an atheist, but I am not the enemy. I do not seek to deny you your faith, or the faith of any other. If you act in love, compassion and forgiveness, then I have no quarrel with you. Let this be our common ground.

There are so many things that set us against one other. Please don’t let differences in belief be among them. Do not let forgiveness be solely the prerogative of the Divine.

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259 responses

5 11 2012
auctorlanxsatura

Condolences, Justine. May you and your family know no more sorrow.

5 11 2012
s

I’m so sorry. Condolences from Singapore.

5 11 2012
Hausdorff

Very powerful story, it’s so sad that your sister couldn’t get over your lack of faith. I hope you are able to deliver that eulogy.

5 11 2012
noddy93

I am saddened after reading this story… but what’s worse is it’s neither the first nor last that this story is told. The issue here isn’t that the sister couldn’t get over Justine’s lack of faith… it was her own faith that she couldn’t get over. very sad.

5 11 2012
Vikki

I am so sorry for your losses, and for your sister’s loss. After all, you and I do not believe the same — you are an atheist, and I believe there is *something*, though I have no need to put a name or qualifier on That Thing. Not only did she deny you and your family herself, she denied herself and her family you. Justine, you are one of the most open and kind people I know, and whether you believe in anything outside of the physical world, *I* see that Other shining through you. You see, to me it doesn’t matter what another does or does not believe in — what I believe in is shown to me through the people around me. Maybe this is why I don’t need to name or qualify that Other — I find it in so many places, in so many people, I can’t fathom how to possibly put my own limitations on it.

I guess what I am saying is that I am here for you. My own family has had its ups and downs, its “I can’t talk to you anymore”s and all, but in the end, what we have is family (biological and chosen), and life is not a game of keep-away. I will think of you and your sister, and my (admittedly *really* unorthodox) prayers, which are mostly just my directed energy, not begging any deity, go out to you and your family. I am truly lucky in that, no matter what has passed between *my* sister and me, we have reached a point where we love each other for and in spite of any differences and arguments.

Always know this, Justine: you are part of my chosen family. If you need a sister (not ever, ever to replace your own, but as a completely different kind of sister), I will be here for you. My family (even my crazy, not-always-functional biological family) holds a place for you and yours, and in the words of Hoggle from Labyrinth, “Should you need me… should you need *us*…”

All my support, and a deep, warm hug.

5 11 2012
Gus

As a conservative Christian, (who actually respects but disagrees with the Atheist position, your sister sucks. (Sorry to sound cruel, but my indignation rises over religious blackmail). Your sister was able to effectively display some of the worst attributes of Christianity. Her lack of love is one of the foundational reasons I believe people do turn from faith. There is a tight balance between logic and reason on one hand and faith (trust with limited evidence) on the other hand. See so called Christian NOT exhibiting the love of Christ very effectively knocks faith on its butt. I am sorry for your loss, but more so I am sorry you had to witness such a pathetic example of faith. I suspect for your own mental health, you are better off without her.

5 11 2012
John

Your comment is just about as disgusting as what the sister did. And by the way, lack of love has little to do with someone turning away from faith. If someone turns from faith due to lack of love, then clearly they had no real convictions to begin with and just wanted attention and the social aspects of being apart of a religion.

5 11 2012
Josh

Preach somewhere else you evangelistic douchebag.

5 11 2012
CoolMachine

I’m Christian too, and I agree with everything Gus wrote.

I’m sorry about your grief. It sucks.

7 11 2012
Dr. Welch DSc MSci

I agree with Josh. This is not the time or place.

5 11 2012
Sam

As an atheist, I could not align more closely to a comment more than this one. It’s nice that you can forgive, but no matter what familial bonds you had, it’s not worth a single ounce of your concern. She is the one who missed out.

5 11 2012
Anita

Gus I couldn’t agree more with you, I disagree with Atheism but I respect people choice also, her sister broke a big rule, love your neighbor as yourself and pray for them even if they do not have the same beliefs as you. She is suppose to preach the good news to non-believer, how is her sister even suppose to think of converting to Christianity when she sees such hatred and judgement? She was highly judgmental and that’s very dangerous for a Christian to have. Perhaps Erica was afraid her sister might change her mind of her faith. I pray she finds peace and my condolences to her family, all of them.

6 11 2012
allthewaydoc

As a christian I read this and wonder what the sisters side of the story would be like. I have atheist friends and friends who believe much different than I and some I would do anything for and others it is all I can do to be around them because they have to be right and the tension of just being around them is too much! If one is battling cancer and it is taking everything you have to fight against it, sometimes dealing with someone who is on the opposite pole as you is too exhausting. The difference in energy, if you will, makes you not want to be around that person.

I dont know what the relationship is here but I do know that we have heard only one side of this relationship story and maybe if the sister were still alive to tell you her reason why and not the perceived reason, you would think differently.

In all things love!

23 11 2012
Carmen

Wow. I hope you’re joking. Her sister was dying and refuse to even say goodbye to her biological sister, whom she had no reason not love. And you compare that to your stupid friends and “tension” that makes make you uncomfortable? This is not some awkward silence in the break room with athiest abby. It’s her sister. And you’re pathetic.

10 11 2012
jenny ealson

no…

5 11 2012
freelyfrankie

well said….forgiveness, just like the grace it takes to give it, exists outside the four walls of any church, synagogue, or temple. may your example of both be a testament to those who would believe otherwise. peace.

5 11 2012
Kevin

don’t beat yourself up too hard. It was her choice not yours. Consider the possibility that she feared what your lack of belief represents. She was dying, Her hope was for happiness in the afterlife. Dealing with you (even if you never discussed it) meant dealing with the possibility there is no afterlife… That her last breath on this earth was her last moment of existence. As an atheist myself, I am comfortable with that. Religious people seemed terrified of the possibility.

6 11 2012
fireandair

It’s odd — as an atheist, I am NOT AT ALL comfortable with that. What I am willing to say however is that just because I am uncomfortable with it doesn’t mean it’s not true. The universe in general is not obligated to align with my comfort. I will most likely cease to exist, as will the people I love, with death. I’m NOT comfortable with that. I will never be comfortable with that.

Nevertheless, that’s just the way things are.

5 11 2012
R McCarty

I too am an atheist. And yes, this has made some of my friends and relatives uncomfortable,but they have mostly accepted it. It makes a difference that as Canadians, we are perhaps more accepting of a person’s individual relationship to the universe.

My mother, who was born a Catholic, came to accept and be proud of her amerindian heritage, later in her life. When she was dying she asked me as executor to hold a funeral service for her with a sweetgrass ceremony, presided over by a dear friend.

My brother used this as an excuse not to attend; there were other family issues, and possibly this was a convenient reason. I don’t know.

All I know is it hurt. It was disrespecful to the survivors. It put a wedge between my brother and me, that never resolved.

My deepest condolences to you. I am sorry for your loss. And I am sorry no one saw fit to tell you. They will bear guilt for this mistake, but you should not.

5 11 2012
mtnsunlite

I can’t even begin to empathize but I can only imagine how you feel and I’m sorry to hear about this. Please seek out support with others who have family that have broken ties with them because they don’t share in their religion. Unfortunately there are many of them. I feel the worst for young people who have family that have disowned them, so sad. Thanks for sharing

5 11 2012
Ripley Scott

Oh…well. Sucks to be you, maybe you should of stopped being so selfish and just pretended to believe in God, for her. Maybe that’s all she wanted, was for you to see things from her side, instead of your overly selfish and self-centered little world. I think she was trying to open your eyes to the shallow view you have of the world. You wanted the truth, scientific fact and cold calculated evidence over her faith. Well, the truth is she is dead, scientific fact says she’ll never return and the cold calculated evidence is that you care too much about your own beliefs to care for others. Plain and simple. She did it to remind you that when you choose yourself over others you reap what you sow. Perhaps if you took the chance while she was alive to reconcile the differences you had in beliefs instead of taking a firm stance on your own beliefs, things might be different.

5 11 2012
justinegraykin

Pretended to believe in God? Where is the morality in that?

5 11 2012
Michael

He never chose himself over others. They chose for him. Erica’s fixation on her delusional beliefs prevented her from having a human relationship with her brother. That’s what religion does: it makes you able to deny this world and all that it contains. How many times have the priests told us that the material world is sinful and that we will be delivered after death? After we waste our entire lives chasing a spectre? If they can make us hate this world, they can control us with their honeyed promises of deliverance. Just like they controlled Erica and destroyed her human relationship with her brother.

6 11 2012
Shmaesh

OP is pretty clearly a woman.
You may want to readdress your pronouns here.

6 11 2012
Puzzled and Disappointed.

I can’t begin to understand the irony in your statements. You’re telling her to stop being selfish, reconcile with the sister, blaming him for “taking a firm stance on your own beliefs” as if that could ever be a negative thing, and then entirely disregard the fact that it’s the exact same from the sister’s stance. Her sister ALSO took a firm stance on her beliefs and refused to reconcile, but she’s in the right somehow? Justine could never take the chance because THE SISTER CUT COMMUNICATION. She was the one that decided to cut Justine out of her life. Justine mentions she didn’t even know her sister was sick BECAUSE SHE TOLD OTHERS NOT TO TELL her and you’re actually shaming her for not acting on something she couldn’t know?

In addition, the sheer lack of sorrow and respect you exhibit make you as petty as the sister’s actions. Pretend to believe in God? Do you honestly think that would’ve gone over well in ANY WAY in Justine’s conscience? If “pretending” to have faith is even REMOTELY acceptable, I fear for the christian faith.

How could you just blatantly ignore the facts provided above and spout your horribly insensitive comments is beyond my understanding.

6 11 2012
Jira

What? How is he selfish? Did his sister tell him “start believing in God, or I won’t let you see me on my deathbed”?

No, she didn’t even tell him that she was dying!

And he certainly didn’t chose “himself over others”, he simply had his beliefs (or lack thereof) while she had her beliefs; the difference is, she couldn’t live with people having other beliefs.

6 11 2012
fireandair

If religion is something to be faked, that does more disservice to it.

7 11 2012
Dr. Welch DSc MSci

You are an evil piece of shit “Ripley Scott” of clearly limited social and communicative ability, your words are as vile as you are and I hope that someday in the not too distant future they come back to haunt you. If you had the balls to type this with your real details I would consider the option to piss on you if you caught fire, but instead I wish unimaginable pain upon you and an unhappy and unfulfilled life followed by an unceremonious death without honour and glory.

Oh and f**k you.

7 11 2012
justinegraykin

I might expect this kind of thing on 4Chan, but I’d prefer not to see it here. While I appreciate your impulse to come to my defense, Dr. Welch, this is hardly in the spirit of what I wrote in my essay.

9 11 2012
Dr. Welch DSc MSci

You are correct of course. It riles me that there are folks like this that ‘Troll’ through articles leaving distasteful comments looking for a response. Unfortunately it worked, and though I stand by what I said, I apologise to you.

9 11 2012
justinegraykin

Apology accepted. When I posted this I knew the risks. You should have seen some of the shockingly insensitive comments that I deleted. I let by any that seemed like the author had put any thought into it at all, since I am a firm believer in free expression and open debate (although I don’t believe in feeding trolls). I’d feel like I was being a hypocrite if I only allowed comments that reflected well on me. On the other hand, I can’t deny the satisfaction I feel when I see how many commentors came to my defense. Thank you for that.

