We scattered my grandmother’s ashes today. She was a magnificent woman who denied herself better things to save nickels and dimes, yet never hesitated to eagerly dump thousands of dollars on us. It is to her enduring sense of selflessness for those she cared about that I owe my education. She was always happy, exceedingly generous, and very tough. Even in the end it seemed her primary concern was to be as little a burden to her loved ones as possible. She was tough, but it was a toughness masked by kindness. She raised the most amazing man I’ve ever met who, in turn, raised two good kids.
Before when people in my life have died I’ve had regrets. When Pearl, my first and most influential voice teacher died, I found myself wishing I had worked harder as her student. I suspect that almost all people have similar regrets when those close to them die, and that it’s simply the best among us who later make up for them. But when grandma died I had no regrets. I had gone down to see her towards the end at every opportunity. I had crawled into her bed, hugged her, and told her I loved her. I teared up and thanked her for everything she had done to make me who I am. And I know she died proud of me for all I have accomplished.
There is an oft-asked question by the theist: how do atheists deal with death? The answer is that we bravely acknowledge that death is just as much a part of life as living. We gratefully remember our loved ones and work to be the type of person they would be proud of in life, and even prouder of in the fullness of our lives. We hug our loved ones that remain and let those who have passed live on in our actions and conscience, so that their lasting influence can continue to improve us.
And we cry.