This I believe. I went to church every Sunday when I was little. My mom went to a catholic school in downtown Philadelphia from kindergarten through her senior year. So you could say, religion was beaten into her at a very young age. My dad, a Lutheran, would drop us off and go do his “non-catholic” thing during our hour long mass at Our Lady of Grace. My sister would listen patiently as I would fidget. Fidget, hum, chew gum… do everything and anything except listen to the man in the robes up front.
When I was six, my Dad’s Mom died tragically in a fire in the middle of the night. She had set her cigarette on some newspapers, and then fell in the kitchen and broke her hip. I still get nauseous whenever I smell the scent of ashes or burnt clothing. I was so young that my parent’s left my sister and I at home at 2 a.m. when they went to go find out what had exactly happened that night. My Dad knew the Fire Chief from working late nights in the E.R. at the hospital. As my Mom and Dad sat in their car, they watched flames jump out from the one apartment that had caught fire. My Grandma’s. The fire chief came to the window, and my Mom naively asked him if they needed to identify the body. “Oh, Mrs. Erdahl, there isn’t anything to identify. We’re going to need to base that strictly on dental records.”
The next year, my Dad’s step mom (since the age of two), died of cancer.
The next year, my Mom’s mom died after a ten year bottle with Lymphoma. Grandmom “Philadelphia” we would call her since I had grown up with three grandmas, unique names like that were necessary. She had the roundest cheeks, warmest lap, and made the best mashed potatoes. Unbelievably buttery and salted to perfection… I used to get so frustrated with her when she would only give the kids table a small bowl of the mashed potatoes, but my eyes were always bigger then my stomach anyways! Mom stood behind me in the viewing line, and I realized that I couldn’t touch Grandmom. My mom was bin tears, hugging her Mother, crying. I couldn’t touch her because she wasn’t Grandmom Philadelphia. The last few weeks of her life took her round cheeks, and that scent I used to run to when I cam bursting through the door after our long flight.
At this point, I have lost track of how old I was when all of these events took place.
My Mom’s Dad passed away… next. Pop Pop, was the best. He knew exactly where to squeeze you on your knee cap to make you jump and squeal with laughter. He had the biggest ears. Old peoples’ ears always get so stretched out when they really start to age. His were so floppy. If my Mom and one of her three brothers were ever in an argument, and the grandchildren were getting frightened by the constant bickering between the siblings, Pop Pop would always chime in with this song. “Pussy cat pussy cat, where did you go? I went over to Pop Pop’s house to play in the snow… When I go there, there was nobody! So I went and sat in Pop Pop’s big green chair!” At his service, they played Taps. I hate that song. I hated watching him under that American flag. I hate Taps.
Dad’s dad. Every time we would go to see him in the home, he was always one season behind me in sports. Always asking how the diving was, when it was the middle of winter and I would be wearing my basketball sweatshirt. Poppa was the only one of them all to come to a Breck Grandparents Day. In 5th grade I was embarrassed to walk slowly with him during that half day of school. He cherished all that mail Breck sent to him after that day. The man worked at Dayton’s as an accountant until he was 88 years old. Not being able to crunch numbers was worse to him than the horrific food he had to eat when he lived at the “Castle”… what my sister and I used to wish it was. My dad went to go visit his Father the day after Christmas. He died two days later. He had held on, to see his only son one last time, just passed away in his sleep. With the honey roasted peanuts we would bring him EVERY time we visited him.
The first time we went to church as a family after Grandmom Philadelphia died, my Mom was in tears. She could not, not, not stop crying. I couldn’t fidget in church anymore. I just refused to go. My mom stopped asking for company, and I kept sleeping every Sunday morning. Is it sad that I can’t walk through a church again without hallucinating a coffin in front of me? Was it awful of me to abandon my mother in the one place she had found comfort in for so many years of her life?
Church is not joyous. It’s not lovely woman in colorful robes singing songs that match the birds outside on Easter Sunday. It’s not one voice praying to God. Church is a place. Two doors that I walk through to say goodbye to people I cherish. I could call it business. I go in, I weep. I don’t say prayers in unison anymore because of all the times I attempted to choke through one at a funeral. I believe in personal faith. God exists, I agree. But must it be within these walls? The doors people walk through to sing and pray. The same doors I walk through are for crying and goodbyes. My God tells my Grandparents are happy and healthy and safe. The God within the church led them to that place though, and I don’t trust that God. My personal faith is what I turn to when I need help, guidance, and love.
This is what I believe. This is how I believe.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.