5 11 2012
Steven

If that’s how she treated you then it really wasn’t much of a loss. Why you would want to spend time with such a horrible person, or miss them when they’re gone, is quite beyond me.

5 11 2012
Jesse S.

Powerful, beautifully written.

5 11 2012
Matt Scott

You hope to deliver a eulogy at your sister’s funeral that is essentially about aggrandizing yourself? By doing that you can but confirm what your sister must have been repelled by in your behaviour, and I highly doubt that it was simply a matter of your atheism.

If you wanted to be truly magnanimous you wouldn’t even bring it up. You would eulogize her; you wouldn’t offer a eulogy for yourself and a dyslogy of the deceased.

5 11 2012
justinegraykin

I can’t eulogize her. She never let me know her. But I can reassure those who might assume I bear a grudge that I do not. And I can appeal to them to open their hearts as she did not.

5 11 2012
Sam

Your sister died a long time ago. Mourn for that person.

5 11 2012
Bethany

She must have been very weak in her faith to think that even being in contact with her own sister might make her question it so.

5 11 2012
Jenna K

I don’t know what type of cancer she had, but your sister should have told you as soon as she found out. You are likely at risk yourself, and it’s cruel of her to withhold potentially life-saving information from you. If appropriate screening is available for this cancer, please follow through. Take care.

5 11 2012
M. Keith

Justine, I am so proud of you. Such an intelligent, well thought out, beautiful explanation of what you went through, and I really love where you ended up, with compassion and love. These are the values which Christians are required to have, and it is a tragedy that Erica got caught up in judgment, which Christians are told, very clearly, not to get caught up in. But don’t get up and say all this at her funeral. I know you’re grieving for her and for what happened, but going into all this at her funeral is the wrong thing to do. It is going to sound like you are more interested in airing all this, and a funeral is not the place. If you get to speak, talk about happy childhood memories of Erica and how much you loved her. That will do so much to heal everything and everybody from this awful mess in the long run.

5 11 2012
justinegraykin

Agreed. I would not say what I said here in a eulogy. I say things in this piece that I would never say to people grieving the loss of someone they love. This isn’t about me or my anguish. It’s about forgiveness. Part of the healing process is making sure they know that I forgive Erica, and them, and beg them not to allow their faith to close their hearts to another person as with happened to her.

5 11 2012
T.W. Fendley

My sympathies to you, Justine, and I hope you can find peace with a truly difficult situation.Your tolerance of others’ beliefs is admirable. I’d like to see those of all persuasions–religious, political, etc.–embrace it. The world would be a better place.

5 11 2012
lv2bliberal

Beautifully stated, but absolutely pitiful that it needed to be said. I will never understand how religious zealots square their fear and hatred with a “god” that is supposedly so “loving.” My condolences.

5 11 2012
Ossington

I wonder if the wish not to see you was a wish not to be confronted with a possibility of being wrong at a time when such a realization is the most challenging.

If you’ve spent your whole life expecting a fantastical trip, when the time comes that your bags are packed and you’re at the door waiting for transportation, the last thing you may want during your wait is the face of someone that reads ‘you are not going to the moon, because I know that to be ridiculous, and deep down you know it too’.

For me, a similarly tempered atheist as yourself (from what I can here gather), this worry makes difficult relationships that I hold with people of faith. I feel as though my often rational outlook is a threat to them, and as such I try to keep my distance so as not to threaten their sometimes fragile belief systems.

In short, I am saying that it may not have been a ‘last stab’ so much as it may have been a fear of doubt. To have one’s beliefs threatened (by even minor exposure to someone seeming intelligent and happy with their conflicting beliefs) early in life is okay because there is time to re-reason or forget the intrusion. To have it happen once one’s bags are packed… that could present a fear too great.

Sorry for the grief.

– J

p.s. Just as you loved your sister despite her faith, I’m certain that she loved you despite your own respective ‘baggage’ of atheism.

5 11 2012
justinegraykin

I hope you are right. I only wish she could have let me know that. She did have ample time (she was 68 when she died) and although there was sporadic contact when we were younger, she essentially shut the door years ago with the explicit ultimatum that she would not open it again until I accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as my savior. And she was sick for nearly a year, knowing she was going to die. It is hard for me to imagine how the family could have kept that secret from me for so long. The temptation is to say that because I was an atheist, I deserved it. I don’t know. It’s going to take a long time for me to figure this out. But if I can remain friends with her husband, with whom I always got along but rarely had contact with because of her, perhaps I’ll get some answers.

5 11 2012
mermaid

another case of the atheist being more christian than the hipachristian.

5 11 2012
rony D

As a Christian I apologize on your sisters behalf.

5 11 2012
justinegraykin

I am sure she did what she thought was right. But I thank you, in the spirit of understanding. There we have our common ground.

5 11 2012
Vivi

My condolences to you, my friend. I’m very sorry about this :(

5 11 2012
Will Chamberland

Take comfort in the fact she is rotting in the ground instead of flying around with cupids cursing you to hell for eternity. In all seriousness, you can’t fight stupid. And if the choice was to keep you from closure because you believe in something is hateful and ignorant. Be happy you are alive and aware of reality. Let them all go to their graves believing in leprechauns. It’s not your fault.

5 11 2012
Benedict

I appreciate the sentiment and sincerity of your article and acknowledge that it makes a great read for those disassociated with your sister. However, with all due respect, that would make for a horrible eulogy, and so would any adaption thereof. Given your estrangement, her wishes, your beliefs and and the fact you plan to incorporate this distance between you in anything you might say, perhaps you are not the right person to eulogize her.

5 11 2012
justinegraykin

You are absolutely correct. Besides, I could not eulogize her; I did not know her. She denied me knowledge of her works, good or bad. But I hope to speak at the service because I feel the message of forgiveness is important. They do not know me either. They expected me to make a scene at the hospice when I found out what had been done. If they had known me, they would have known I wouldn’t do such a thing. I must do what I can to dispel the stereotype that I am the godless atheist, incapable of love or moral behavior. I must make myself human, without horns and tail, and appeal to them to open their hearts and not let their faith isolate them from their fellow human beings. It may fall on deaf ears; nothing would be lost. But if I can let in a glimmer of light, then good may come of it.

5 11 2012
Amanda

My sister left without saying goodbye too. Hold on tight-this is a hard roller coaster ride you have joined. I’m so sorry you lost her. My heart just aches for my own sister, even though we were different too.

5 11 2012
Marnie

Thank you for writing this piece. This is a beautiful message out of horribly tragic circumstances. I’m so sorry to hear you lost your sister, but it sounds like you lost her long ago. Do you feel you grieve your loss more now that it is tangible, or did you realize when you got the call that you already went through the mourning process? Your tolerance for all people is inspiring. I wish you the best.

5 11 2012
justinegraykin

Thank you. I hope this story reaches some closed hearts and inspires them to open. I always hoped that someday Erica would relent and welcome me into her life. As long as we were both alive there was a chance for this. Now that chance is gone. That is what I mourn.

5 11 2012
timmay

I’m sorry that your sister was a major bitch, she did not deserve you.

5 11 2012
justinegraykin

I can’t know what demons she was fighting or what misguided intentions made her think this was the right thing to do. She had many friends and a husband who was devoted to her. She must have had some good qualities. I only wish I could have known.

5 11 2012
Danal Estes

It is hard for an individual human being to see the patterns in things that are “passed along” over long time spans. Cells pass along genes, and we see the cells, not the genes. People pass along ideas, and we see the people.

Any long time scale system of individuals can be taken over, literally hijacked, by the long time scale things that use those individuals to replicate. When this happens in genetics, we call them “selfish genes”. When it happens with computers, we call them “viruses”. When this happens to people with an idea, it is most properly called a “memetic virus”.

Broad swaths of humanity have been “hijacked” by the memetic virus called “religion”.

If you do some research on the ideas expressed above, it may help you realize that your sister was under the control of an idea system, a memetic virus, a religion, that doesn’t “care” about people. It exists only to reproduce itself; people are just the pathway to spreading and persisting.

If you realize that your sister was “infected”, and that the damage done to you was done by that “thing” trying to shield itself from fact so it can spread to other individuals… if you realize that it wasn’t your sister… maybe that perspective will help a little.

5 11 2012
LizBarb

….I just found this through reddit of all places and I am stunned.
I just want to let you know that I’m thinking of you and I’m deeply sorry. Expect a call from my mom and hopefully some personal contact from her if you want it as well.
I am so, so sorry.

5 11 2012
justinegraykin

Thank you, Liz. You do find the darnedest things on Reddit, don’t you? Your mother was with me today and she was, as always, wonderful.

5 11 2012
Riddel

You are so negative maybe she was trying to protect you from grief. Since you do not believe in God you would know how final this would be, and would be more affected than someone who thought her journey was not over. You need to either change your perspective or get some type of religion.

5 11 2012
Datty

Riddel, your comment is idiotic. In what way is Justine ‘negative’? How on earth someone could read the article and conclude that it is Justine who needs to change her perspective, is beyond me. This whole sorry mess is yet another example of the dangers of religious brainwashing.

8 11 2012
Olia

agreed!

6 11 2012
Kerry

“Some type of religion”? You are not too fussed WHAT religion – just pick one of the many thousands at random? I guess we can narrow it down to only those religions that have at least one God – but that is still a lot. Seems rather poor advice to me. Silly.

5 11 2012
Unsub

My condolences. I feel unqualified to comment on this but I’d like to offer a possible reason for her behavior and I hope it might bring you some comfort. I would imagine that finding out that you are dying is incredibly scary and she took great comfort in the idea that she was going to a paradise, but she relied on faith that it existed. I believe she worried that even seeing you would bring doubts (however small they might be) into her mind, and she just wanted the comfort of her ideas.

In different circumstances she might have come around to allowing you back into her life. She was just very frightened.

5 11 2012
justinegraykin

She was 68 when she died. And she was ill and knew she was dying for nearly a year before it happened. More time, I fear, would not have made a difference.

5 11 2012
James120756

I am so sorry for your loss. As an atheist I understand a little of your pain. Any time you need a word…

5 11 2012
Nancy

I am not an atheist but I am a skeptic that has turned away completely from all organized religion and any of the fellowship and conversation it brings because of the number of “Christians” I keep encountering that wear their Christian badge on their sleeve while using their fist to promote hate, intolerance, and judgement. I don’t think the irony is lost on anyone here that you live your life with much more of the “christ-like” values of love, tolerance, peace, concern for fellow man than most so-called “christians”. So sorry for your pain. I plan to share your story at Thanksgiving because my mother and her only brother/sister-in-law are barely speaking because of political differences. Your story will be used to hopefully heal rifts in other families before it’s too late. Thank you.

5 11 2012
justinegraykin

Thank you. I hope that by sharing this story it can do some good. May it help to open hearts that might otherwise have been closed. Politics, like religion, can tear people apart because, like religion, it is mistakenly associated with a person’s moral worth. No religion, no political party, has a lock on morality. It lies in the person himself.

