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May 2019
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Catholic Church

An Atheist Walks Into a Church…

Tim would appreciate the irony in this: that the first ever Catholic Funeral Christian Burial Mass I ever attended was not that of a relative, but of one of my closest friends. I mean, what the? And it was so dreadful. Not a word about Tim himself, what a great brother, uncle, son and friend he was, and how he worked with mentally-disabled children, but it was all self-serving about the priest and his little fable and moralizing in code that was so obviously anti-gay. I was offended, frankly. Here I go again, me being disappointed in humanity again because I had much more faith (ha, ironic word usage there too) in what they would do and say at the funeral. (But here’s the problem, Ann, we’re not talking HUMANITY, we’re talking CHRISTIANITY–therein lies the problem) It had nothing to do with Tim, and everything to do with preprescribed Catholic ritual. As Tim would say many times, to us anyway, “I hate the Catholic Church so much.”

There was obviously aspects of Tim’s life that were unbeknownst to other parts of his life. He kept his sexual preferences secret from his family (although they must know now because the Madison obituary did mention his husband–the obituary in his family’s part of the state was altered to a more Republican-friendly version), and around us he always talked about how much he couldn’t stand the church. So it was a surprise for me to find out after his passing that he was studying to be some sort of Secular Franciscan…something…I don’t know the terminology. Even if he had a hard time making a clean break from the religious way in which his family brought him up, (unlike me, in fact, I didn’t have to break because I was already broken seemingly from the start), I still can’t imagine him having wanted such a traditional, impersonal sort of funeral. But then again, it is very foreign to me, the whole Catholic funeral thing.

I can now fill up one hand with the number of funerals I have attended in my life. My earliest memory was of my grandfather–mother’s side. I remember the color white, and I remember my mom lifting me up to see him him in his casket. I was only about 2 and a half. I’ll have to ask my mom, but I think the union he was in was able to give him a good funeral. I don’t remember churchiness. I might be mistaken, but something sticks in my mind about that. He was the only grandparent whose funeral I attended. My dad’s mom’s funeral was in Massachusetts and my mom and I stayed in Colorado while my dad took care of that. My mom to this day still speaks not well of her MIL. I don’t think my dad’s dad’s funeral was large, and my parents thought I’d best not attend anyway. I was a teen then, going through my own difficult times. And my mom’s mom’s funeral was held in Wisconsin when I was living in Colorado, so I’d have to miss work at a job I just started, so I couldn’t afford to go.

I attended a funeral for my friend Ron from high school when I was in my 20s. It was in a Unitarian Church and very humanistic. They played some music that he had composed. The funeral for my major art professor from grad school wasn’t held at a church, but at a funeral home, which is much more sensible than in a church. Stan’s Dad’s funeral was in a Methodist church, but it had a very humanistic aspect too. I remember people talking about Gordon during this service. But this one, I had no idea it would be so hand’s off and impersonal. I am just shocked. I cried not just for the loss of Tim, but with anger at how removed from Tim’s life the whole service was, and how anti-gay coded the sermon or talk or whatever they call that, was. I tried looking at the architectural elements, trying to figure out whether altar embellishments were gold leaf or just paint, stared at chandeliers trying to figure out how to render them in Bryce, anything to get my mind off of how I felt towards the Catholic institution.

I am so glad at least he will be cremated. When I read “Burial Mass” in the obituary, I thought they were really going against his wishes. If they only knew, like we do and his other friends we talked to, Dave and Julie, knew, Tim would want his ashes sprinkled where the dogs he grew up with were buried on the family farm.

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