5 11 2012
Olia

I don’t think it fair to call Erica a bad christian, especially when she doesn’t have a chance to explain. Strong convictions often eclipse the most elementary of social courtesies- in this case a chance for a goodbye. Erica must have thought it through within the bounds of her worldview and may not have considered Justine’s position, but as Justine has already said, it is now up to her to come to terms with.
My condolences to Justine, I have not lost my sister but your situation touched my heart, as mine is also a christian- she just doesn’t yet know I no longer share the faith. I hope you have the chance to deliver a eulogy, it would be incredibly unfair for the church to deny you in her death what she denied you in her last days of life. We all share in the loss, atheists more so than Christians who have the consoling idea of heaven.

5 11 2012
zendavis

I’m sorry. But you don’t have a right to your sister. She was her own individual with her own life and choices. She choose not to have you in her life. That was a choice you must respect. By crowing on how she “punished” you shows how little respect you had for her choice. She made peace with it. Now its your turn. I’m pretty close to atheist myself but the issue at hand is no different than a girlfriend that chooses not to be an ex anymore. The ex doesn’t get any say in the matter. Neither do you.

5 11 2012
QuinTheEskimo

You are so far from right in everything you just said. Your siblings should be important in your life no matter your differences and abandoning your younger sibling over their disbelief in the fictitious wand-waving white- bearded man in the sky is about as terrible as it gets. Clearly you have been abandoned in your life, and if that’s the case I understand your bitter attitude, or you are the type to do the abandoning, in which case you are an even bigger piece of shit. Hopefully you’re not a parent because hey, what if one day you decide you don’t want to be in your kid’s life anymore. Hopefully they’ll show some respect for your totally selfish decision, and in the very least they’ll know that you made peace with the fact you abandoned your immediate family. That’s just aces! Top notch! Pat yourself on the back for promoting callous, hurtful, and disgusting irresponsibility among the ones your supposed to love unconditionally! And I’m sorry this was so long…I know you have a school to shoot up or some more bombs to mail out, so I’ll let you get back to your troll dungeon, douche.

8 11 2012
Olia

agreed!

8 11 2012
Olia

I disagree. The sad part is the reason – faith. In this case faith came between sisters. Not some betrayal or other logical irreconcilable differences. This wasn’t a casual dating relationship where people choose to discontinue a relationship. This was a family bond severed on unreasonable grounds of lack of or total control by faith.

5 11 2012
Terri

I write this with tears streaming down my face. I’m so, so sorry for your pain Justine. As much as you loved your sister, I hope that you can see her cruelty as a symptom of her disease. This kind of emotional blackmail is what happens with the fear mindset of fundamentalist christianity. If ‘by their fruits ye shall know them,’ then what were the fruits of your sister’s ‘relationship’ with god? Estrangement and absolute intolerance.

As things shake out regarding your sisters death, emotions will run high. You still have family members who were all ‘in on this’ I’m sure and you can’t help but feel a little betrayed by them. I hope that you don’t feel they did something *to* you. This was your sister’s choice. Your other family members were put in the horrible position of breaking the trust of a dying woman or respecting her wishes, even though they may not have agreed with her.

I have had similar issues with family members, and I’ll spare you the details. What I have come to discover is that like many others, my ‘found’ family has always been there when I need them. Sometimes those people we let into our lives become our true siblings. In a distant and possibly very goofy way, I feel like I’m your sister today.

5 11 2012
justinegraykin

Yes, I am angry, but I’ll get past it. I meant it when I said I blame no one. Not even Erica. I can’t know what demons she was fighting, or as another comment pointed out, what misguided good intentions led her to “teach me a hard lesson”. Writing this blog was a way for me to try to make sense of something shattering. All of your comments, and the stories you have shared from your own lives, have been of inestimable value. I am grateful, even for the critical ones. Otherwise, this would just be an echo chamber, and my claims of wanting to understand would ring hollow.

I am angry and anguished, but I know that no one is to blame. I can say that intellectually, but it will be a long time before I can get to where I really feel it.

5 11 2012
Netty

Beautifully written, you have a good heart. It’s a shame your sister did not let her walls fall down so you two could have a few moments before she passed away.

5 11 2012
Alenonimo

Don’t feel sorry for her.

I know I’m asking something very hard for you to do so, but clearly what she did to you was the utmost egoistical thing a person could do.

Think about it. You feel love, empathy and sadness for her departure. You feel a strong connection because family is something important for you, like it’s for the majority of people you’ll ever met on the face of the Earth.

But for her, it was more important to keep scores with an improbable being. She suppressed all her love for you because she thought it would make her look good before God. She never thought about your happiness or sadness. She was thinking about herself, and only herself.

Family is the strongest bond we humans can have with each other. A person who puts religion before family is no different from someone who puts politics or football teams. It’s dumb! It’s pure egocentrism.

Don’t let her death make you, a caring person, feel bad. Or at least as bad as you’re feeling now. She didn’t loved you half than you loved her. Don’t let this situation, created by her, make you think you were in the wrong, because you weren’t. It was all her fault, and she actually pursued this outcome.

Also, don’t cut some slack to the people that knew she was dying. If they had told you, what would have happened? You would have had a chance to talk to her, maybe even make her change her mind about hating you. They whitheld you the chance to make ammends, siding with the person in the wrong. They tried to respect her wishes, but what about yours? Were your wishes less important than hers? Maybe because you’re an atheist?

Never forget what happened here. Religious bigotry tore apart your family, for the benefit of no one, just because religious people can’t accept a person who is truthful with itself like you. Religious people think your spiritual welfare is not important at all, like you’re not really a kind of person capable of human feelings. They don’t even know what they’re doing, but they also don’t really care, as long as they look good in front of their make-belief god.

5 11 2012
Suzi Brooks

I find posts like this to be so self serving and selfish. Just read your words, you say, “She said she believed in a god of love and compassion, why then had she none for me?” You define compassion in your own terms, how it applies to you and you alone. How selfish. Her compassion and God’s compassion is not what you think it is, so until you learn what they mean and accept them for what they are, you will never have them. They love you even though you are a sinner, but love and compassion do not mean they have to accept you as you are. This is a tough truth that many refuse to accept, but it remains true until the end of time.

5 11 2012
Sheaquan Datts

Wow – if you found this to be “self-serving and selfish”, you are also giving your god and your religion a bad name. Obviously, people like you find adhering to a twisted version of your religion more important than empathy and basic familial decency. Apparently, your definition of compassion is the only one that matters…because you believe in the “right” religion…? I feel so sorry for people who are so cold.

5 11 2012
MPN

Love is not shown by casting others out or admonishing them for their beliefs.

What is her compassion if it includes casting her out of her life and refusing a relationship with her nephews?

Did Christ cast out those who did not believe in him?

If only Christianity could exist based on the actions of Christ and not the distortion of its leaders, the world would be a better place.

5 11 2012
Andrew

What religion was she specifically? There are many forms of Christian. Just curious.

5 11 2012
justinegraykin

Hers was an odd hybrid. She was an educated woman with a master’s degree in anthropology. Yet she embraced a very rigid sort of Bible-based fundamentalism. She read all the great theologians — Tertullian, Augustine, Aquinas, etc. Most of our discussions (which took place years ago) came out of my total inability to understand how she reconciled all that. (I, BTW, took degrees in philosophy and religious studies.) She found it hard to find a church that followed her singular interpretation of Christianity, but was affiliated with a small Baptist (I think) church when she died.

5 11 2012
tracy

I am very sorry for your loss. Without intending to sound judgmental towards your sister, it sounds as though you more closely follow Christian tenants than she.

I found this post via Reddit – and it struck a chord with me. Two years ago this Christmas, my mother passed away from lung cancer. She and I had not spoken for two years or more – due to political differences of all ridiculous things. She had sworn my sister and father to secrecy about her illness until I received a call after she’d passed.

I’ve been angry at her for the better part of this past two years, but I’ve started to make peace. I’ve also accepted that I could’ve picked up the phone and made amends as well. (It doesn’t sound like that was an option for you).

At any rate, I hope you are able to maintain your perspective and that your relationships with family and friends are better for this experience.

5 11 2012
justinegraykin

My heart goes out to you for what happened with your mother. Political differences can often be as divisive as religious ones. Often one’s political affiliation is similarly tied in with one’s (often merely supposed) moral beliefs. Thank you for sharing that. We all have to get past our anger when we feel others have wronged us. Forgiveness heals us. But, damn, it’s difficult sometimes to forgive!

5 11 2012
A passing stranger

I’m so sorry for your loss.

5 11 2012
nan

My sympathy’s to you. I wish more atheists and Christians alike had your attitude.

5 11 2012
Anon

Cutting you out of her life was her choice and may have had nothing to do with your atheism. I have endured a similar situation in my family and came to peace with it when I realized that it’s their loss mainly. Nothing I could have done would change it and it has nothing to do with me – same for you. Your sister chose to act how she wanted to. I’m sorry for your years of lost family time. At least it may be some consolation to know that your separation may have spared everyone useless arguing, bickering, and hard feelings. Now you are free to move on with your family.

5 11 2012
Arghavan

I am so sorry for your loss.

However, there is something that bothers me here. How come you never went to see your sister during all this time? I have only one brother, and if someday he refuses to talk to me or see me, I will still try to somehow *see* him through family gatherings or something.

5 11 2012
justinegraykin

That is a fair question. I did try to see her, many times. There were very few opportunities at family gatherings, because our family was so small and scattered — the very reason it hurt me so much to lose her this way. In fact, the last “family gathering” we had was 16 years ago, for our grandmother’s funeral (our parents and other grandparents are all gone). I tried to arrange meetings, even on neutral territory, such as a mutual cousin who was on good terms with both of us. She always managed to find an excuse not to come. Two years ago that same cousin and I finally decided to just go to her house unannounced. Our reception was less than cordial. Erica made it clear I was not welcome.

Over the years, the message has been basically the same: Erica did not want anything to do with me until I accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as my savior, something that I simply could not do. (Please revisit the part in my assay about belief not being a choice). I suppose I could have lied about it in order to please her, but do you really think that would be the right thing to do?

5 11 2012
Rob

My sympathies and condolences.

Imo, I think the rift between you and your sister occurred at a deep emotional level, much deeper than mere tolerance of opposing beliefs. At a very subconscious level, I think you represented a threat to your sister’s well being. Her rejection of you may not have been one of spite or intolerance, but rather one of fear.

People of strong faith develop an entire subconscious emotional infrastructure that rests on the foundation of their belief system – a belief system extremely frail, without any evidence to support it, and with a wave of scientific modernity slowly snuffing it out. These people rely on the comfort of others believing the same thing. When a close family member such as yourself openly rejects those beliefs (most likely with common sense that would be difficult for her to counter), it can have a terrifying effect, as if you were threatening to destroy her emotional foundation and leave her in pieces.

This emotional distress usually occurs only one way – an atheist represents a threat to a believer in ways that a believer could never threaten an atheist. So while tolerance of her was easy for you, tolerance of you may have been emotionally impossible for her.

8 11 2012
amommys2cents

A person whose faith could be threatened by someone of an opposing belief could not be called someone of “strong faith”. That would be characteristic of a frail and shakey faith.
A strong faith in anything is evidenced by the conviction in a person’s soul which cannot be threatened.

5 11 2012
A.B. Cdefg

Do not deliver this “eulogy”. I get that you’re hurt, but you’re making your sister’s funeral about you and this feud. If you want to alienate yourself from the rest of the family, this eulogy would be a great way to do so.

5 11 2012
justinegraykin

No. It isn’t about me. And what I wrote in the blog is for an entirely different audience, although many of the points it raises I would use in an eulogy. Such as, they know what they have lost in Erica. They saw her loving side, her good side. I never had the chance. I know many of them feel terrible not having told me. I want them to know I forgive them and understand. I also want them to know I forgive Erica, that I may not understand why she did what she did, but I believe she must have had reasons that made sense to her. But most importantly of all, I want to appeal to them as Christians to open their hearts to those who may not share their beliefs. I may be an atheist, but I am not the enemy. We all believe in the importance of love, compassion and forgiveness. Let that be our common ground. Any eulogy I deliver would take the lessons of healing from this essay, not the pain and frustration that I am sharing. I want to reach out to them. This is not about me. This is about forgiveness.

5 11 2012
Chris

This is so hearbreaking… but I wouldn’t use the funeral to air your grievances. Everyone who knows her would agree that what she did to you was pretty nasty, but there’s no need to tell all of them how it affected you… it’ll just make you look like an ass whose trying to make the funeral all about you. I’d recommend taking the high road, despite how much you hurt.

5 11 2012
Matt

Who cares what “It’ll make her look like”? I think this is a great way to reach out to people who are possibly in a similar situation, in order to help them to not make the same mistakes.

5 11 2012
mark

First, very sorry for your loss. Losing a family member is always tough.
But it sounds like you were better off without her in your life because of your differences. I choose to not associate with anyone (outside of work or a professional situation) that has any real faith in any type of religion, Mainly because I view them as less intelligent, but also because of the things they do in the name of their beliefs, and your sister is a prime example of that behavior. I hope you can find some peace in all of this. It’s when you know who REALLY cares about you, friends and family alike.

5 11 2012
:(

You have my sincere condolences.

5 11 2012
Becky Childs

I’m so sorry for your loss…and for your sister’s loss, as well. I am a Christian. My faith compels me to mourn for more than the loss of life here. I also mourn the loss of relationship and your sister’s lack of understanding that God is more than big enough to cover your differences. I mourn the loss of trust in Him and the loss of opportunity for two sisters to be loving toward each other–especially in the face of such deep differences. This is a hard thing to deal with…and I pray peace for you as you try. I am grateful for your decision to share your struggle, however, as a reminder to those of us who remain.

5 11 2012
William Yount

I don’t feel that it was simply because you are an atheist. Family members can have a lot of differences and still get along. I hope you go back over your relationship with your sister and try to approach things from her point of view. I am sure there are situations where you hurt her deeply. Maybe during a discussion you said something that cut really deep? Some of it may be tied to your atheism. Did you make her feel small and stupid for believing in a God? Some of it probably has nothing to do with your Atheism.

I have cut family out of my life, but only because they directly attacked me over and over again. I don’t think your Atheism is an issue, but maybe the way you ridiculed her was. As a Christian, she would have been inclined to forgive you for you lack of faith. Something much deeper went on. In my experiences, Atheist tend to be much more condescending.

I notice you talk at great length about what you didn’t get. You aren’t thinking about your sister who was obviously hurt so bad that she didn’t even want to see you on her deathbed. Surely the pain she felt at not being able to forgive you went way beyond a simple theological disagreement. But you will probably trivialize her feelings and boil them down to simple “Oh she was just a fundie” and then go on with your life. Perhaps trivializing her deep beliefs is why she felt hurt by you. You give your sister no credit for being anything more than just a stupid Christian who just simply likes to hate things she doesn’t understand. I wouldn’t want someone who thought so little of me, in my life either.

5 11 2012
justinegraykin

Yes, I believe you may be correct that there was a great deal more going on than simply religious disagreement. That was simply the explanation she gave when her husband and other family members asked her why she was refusing to tell me she was dying (she was ill for nearly a year prior to going to the hospice). However, I don’t think you read the essay closely if you think I trivialized her feelings. I couldn’t know them. She refused to share them with me. And I am struggling to find a reason why she would have done this to me. Many of the people who have commented here have given me some excellent insights. I thank them for that. I loved my sister and tried many times to reconcile with her. Her response was always the same: Come back when you have accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. Only then will you be welcome.

As I said in the essay, belief is not a choice. I would be the foulest hypocrite if I professed a belief I did not honestly have, especially on such an important subject. Also, if you go back to the essay, I said I had no trouble with her belief. I never raised it her presence unless she raised it first. Of course, this was years ago, and I’ll confess I was more of a hothead. But it was a case of me defending my atheism against her attacks. Not the reverse. I did perhaps say things I regret. I can only apologize and ask forgiveness for that. She did not give me the opportunity.

5 11 2012
Gina

You know literally NOTHING about this situation aside from what the person involved has told you. For all you know, this story doesn’t EXIST outside of this article, and yet you have determined that her Atheism wasn’t the issue, that she must ridiculed her sister (even though she directly disputed this within the article), and that THIS was the reason for their estrangement.

You are obviously projecting, and it is inappropriate and embarrassing. Deal with your issues. Get help if you need it, because it sounds like you do.

5 11 2012
Michael

my condolences. thank you for sharing.

5 11 2012
Andy

Reading your story, I’m guessing that this hurtful act was one of fear rather than retribution. As a strongly religious person staring down the face of her own death nothing will have seemed more important than heaven. In her mind your presence may have jeopardised that or been a reminder that her beliefs were not a certainty. I hope you can find some peace in that. We tend to look for the maliciousness in a hurtful act, but it is often just selfishness. Fear can bring that out in anybody.

5 11 2012
Matt

Well stated.

5 11 2012
Veronica (@karategirl_vero)

I think you had the last laugh. Oh so you have cancer and are going to die, well I guess god doesn’t love you then. ZING!

5 11 2012
Peter Grayley

That’s one of the most eloquent and well reasoned descriptions of moderate atheist beliefs I have ever read. If something good can come of your sister’s actions, I hope it is that through your honest and thoughtful words, there is more understanding and tolerance.

I also hope you can find some peace and sense.

5 11 2012
Waka Laka

What’s a freelance philosopher? A person who thinks that they’ve had a thought that no one else has ever had.

5 11 2012
justinegraykin

No. A philosopher is one who, as the etymology of the word implies, is a lover of wisdom. I seek and share whatever I find. Freelance means I am not employed to do it. I wonder what makes you feel you had to make this comment?

5 11 2012
woody

Sorry bro, its tough to lose a loved one. Cancer can change people, whether it be from fear, or mental degradation. Remember this, she wanted you to join “her” religion, because she believed you would suffer for eternity. As weird as it may seem to some people, i believe, in her heart, she was doing it out of love. Remember the good times you had with her. No matter what we believe, i believe in love.

5 11 2012
justinegraykin

Perhaps you are right, and in her twisted way, she honestly believed this was “for my own good.” Thank you — this gives me something positive to consider.

5 11 2012
Whomever

My guess is that it was not about you. Rather she was frightened of dying, and uncertain about what would happen next. Grasping tightly to her faith, she didn’t want to be reminded about alternatives… the fact you didn’t believe as she did might have shaken her belief, especially if she really respected you. It’s sad, but try to keep an open mind (forgive) because things are often not as they appear.

5 11 2012
Pablo L.

your story made me sad. Should your sister had read a little bit more her Bible, she had found this (1 Corinthians 13):

4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

To forgive is the most difficult to do, yet it was your choice. I truly hope, most christians could have that kind of attitude.

Respects,

5 11 2012
Tatsu

Sorry for your loss. Ad remember, your sister knew she was near the end, and she took comfort in the fairy tales about death being no big deal. She was probably, like most, fighting to continue to suspend disbelief and keep pretending death isn’t real. Having you around, even if you did or said nothing, might have made it harder for her to stay in blessed denial. She wanted to surround herself with people who were willing to help her maintain her delusions and the comfort they bring.

It’s sad, but it seems that that was what she needed. So again, my condolences.

5 11 2012
Cori Taylor

A lesson that should be taught by parents, schools, and government. But instead is lost to the musings of the truly brilliant. A bizarre creature, we are. Drifting about aimlessly in the nature of things. We show compassion to the weak, yet are extremely aggressive. It’s as though our sentience is constantly battling our animalistic side. Perhaps one day we will see compassion raise up and conquer, or vise versa. Regardless, your story has moved me and friends of mine. I see it being reposted on FB and other multimedia sites. Perhaps your grief has made a difference after all. I’ll keep you in my thoughts and wish happy things in your direction :)

5 11 2012
justinegraykin

Thank you my friend. I fervently hope that you are right, and this story may bring some good to others by inspiring them to open their hearts. As a theist might say, “God works in mysterious ways.”

5 11 2012
Baobah

“You are free to make your choices, but you are a prisioner of its consequences.” – Pablo Neruda

6 11 2012
Jira

That is one great quote, thank you!

5 11 2012
Jason

Conservative Christian here. I’m very sorry to hear for your loss, and grieved by the almost backstabbing decision your sister made at the end of her life. Reading this put me somewhere between fury and deep sorrow, which is always weird to feel at the same time. It’s horrific and unjust that she could do this while yet claiming to be a follower of the same man who said “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing” while being tortured to death by said people. And it’s sorrowful that someone’s heart would become so cold and hard toward a fellow human, even your only brother.

You have my deep condolences. I’m so sorry this has happened to you.

5 11 2012
justinegraykin

Thank you so much for responding and for identifying yourself by your faith. People like you give me hope that theist and atheist can learn to coexist in peace. Let compassion and forgiveness be our common ground.

5 11 2012
M.C.

the line “because belief is not a choice. It comes from the heart. It is a conviction that you cannot argue yourself out of even if you try.” really touched me. It’s such a true fact of life many people seem to forget.

7 11 2012
5 11 2012
MrPloppy

How utterly heartbreaking.
Realise that it was not her that kept you apart, but the poison that is religion. In the end you will be as close to her as you have ever been- stardust that will either retract to an infinite point or infinitely expand until nothing. You existed together for a brief and wonderful time. And one that exists forever,

5 11 2012
justinegraykin

What a lovely image. Thank you!

5 11 2012
Random Reader

Don’t think of her as being stubborn and thoughtless. Think of her as trying to protect the both of you.

I DON”T believe that your sister’s church had anything to do with her decision in NOT telling you. I can almost guarantee that most of the church would have urged her to rebuild that bridge before she passed.
I imagine there being multiple reasons for not reaching out to your family but coming from a Christian (now Atheist) background I can think of one major factor. Optimism.

Christian’s view on Atheists = Going to hell. Disconnecting from you may saved her from that agonizing thought of never seeing you again.

Christian’s view on themselves = A wonderful life after death where you get to be with all your other Christian family.
Maybe in the back of her mind she imagined you finding God so that you can one day reunite. I hope that thought was with was her in the end and offered her some comfort. Hopefully, knowing that she had these beautiful thoughts of the afterlife can offer you some comfort as well.

5 11 2012
Koren Young

I’m so sorry for your loss. I can’t even imagine what it’s like to lost the only family member you had left. It’s even worse that you were completely shut out by your own sister. But make no mistake, Justine. You weren’t shut out because of your lack of faith. You were shut out because of your sister’s faith. I hope that religious fanatics all over the world realize the harm they’re causing. Nothing good comes out of it.

5 11 2012
George

Dear Justine,
My deepest condolences to you and your family. One thing that I have discovered is that everybody grieves differently even those that know they are dying. I will not judge your beliefs or your sister’s wishes. I will say that I wish many of my fellow Christians would express love for one another and forgiveness for trespasses that you have shared today.

5 11 2012
Affy

I am so sorry Justine. My heartfelt condolences goes to you and your family.

5 11 2012
Steve

I may have been to punish you, but it may have been that her own faith hung by a thread and any contact with doubt would break it and she couldn’t face that. It is often hard to keep a fantasy world from falling apart when confronted with facts and reason. The fantasy world might have been the only thing keeping her going in the end.

5 11 2012
Rob Philip (@rbphilip)

Your sister’s loss, not yours. Don’t worry about it – you lost her long ago. The only change is that recently she died.

5 11 2012
justinegraykin

You are mistaken. While there is life, there is always the hope of reconciliation. That hope is now gone.

5 11 2012
Claire

Faith, destroying families since 0.

6 11 2012
bandm

You think that more ancient religions than Christianity didn’t also ruin families? Just look in the Old Testament for proof Judaism has detroyed families. Older religions that had human sacrifice most certainly destroyed families. Since man has had the concept of religion, it has divided and destroyed families and societies.

5 11 2012
Mo

The afterlife is huge for spirits. I know you don’t believe in it, but, you can, please put yourself in her shoes. Dying is as huge for humans. ALL of the talks around her bed were probably about God, His plan, the afterlife, and maybe Jesus. Have you ever been to a party or wedding and did not fit in or agree with everything being said. I know it’s not the same, and I feel for you immensely, but just understand that she was dying and probably wanted to go as on good terms with and without any conflict surrounding you both.

5 11 2012
justinegraykin

She had nearly an entire year, knowing she was going to die, to make her peace with me. She chose not to do it.

5 11 2012
Aquarian Pure Water

Reblogged this on .

5 11 2012
Ben Garlick

I am sorry for your loss and the terrible situation you are in. I can’t imagine what that is like. Reading your letter, I can only make guesses, because I don’t know you or your sister. I too am an atheist, and I believe that religion is mostly defined by fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of death. I think your sister was scared, and was holding on to her salvation in the face of her personal tragedy. You are sort of an example of the absurdity of that salvation, and she shut you out because of it. Granted, I don’t really know the situation, but I hope you don’t stay mad at her forever. Good luck.

5 11 2012
justinegraykin

I am working past the anger. It will take time. All I can do is focus on the fact that she was a frail human being like I am, and I cannot know what demons she was fighting inside herself. I cannot know what it was like to be Erica, or what she thought I was or represented. I have already forgiven her in my head. Now I have to work on making that forgiveness come from the heart.

5 11 2012
christine

I wonder if there is not more here. I can imagine her feeling that jer last days were to comfort her children and prepare them for after and jot ro comfort herself or adults presumably not in her lifw. Its not the choice I would make and certainly not one my faith would allow. But facing death in the near future can be an intensly private an individual thing. Its also wierd how we expect selflessnes for the dying. That deep inside some of us feel they should be making it easier on those left behind rather then the person who doing the actual dying. I dont think you should look on you sisters lack of action as a censure to you mayne she was using your abcence as a way of.exerting control over something science, her faith and even her own body demanded she ceed.control of. And for the re ord i would for sure be holding her family accountable for not T least keeping you a breast so maybe you would have called her.

5 11 2012
justinegraykin

The worst of it was that she was sick for nearly an entire year. During all this time she insisted I not be told. I confess I find it almost unbelievable that they all went along with it (she had no children, by the way, but her husband came from a large family; ours was very small). However, I do think you may be right that something else was going on here, some grudge she bore me from the past. I cannot know. In spite of numerous efforts over the years (which grew sporadic as time passed with no success) I could not get past wall she had erected between us. It was always the same: Come back when you have accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as your savior; then I’ll welcome you.

5 11 2012
Blieque

This seems to be the flaw in Christianity if you ask me. I feel this doesn’t happen in faiths such as Buddhism or Sikhism, but I’ll let people believe what they want to believe and only stop them if they reside to violence and forcing their faith at others. That all said, let your sister rest in peace, wherever that may be.

5 11 2012
Andy Lopez

My sympathies to you in both your loss of a sister and the treatment you received from her. As a Christian, I believe that forgiveness and love were His prerogative and my mandate. I love because he loved me. I love as he loved me (without preconditions, seeking to provide the means and opportunity for reconciliation).

I’m sorry that your sister choose not to believe that or live it.

5 11 2012
justinegraykin

Thank you. It warms my heart to hear your words. May you be an example to other Christians.

5 11 2012
hernan

she made a choice
you made yours, now you cry about it.
sound hypocritical to me.

5 11 2012
justinegraykin

You don’t seem to have gotten the point of the essay at all. Perhaps you should try rereading it, and the comments made here.

5 11 2012
hernan

There is nothing to understand about choice other than our own.
And to tell you the truth, the more I read you essay the more I am convince that it is a mere call for ” “. Fill in the blanks.

You talk about forgiving… and I ask myself forgive what?, you talk about being welcomed in someone hearts then you say were are stranded from your sister. Then you say but I am not the enemy. I do not seek to deny you your faith, or the faith of any other, however with our words you are making exactly that, making sure that people see your side and place some type of sympathy on you.

6 11 2012
Jira

Believing in god, or not believing in god, is not a choice.
If you honestly believe it is, please try to start believing in Zeuss and let us know how that went for you.

7 11 2012
hernan

How do you know respect, love, faith and other non-material things exists?

How do you know truth, concern, hate and more exists.

How do you know acceptance exists?

5 11 2012
iantimberlake

As an atheist, this puts knots in my stomach. But it isn’t something that surprises me. Religion, by in large, convinces people into irrational thoughts and behavior. So you are right, don’t hold it against her, hold it against her religion.

7 11 2012
hernan

religion is irrelevant here, apparently both decided to do what they want.
If anything it bothers me that the writer is upset because her sister decided to do what she wanted at the end.

7 11 2012
iantimberlake

I think she’s upset because her sister tried to prove a point in the most ultimate way… and in the end, failed to do so. Not simply upset because she didn’t ‘win’. Not only leaving the world without providing a chance to communicate with each other, she left the world with her sister in a complete state of confusion, mental anguish, and frustration that she didn’t think (or respect) that other people might have different beliefs. I know that I would never do such a thing to a religious friend of mine, it’s ridiculous and quite naive.

5 11 2012
umi

As you are still alive, you have a couple of choices. She proved a point, that in her death she harbors negative emotions towards you and was actively reluctant to mend her ways. I am agreeing with you, no one can dispute this. Final retribution is still yours if you want it. Prove to her that she was wrong. According to her beliefs, as a Christian, when one dies one goes to heaven. So be a Christian. And when you cross over, you will either see her and tell her how this made you feel, that her final act of defiance was spiteful. Or you die and nothing happens, except the proof that there was no heaven.

5 11 2012
justinegraykin

Go back and read what I said about belief not being a choice. I can’t become a Christian because I do not believe in the existence of God, let alone that Jesus Christ was his Son and our Savior. I believe that the Bible was written by human beings, that it is filled with flaws, and that trying to live one’s life by it is folly. This does not at all prevent me from believing that compassion and understanding trump anger and intolerance. This does not prevent me from admiring Christians who try to live in the light of love and generosity. I can share their belief in the importance of forgiveness. But I cannot share their belief in Christ.

5 11 2012
Say what?!

Where’s the sensibility in your “be a Christian” statement just to say “I didn’t appreciate your non-Christian behavior” in their rendition of the afterlife? That sounds just as spiteful as what happened before death. If you really wanted her to emulate Christian behavior as it should be, maybe she should just forgive and move on.

6 11 2012
fireandair

Of course. One should always join a religion that one can’t force oneself to believe in as a final act of “I Told You So.” Because that’s the purest motive of all.

5 11 2012
A Bydder

I can honestly say I have never met a christian. When it comes down to it, they all still have doubt that shows as a fear of death and this is why your sister didn’t want to see you. We all die alone, but we can do so without fear if we talk honestly to each other. The sad part is Erica could have let you save her from that fear if it wasn’t for her religious straightjacket. Your openess and honesty make you a wonderful person, Justine.

5 11 2012
justinegraykin

Thank you. But don’t be too hard on Christians. There are many out there who do their very best to live up to the example set by their conception of Jesus. There are many atheists who are just as insensitive and judgemental as the worst fundamentalist. This is what I hope we can get past. As I said in the essay, compassion and forgiveness are not Christian things, not Buddhist things, not atheist things, they are human things. They can be our common ground.

5 11 2012
Anonymous

My condolences for your loss.

Perhaps your sister was trying to protect herself instead of actively doing something vengeful to you the way you seem to perceive it. It is very painful for someone of faith to have their beliefs associated with fairy tales or alien abductions. To be viewed as delusional cuts deep like almost nothing else. And in one’s last moments I can only imagine how terrible the fear must be. You mentioned debate; even though you might have said nothing about faith she might have imagined remembering the longrunning argument, and in her final moments did not want her last and most important beliefs to have to withstand scrutiny, imagined or otherwise. Maybe she was just scared.

I really hope you reconsider painting her in such a negative light. Because of this it read as though you are trying to prove that you were the bigger person. Why not celebrate her life and let that be your forgiveness?

5 11 2012
justinegraykin

I suspect that you missed some of the points I was making. I wish I could celebrate her life, but she didn’t give me anything to celebrate. She did not share her life with me. If she had allowed herself to know me, she would have known I would never have been so insensitive as to question her beliefs when she was on her deathbed. That would be a horrible thing to do. If I am able to do a eulogy at her service, the points from this essay that I would make would be how I regretted not having known her. I would let all the those who denied me on her behalf (some of whom felt terrible about it) that I forgive them. This would be an appeal to open their hearts, that I am not the enemy, that I respect their beliefs as I respected Erica’s. I simply don’t share them. Why should they find that threatening?

5 11 2012
Sherrill

My mother did this. She turned her back on the entire extended family and me, her only daughter, because she saw the folks at Trinity Broadcasting Network as family. She went almost ten years without talking to me or seeing her grandson. It was only when she was in a nursing home that she called me. When she learned that all her savings had to go for her care, she became very agitated because she wouldn’t be able to send God a big check every month and was afraid He would be angry with her. So, my mother was motivated primarily by fear not love. Looking back over her behavior I realized she most likely had Narcissistic Personality Disorder. She would do the cruelest things without a care to her victims’ feelings. Even with dementia she tried to carry on the same way, and it was very sad. I know she couldn’t help being what she was, and I was able to completely forgive her for all she did to me. She had a bad fall and I knew she was dying, but I wasn’t able to be there when she passed. I had done my best and have no regrets. You have done your best, too, and it’s time to put regrets aside. We have no control over what others do, but we have complete choice in how we react to what they do.

5 11 2012
justinegraykin

You are so right. Although sometimes it is difficult to master one’s reactions. When someone you care about does something that seems unspeakably cruel, your gut shouts in anger. It is so hard to master that anger and respond with compassion instead. I think that forgiveness, especially when it involves someone who has died and won’t know about it, is for you who survives. Forgiving is a way of purging that corrosive anger from your soul. It is a way for you to heal.

5 11 2012
Sherrill

The book, The Four Agreements, helped me considerably. I believe you’d enjoy the simple yet powerful wisdom. Ruiz uses the word “God” but not in the usual religious sense.

You know, I talk to these departed ones. Like forgiveness, it does something for me even though they don’t know about it.

5 11 2012
Steve

Your right to believe, her right to choose her final moments!

5 11 2012
Marc Lajoie

I find your lack of faith disturbing.

5 11 2012
Claire

Really? That’s what you find disturbing about this? Not that a sister totally rejected a family member because of a trivial reason and stopped her from paying her last respects?
Christians from what I understand are told to love thy neighbor and treat others as you would be treated, seems like far too many do not follow these simple rules.

5 11 2012
justinegraykin

Why do you find my lack of faith disturbing?

5 11 2012
Freedom of Choice

Justine,

Under the regime of organized religion many have surrendered freedom of choice for code of law. As you chose not to follow your religious code, and became outcast in the eyes of your sister, she chose to exercise her own freedom.

Put a smile on your face, and remember that your sister was fortunate to exercise freedom of choice, despite her religion demanding that she seeks peace and forgiveness (including from you).

She has ended her life with the final act, the act of free choice. She is as atheist as we are, let that be a memory of your one-and-only sister.

Freedom of choice, we must respect because we respect person that made the choice.

Friend

5 11 2012
Todd Park

Your story strikes a resonant chord. I’ve been on both sides of belief and both sides of forgiveness and while neither “side” was “right,” I feel like you’re a kindred spirit in being forgiving while remaining unforgiven, having a faith of sorts and morals, but no belief.

I thank you for sharing what, I can only imagine, is a very tender subject. You convey it with authentic warmth, heart, and the kind of regret that is tempered with love. Please accept my condolences and fondest best wishes for you and your family.

5 11 2012
justinegraykin

Thank you so much for your kind words. I am a writer. When I am in pain, my therapy is to write about it. The words poured out. Already my two sons have been impressed with the response to this. And a cousin I have had very little contact with has invited us to his house for the expressed purpose of bringing our families together and coming to know one another better. Good is coming out of tragedy. As a theist might put it, “God works in mysterious ways.”

5 11 2012
biblebeltunbuckled

Moving piece, Justine, and my sincere apologies for your loss and the feeling your’re going through right now. I would love to repost this on our blog, biblebeltunbuckled.com, with your permission and a link back to your blog. May I?

5 11 2012
justinegraykin

Please do! I am overwhelmed to tears at the response I have gotten to this piece. If it does some good, it will help make sense and meaning out of a tragedy. May it open hearts and inspire understanding!

5 11 2012
DK

The Believing Brain by Micheal Shermer and The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins may help you find closure

5 11 2012
IsabelleH

I don’t know if someone said this, but may be your sister was afraid of you. While approching death, isn’t it easier for some of us to think that there is something in the afterworld? May be she just had a human reaction, being afraid that seeing you would change her own beliefs, or being afraid that you would quesion them? May be she had this fear in some subconscious level, and she was protecting herself. Does it mean that she really hold her love back? Please consider that, may be, not. It is a pity that she couldn’t feel able to reach to you. But it is great that you forgive her. Don’t think that she did not love you anymore. She’s the only one to know. Loving and showing love are two different things. May peace take place in your heart.

5 11 2012
novel friend

*Hugs* Justine, I’m so sorry for your loss. And I’m sorry for your sister’s loss, too, because she did miss out on spending time with a truly amazing person. And you are amazing to have that level of forgiveness in you. If only more people, regardless of faith, felt that. If anything, I do believe that you, more than her, are following what the _real_ Jesus would teach – whether you wish to think of him as just a good man and social activist or more than a man.

5 11 2012
optics

“They begged her to let them tell me. She refused. Why?”

She may have wanted you to understand her strong true faith, and in fact, reach her through her faith in her continued existence, after death. She may have though it would help you understand her, and in fact, help you to find peace with her in a way that guides you to that faith.

“If a claim, religious or otherwise, seems patently ridiculous to me, I have little patience for it.”

I’m not certain she could have engaged with you as, most likely, her faith was what gave her strength in those last days. If she did something to appear to ‘push’ faith onto you, you may have weakened hers, just when she needed it emotionally and spiritually the most..

There are a lot of ways of looking at things… part of what faith may teach you is to look for the best angle in other people’s actions.

5 11 2012
Jim

That is so sad. :/

5 11 2012
Gina

@Justine: I’m so sorry for your loss. I think, Justine, that you’re much closer to God than a lot of people–atheist or not. If my beliefs have taught me anything, it would be to love. I read something beautiful and I think everyone would benefit from it. “Love is patient; love is kind and envies no one. Love is never boastful, nor conceited, nor rude; never selfish, not quick to take offence. Love keeps no score of wrongs; does not gloat over another’s sins, but delights in the truth. There is nothing love cannot face; there is not limit to its faith, its hope, and its endurance. In a word, there are three things that last forever: faith, hope, and love; but the greatest of them all is love.”

5 11 2012
Michelle

I’m so sorry for your loss.
I am experiencing some of the same problems with the woman who may very well end up being my mother in law. I am not atheist, I am Jewish however the woman will not except me because I refuse to except Jesus Christ as my savor no matter how good of a person I am. I am not allowed in her house, I cannot see my SO dieing grandmother, I am not allowed to talk with anyone else in his family. It makes it harder each day with her constantly bad talking me to others.
Some times what people do makes no sense, but I always keep in mind that in their minds they feel as strongly they are right as you feel they are wrong. Just need to except it, I can’t change her feelings towards me and non believers in Christ, just like you couldn’t change your sister.

5 11 2012
justinegraykin

Oh, what a difficult position to be in, at the beginning of a relationship! I hope you are able to find a way to make this work, and your future mother-in-law doesn’t poison your relationship with your partner. Be strong, and may love and understanding triumph.

5 11 2012
James G

I’m so sorry to hear this happened to you. My sincere condolences.

5 11 2012
atlcanongirl

So sorry for your loss, and for the history of judgement you were victim to because of it. I wonder if you are agnostic, rather than atheist but either/or I do not think you are a bad person because you are not able to comprehend the possibility that a “GOD” exists or that you do not prefer organized religion. Ive said it many times but I will say this to you as well, there is only one person, in the christian religion, that can judge and that is GOD, so I just don’t understand why so many others that believe in this religion judge others that don’t so harshly.

I am glad to know you found forgiveness, that says a lot. I enjoyed your post. Thank you,
ATLCanongirl

5 11 2012
carina davis

I just wish more people believe in an Almighty Creator who gave us a beautiful world, which we all should respect and treat as sacred.

5 11 2012
Blawggy

Reblogged this on Another Mediocre Blog and commented:
I can’t possibly add more to this right now, but the bottom line is, how hard is it just to be civil with people you disagree with?

5 11 2012
justinegraykin

Thank you. I hope it does some good. I am overwhelmed by the response to this. It helps me to find meaning in what would otherwise be nothing but tragedy.

5 11 2012
Blawggy

I hope it does as well, Justine. Those of us that think and believe differently have to take every single opportunity, good and bad, to try and promote even the most simple examples of mutual respect and tolerance…..

6 11 2012
Verna

I’m sorry that you are having this experience. You don’t deserve it. It’s cruel. Please accept this theory for your consideration… obviously your sister’s actions are about her, and not about you. They are about how SHE feels and what SHE believes. Ironically, it’s a sad statement about her beliefs that her final act is such a bitter and cruel one. But setting that aside… it’s very possible that she would not let you see her because she could not be righteous about her faith given the situation. If she believed (even secretly) that her god had failed her (because of the illness), then she could not let you have the satisfaction of seeing that “forsaking”. How could she explain to you that her god is so powerful and loving as you see her dying? Some Christians would make up a reason to explain why death is sometimes a part of the divine plan. But if your sister was weakened in her faith then she might not have had it in her to utter the words if she didn’t believe them.
It’s not about you. It’s all about her. There’s nothing you could have done differently.
~ warm regards

6 11 2012
I am sorry.

I am truly sorry for the loss of your sister, I cannot imagine losing either one of my sisters and at the same time being denied the chance to say goodbye. I have disagreements with both of my sisters about the way in which they govern their lives, even still I would never imagine that they would deny me the chance to say goodbye if they knew they were dying. The fact that your sister died and you were denied the chance to say goodbye breaks my heart. I cannot even imagine the amount of heartbreak you are experiencing and I am sorry for that. I cannot imagine that for myself without breaking down and crying and to know that has happened to you hurts me deeply. To know that your sibling, or even anyone’s sibling has done this makes me unbelievably sad. I do not know you but I am sitting here crying at the thought that you did not get to say goodbye to your sister. I hope good things come to you in the future and even though I do not believe in god, I hope your sister is at rest and no longer in pain,

6 11 2012
luckykaye

Makes such sad reading. So sorry for your loss.

6 11 2012
Alexander

I am also an atheist but I am not sure I am with you on this. I can clearly understand your feelings, though I am not convinced that you have given enough thought about your sisters feelings. Death is a scary thing! She might have been terrified of dying. In her fear she might have been comforted by believing that she was going to heaven and meeting god etc. I feel that it is pretty rational for a person with such beliefs to avoid people who question them, people who might pull that blanket of comfort away when they need them the most. You draw the conclusion that this was her final retribution for you lack of belief. Are you absolutely positive this is true? If not, I wouldn’t let this conclusion stay uncontested for the rest of my life. I am sure you feel hurt by your sisters actions, though I think you should try harder to put yourself in your sisters situation and realise that she was probably scared, very scared, like most people are in front of the notion of dying..

6 11 2012
R.

This is a heartbreaking post and I am grateful you have the courage to share. I am so sorry for your loss and for hers too. I hope you both find peace.

6 11 2012
Jason Ministries

Good post. I’m not certain why your sister removed herself from you, but I do know that we as believers in Christ are compelled to forgive as we have been forgiven — Prayers for you and your family during this time of loss.

6 11 2012
nunya

i know this might seem off topic due to the nature of the post. i just wanted to comment on what a poignant writer you are. wonderful actually. i am sorry for your loss.

6 11 2012
mountainsisters

Our animal friends never die…they just merge back into the soul of cat or the soul of dog. You’ll see your friend again.

6 11 2012
kissmeteet

Excellent post. I truly feel the hurt you feel. I am a Christian, my belief is my God loves everyone, people of faith and people of no faith so I too do not understand your sisters reasoning.

But one thing stands out to me, you have a beautiful spirit, you have forgiven her despite the situation, for that you stand proud.

Im sorry for your loss Justine, I really am, but know this – your heart is pure xxx

6 11 2012
T

What you just posted needs to be seen by everyone, including us Christians. I am so sorry for your loss of your sister and also a lifetime of friendship you both could have had. I believe God is a God of love and loves everyone no matter what they believe. I am not sure of your sisters reasoning but am so glad you are able to forgive her and hope that you will find peace.

7 11 2012
justinegraykin

I encourage you to share it anywhere you feel it might do some good.

6 11 2012
angelreformed

What sickens me is not what you have posted, Justine, because you are open and honest with your emotions and views and I respect and admire that. What sickens me about all this are the comments–specifically the ones who call your sister names or say “Oh how terrible a person she is!”

There’s not a single “good” person among us, let’s be honest no sense in denying it. We’re not good, and yet we–who aren’t good ourselves–are bad mouthing a woman who is dear to your heart. I am sorry that those who have said they are Christians are treating your sister with contempt and as if she suddenly became less than human because of her personal views.

What you need is not bad mouthing and name calling towards your sister, what you need is compassion. I’m glad that you were able and willing to forgive your sister, not even for her sake but for yours.

I’m sorry that you went through such a situation and I, myself, am going through something similar although from your sister’s point of view.

My big sister wouldn’t allow me to change and to grow in my faith, to grow in my walk with Jesus, so perhaps our situation is a bit different, but there is still this separation, certainly not by choice but by what needed to be done. For me, I had to decide which was more important, my sister or God. I chose God, she didn’t understand why, and until she chooses to put God first, she can’t. But what I know and believe is this, God is fully capable of fixing any and every situation, so when I left, I did not leave her behind, but rather walked forward looking towards a future where she would spiritually wake up and finally understand that I didn’t leave because I hate her, but because I love her, but God comes first.

I don’t know if your sister had a similar view, I’m sorry that for now you don’t have that answer, but I pray, that one day soon, God will send someone to you, whom knew your sister well, who will be able to reveal the answers to your questions.

I’m seriously sorry for your loss, and for the confusion and pain you’ve suffered as a result of your sister’s personal choice.

6 11 2012
justinegraykin

I am so glad you raised this point. If I were not so overwhelmed right now with the sheer flood of comments, I might have tried to address this better. I did with one or two, but I am too wrung out right now to address them all.

As I said in the essay, we cannot know why people believe what they believe. I find it hard sometimes to cope with “God talk” because it is so alien to me. I find it difficult to understand theistic beliefs, especially in a personal god. But it is not my place to judge. That was what I offered to my sister — there are so many other things we can talk about and share. We both love gardening, appreciate the beauty of nature, share family history. I hope you and your sister can find this common ground. Yes, your faith is profoundly important to you, but you don’t need to talk about it with her if it makes her uncomfortable. I don’t know how you had to choose between her and God. Without knowing more, I can’t speak to it. I just ask you to be careful that you don’t push your beliefs in her face in a way that might alienate her. That’s hard when you’ve found something that feels so important to you. You want everyone to share in your joy.

What matters is that we all respect each other — I won’t shove my atheism in your face if you don’t shove Jesus in mine. I expect Jesus can speak for himself; you don’t need to speak for him.

What Erica did, she did because of her personal convictions. It hurt me terribly, but that is for me to deal with. An ugly part of me feels a mean kind of good when someone says what a bitch she was to do that. But I know it is ugly and to indulge in those sorts of feelings brings only a poisonous kind of satisfaction. To forgive and show compassion is to squelch those ugly impulses and heal the pain in me. I don’t need Jesus to tell me that, but I have no problem with you and Jesus nodding your heads in agreement.

6 11 2012
The Simple Life of a Country Man's Wife

that really saddens me, & i can relate to some of what you’ve said. love is the most powerful motivator… who is motivated by rejection? just doesn’t make a bit of sense.

6 11 2012
pattytmitchell

So sorry for your loss.

6 11 2012
justmytake

I am truly sorry for your loss, not just the loss of your sister’s presence in the world, but the loss of all the hopes you had for all of your tomorrows together at last.

It would be redundant to say that your sister’s last act toward you seems fundamentally “un” Christian. You said it best, after all.

I do believe in a “something” out there. I have seen too much evidence of it to argue otherwise. I do, however, join hands with you in respecting all faiths and beliefs, so long as the foundation is about love, tolerance and forgiveness.

May you soon find peace.
Hugs to you.

6 11 2012
Jeremy Truitt

This is incredibly touching. Thank you for sharing.

6 11 2012
segmation

Sorry about your loss of your sister. May her memories be a blessing to you.

6 11 2012
sarajoredlocks

Justine,
I cried reading this and my heart is broken for you. My sister and I are in the same proverbial ‘boat’ with the main difference being that I am the Christian and she the atheist… I love her regardless of her beliefs and respect her right to do as she pleases. Unfortunately, she finds my faith ridiculous and wants little to do with me. I hope that we resolve and don’t part this life estranged. You have all of my love and positive energy for your healing.

-Sara.

6 11 2012
The Flat Girl

I am so sorry that you lost your sister while you did not have the opportunity to say goodbye… life can be cruel in that way – death even more cruel.

I hope you find solace in something. I am truly sorry for your loss, although I realize no words can help you now.

Best wishes to you for your future.

Always.

6 11 2012
irtclothing

Very sad.
As a christian myself, I know that it is quite frustrating and even more saddening when you try to turn people (especially the ones you love most) to God.
The problem here is that we sometimes want to force unbelievers to believe in God but, like you said, belief comes from the heart.

Before God gave out the first commandment or handed out his first punishment he showed his love by giving life. If your sister had left things to God, the two of you might have been close enough for you to see how he operated in her life everyday, and who knows what your beliefs might have been today :-)

Now that she’s gone though, all I can say is that I respect you for forgiving her despite your pain.
This probably wont mean much to you since you’re an atheist and all but, God loves you

6 11 2012
williamw60640

Regarding your final statement in the post, truer words have never been written. I am sorry for your loss. If I may respectfully say, your words and the noble, tolerant example you are setting at this difficult time speaks volumes in teaching unconditional acceptance and respect for others’ choices. I wish you peace, and I believe your forthcoming post will surely help others cope with similar difficulties in their lives. Take good care.

6 11 2012
A.J. Carroll

It’s very brave of you to put this out here. I am a Christian. I would never presume to tell someone else what to believe in. And I can’t begin to think what your sister was thinking at the time she made that decision. I can only offer my condolences and wish for you, that you DID have the opportunity to say goodbye….or even just know she was sick. I’m sitting here thinking how I would feel in your place; I can’t even begin to completely understand how you must be feeling. Beliefs set aside, you are sisters (yes, she’s still your sister) and that trumps everything….I hope you are able to keep the good times you must have shared with her in your heart and know there is nothing you could have done to change her decision.
xo
AJ

6 11 2012
growingupright

Wow. You could remove the word “atheist” and insert any other religion there. Your words are very powerful. Hoping you find peace.

6 11 2012
vyvacious

Wow, this is impeccably written. Thank you for sharing this with us! I commend you for looking past the sorrow and hurt and for settling on forgiveness.

6 11 2012
G

“Do not shut others out of your heart because they do not share your faith. If your god is true and real and as powerful as you believe, what defense does he need?” WOW lines. Beautiful.

6 11 2012
revkennydickson

Thank you for sharing this. I am sorry for the pain you experienced and I pray your forgiving will bring you peace.

6 11 2012
revkennydickson

Reblogged this on "Scattershooting" and commented:
A powerful, well written letter about the importance of forgivness.

7 11 2012
justinegraykin

Thank you for sharing this. I hope it does some good.

7 11 2012
revkennydickson

I am sure it will. I know someone(s) who need to see it will.

6 11 2012
susannairn

Regardless of belief, she was your sister and I’m sorry for your loss. Your words are poignant and make us all think of what is truly important. There should be no dividing lines between family.

6 11 2012
lsurrett2

I wholeheartedly agree with you. As a Christ-follower, I see no point in what your sister did to you and your family. My hope for you is to make peace with what is and to celebrate with your children what you did have with her–a shared upbringing. I’m so sorry for your loss.

7 11 2012
Marcela

Let me start by saying that I am sorry for your loss. Just like you, I only have one sister and I am in a somewhat similar situation. I’ve realized from experience that the more a person is in her/his faith, the harder it is for them to forgive, tolerate, and embrace the differences that we all have. I am really sorry that you did not have a chance to talk to your sister one last time, but that was a choice she made and the people around her had to keep their word and not tell you. How sad that even towards the end of her life she was not able to love you enough to understand that you, just like her, had to be your own person. I was brought up Catholic, but for the last couple of years I’ve become very desolution with religion in general so I am a non practicing Catholic. I, just like you, try to be tolerant and understanding of other’s choices. I try to be more spiritual than religious. I wish you the best and again, I am sorry for your loss.

7 11 2012
Humans Are Weird

Thanks for sharing this, it was beautiful. It’s a shame that the ones we love often can’t accept our way of life, whatever form that way may take. Especially when we just want to develop a real, authentic and unconfined relationship with them, person to person.

If you’ve truly forgiven her and let go, good on you, there’s nothing more for you to do than that. I sincerely hope you’ve opened a few people’s minds with this post.

7 11 2012
Andrew Blitman

Wow, that’s really deep. You’re like Thomas Jefferson, who once said “I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend”. Just keep swimming because you’re awesome, and here’s why:

http://thewrittenblit.com/2012/05/15/top-ten-reasons-why-i-know-you-are-awesome/

7 11 2012
Who Am I?

She couldn’t forgive you despite being religious. You forgive her inspite of your belief that there is no God.

Just thinking aloud: she couldn’t prove the existence of God to you. But can you prove there is no God? How perfect is the human mind to judge the absolute truth? We don’t even know what will happen in the next moment, but we seem to be so sure about existence or nonexistence of God.

Religion divides, love unites. God is not religion, love is.

7 11 2012
sporadicblogger

Sorry for your loss and hope your heart finds the peace it deserves.

7 11 2012
Ann Almodovar

Both you and your sister were in a difficult situation and it’s good to know that you forgive her for shutting you out. It takes a lot of strength, and love, to forgive. I do not have the slightest idea why she made the choice of not wanting to you to see her knowing she did not have much time left. Maybe she was afraid and thought you would question her faith when you see her, a believer, suffering from cancer and ask her why God has not healed her. Maybe she believed in a different doctrine.

Christians are commissioned to be the light and salt of the earth – to spread the truth; to share the gospel through the Bible and by living a life walking with God.

I do agree with you though. We should not impose our beliefs on others. But please allow me to pray for you and your family.

7 11 2012
justinegraykin

I do not need to believe in the efficacy of prayer to gratefully appreciate the spirit of compassion which motivates your offer to pray for me and my family. Thank you.

7 11 2012
Ann Almodovar

You’re welcome.

7 11 2012
alienredqueen

That thought occurred to me (that she didn’t want to deal with her faith being called into question,) but if the author is true to her word, it doesn’t sound like she’d do that. I have a hard time with faith, but I don’t mind when my friends pray for me. SOmetimes it’s a comfort because they can do for me what I can’t do for myself.

7 11 2012
OyiaBrown

Reblogged this on Oyia Brown.

7 11 2012
faydanamyjake

I am so sorry for your loss, and the rejection your sister gave you in her final days. Love can be twisted and torn in strange ways, all I can try to offer as comfort is she must have loved you to care what you thought. I lost my sibling to an accident and in a different way was unable to say goodbye. this book http://www.amazon.com/SURVIVING-THE-DEATH-OF-SIBLING/dp/0609809806/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1352288055&sr=8-1&keywords=surviving+the+death+of+a+sibling
is wonderful, a real life line for griving siblings. one of the things the author advises is writing an open letter to your sister, getting all the pain and anger and love and whatever else down on paper, your way of saying goodbye and keep it to read, over and over, over months and years till you come to peace.
This is such a difficult time and my heart goes out to you.
I followed your blog and look forward to exploring

7 11 2012
justinegraykin

Thank you for sharing this book. I suppose that this is what I have done in writing this essay, getting out the pain I feel and trying to make sense of what she did. But the rest of the healing process is coming out of the flood of responses I have received. So many warm wishes and offers of prayers and sympathy; so many suggestions of ways to try to understand why she did what she did. Even the few negative comments give me something to think about. As a philosopher, I appreciate even that.

7 11 2012
Mountain Gypsy

You are very brave. I respect your post and your beliefs.
I have four sisters. We are all quite different in many ways. We disagree, we agree, we love each other regardless. We are sisters, family first and foremost. We respect each other.
My youngest sister was on Life Support for one week. She survived. I can’t stand her husband, disagree with her lifestyle sometimes but I was there EVERY SINGLE day by her side. I was there the day they took her off Life Support and she breathed on her own.
Religion should not come between family. It is a personal relationship ( or not ) within ones heart and soul. No one has the right to deny you your beliefs.
I hope that you find Peace with your sisters decision, though I give you credit, I don’t think I could…….

7 11 2012
10eveningflowers

So sorry :( …RIP Erica …. U are a strong and wonderful lady :)

7 11 2012
7 11 2012
theblessedewe

My heart is with you as yours aches for your loss, both of a sister, and of the trust you had in her. Whether you shared your beliefs in God or not, the bond between sisters is strong, yet when tested, can easily give way. Of course none of us can speak for your sister’s reasoning; but we can say that ALL people make mistakes, she’s just not in a position to correct hers anymore. Please forgive her, not only for her, but for yourself. Let go of your anger and resentment because it will make you sick both physically and mentally. Rest easy knowing that you are a good person and that even though you don’t believe in God, those of us who do will still pray for you to ease your pain. No one deserves to feel the level of abandonment that you’re feeling right now. Let it go, think of the good times you had with your sister, and move forward one step at a time. Justine, you are a child of God, athiest or not, and your sister will be there to welcome you with open arms one day. Until then, keep being who you are, true to who you are, and know that people who don’t even know you care enough to pray for your peace of mind and well-being. Peace be with you, in this common ground and always.

7 11 2012
FindYourParadigm.com

Family dynamics are tough. I am the “red-headed stepchild” in my family and I know what it’s like to be shut out and disrespected. I wish I had an answer as to why so-called “Christians” say they believe one thing and live the complete opposite as I grew up in this environment. Funny how christians can’t forgive but they expect everyone else to.

I wish you peace and bless you for your attitude of forgiveness.

7 11 2012
camdenstables

Forgiveness does not always mean reconciliation or acceptance.You could forgive someone for hurting your child or your property, but to give them a place in your life without them having some form of remorse or turn around could be a major mistake.

7 11 2012
iRuniBreathe

We don’t chose our family. I am sorry that this must also been a painful loss to your sister to harden her heart so much to you. I also strongly believe that religion is not the issue; if we could only be more tolerant and accepting (as universally religion encourages) than our differences might just be differences. There is still so much to connect us to each other.
Thanks for sharing,
iRuniBreathe

7 11 2012
Sarah

I’m so sorry

7 11 2012
nearlynormalized

I have always thought that we are our own GODS…Your sister not only lost the battle with her life but lost, period. Kindness, love, understanding is what one expresses with a higher being. You have many sisters in this wrold.

7 11 2012
tonyhubertcod

GOD IS LOVE. JESUS THE CHRIST , INCARNATION OF GOD , DESCRIBED THE WHOLE LAW AS LOVE. PAUL SAID: IF I HAVE THE GIFTS AND NO LOVE , I AM EMPTY. THE CHRISTIAN IS A FOLLOWER OF THE CHRIST AND SHOULD BE GUIDED BY LOVE , SUM TOTAL OF THE LAW OF GOD. UNCONDITIONAL LOVE , IS SELFLESS . IT RADIATES PEACE , JOY AND TRUE SATISFACTION. WHAT THE WORLD NEEDS IS THE CAPACITY TO FORGIVE AND BE A HELP TO ALL ACCORDING TO OUR ABILITY.

7 11 2012
justinegraykin

You needn’t shout. In fact, we all wish you wouldn’t.

7 11 2012
Erin's DC Kitchen

I’m sorry for your loss, the physical and the loss of the sibling relationship. I understand how close the sibling bond can be, and even when it isn’t, there is always an undefinable pull to that other person that I cannot explain. I can’t imagine being cut out of my siblings lives and how painful that must have been. Really, the death of your sister started years ago when the relationship between you two was severed. Her physical death is probably bringing up new emotions in you, like anger, confusion, sorrow, or ‘what-if-ism’ as to why things couldn’t be different. Reflect, be kind to yourself, and focus on moving forward. (Self forgiveness can be important too.) Best wishes.

7 11 2012
alienredqueen

This is a great message. I am so sorry for your loss… and Erica’s, because she missed out on knowing a good person simply because they didn’t think like she did (which in my opinion, is NOT how her God would want her to behave.)

7 11 2012
saharsalman

I have seen a lot of replies to your post saying sorry, feeling for you, telling you your sister is wrong. All I’d like to say is I’m sure.. wherever she is, Whoever she believed in… she did love you. Your not believing made her so upset she didnt want you to be there at her death. It mattered to her that you believe. That in some way what she considered your immortal soul would be safe. So she did care. She may not have chosen the best way to show it. But she did care. Im not sure if things brings any comfort. I hope it does. Chin up and brave eyes =)

7 11 2012
justinegraykin

Perhaps you are right. I only wish I could know. Whether she did it out of love for me or some misguided commitment to her god is impossible to judge. I will say this: as much as I think she was wrong to do what she did, as cruel as it was and as much as it hurt, I believe she thought she was right to do it, that her faith obliged her. This does not make her evil; merely tragic.

8 11 2012
saharsalman

Convictions are strange things justine. I hope you find peace.

7 11 2012
Go Send or Disobey

Justine,

First of all, I am so sorry for your loss. I, too, am in the midst of a season of loss having lost four friends and three pets in the space of one year (the most recent being this past Sunday). I understand the pain and grief that consumes and overwhelms us.

I have not read all the comments above, just a good portion of them, but I am pretty sure what I want to say next has already been said. Even so I want to say it again myself. I want to commend you. I am an Fundamental and Evangelical Christian and find your behavior and reactions to this horrible situation to be more in line with Christ’s teachings than your sister’s. There are many things people do in Christ’s name that are flat out wrong and denying you a relationship with your sister was wrong. Christ speaks of many things in the Bible and a large number of those things have caused division in today’s society but the one thing that was vitally important to Him, and therefore should be vitally important to everyone believer or not, is relationships. The Golden Rule says, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” and the other command Jesus emphasized was, “Love the Lord, Your God, with your whole heart, mind, strength and soul and love your neighbor as yourself.” Both of these have relationships at their center.

I could write volumes about Christian hypocracy but won’t because we all have experienced it. It is too prevalent and shameful. Too many people in today’s society, Christian and non-Christian alike, forget the importance of forgiveness. C.S. Lewis said it best when he said, “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.” No matter what your beliefs are, I admire your ability to forgive. Keep it up, you have many blessings in front of you, my sister.

Karen

7 11 2012
justinegraykin

Perhaps it has been said before, but I am heartened to hear it said by one who identifies as a fundamentalist evangelical. Those of your faith have done so much to tarnish their image. It is good to hear another side. Thank you very much for adding your voice and views. Here is our common ground. Go in peace.

7 11 2012
Karyl

I am sorry for your loss.

7 11 2012
IM Sirius

Many Christians praise Jesus, but ignore what he taught. They seem more concerned with being right, or superior to others, than with following the teachings of Christ. I’m sorry your sister wasn’t as much of a Christian as she may have thought she was. Had she been, I’m sure things would have ended very differently.

7 11 2012
diarydilemma

First, I am very sorry for your loss. It saddens me that ( yet again ) religion has seperated people more than it has brought them together. I am sorry for you that you didn’t get the chance to say goodbye to your blood. But with time, it heals all wounds. Keep your head up and let time do the healing <3

7 11 2012
Dr. Welch DSc MSci

I hope you are able to get your life back on track after such an awful time. Family is so important. Religion and beliefs make us do some strange things. But regret is something the living have to deal with.

Don’t regret, just remember the good times – everything else if of little consequence.

7 11 2012
Chicken Nuggets and Elmo

I’m sorry for your loss. That was a really great post.

7 11 2012
Sara Marquez

You may not believe in a God, but you DO believe in LOVE. What a painful story, but what beautiful thoughts, said in such beautiful words.

7 11 2012
Jim

Justine,
You have our thoughts and prayers .. a difficult story to live, but one that already is bringing value and thought to others as seen in these interactions.

One observation from my own meditations … the Lord’s Prayer has a phrase: “Forgive my trespasses as I forgive those who trespass against me”
the word “as” (here in English) carries various meanings …
one interpretation is that you are forgiven at the same time as you forgive … which seems like sound psychological insight …. Your act of forgiveness is a step that can in some ways release you — may it be so for you, and those who gain insight and inspiration from your openness.

8 11 2012
Laura4NYC

What a touching post! It actually made me cry. I totally understand your point of view. And now I also see how I reacted when I met people who are “atheists”. I might have drawn myself apart from the one or other by not giving him a chance to express himself before I had already judged on his views and lifestyle….
Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. I am sorry for your sister’s death…

9 11 2012
justinegraykin

If I have made you think, and humanized atheists for you a little bit, then some good has come of it. Thank you for your kind words. Please share your understanding with others.

9 11 2012
bluebeadpublications

I think your laid back take on being an atheist is beyond refreshing. I am sorry your sister passed away.

10 11 2012
jenny ealson

My condolences. From her point of view, she did it because she loves you.

14 11 2012
Sprouting an Old Soul

I appreciate your posting, my condolences for your loss and your hurt. I don’t think it matters what your belief may be – spiritual, full blown religious, or atheist. I believe that all of us are made equal and it is what we do that impacts who we are, what we believe is only a part of it – but that doesn’t make us less of a person. It makes us unique, and a great addition to this beautiful planet.

18 11 2012
Denise Hisey

Justine, I am so sad for the loss of your sister and the equally painful lack of connection between you. As a Christian, it saddens me she didn’t extend the very tolerance and acceptance you mentioned, and desired. God does ask us to love others unconditionally, and it is heartbreaking that her inability to do so with you caused you more pain.

Your comment -that she held her love for you hostage, demanding a payment you couldn’t give – really jumped out at me, and saddened me.
Your ability to forgive, despite the pain, is admirable.

Thanks for sharing this touching story, Justine.

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