One year ago today I wrote the following in response to this piece about Relationship Funerals I share it now with you.
A breakup ritual could be incredibly beautiful… and painful… and healing. It’s one way to face a separation head-on (and heart-on) and spend an intentional moment dedicated to that transition to a new beginning.
What I love about the concept of a relationship “funeral” is the respect and honor it shows to the grief we experience when something truly alive, generative, and unique must stop growing and is put away; it feels much like an unfinished piece of art tossed on the closet shelf. But does it need to?
In 2014 I went through an impactful breakup that was unlike any that I’d processed before. It wasn’t based in ill-will or bitterness, but it did end up very lonely for me and without “closure”. My love felt like a raw, cut edge of fabric that had no seam, no clean finish or defined shape. I felt messy inside.
My partner knew his path and left to follow it. When our roads diverged, I realized I didn’t know where I was on the entire map. Hell, my life didn’t have a map.
What made it the most difficult may have been silence–the Unknown created by the empty space he and our relationship left behind. But talking seemed too painful, and reminding myself of what wasn’t alive between us anymore felt wretched. For a little while I struggled to move forward because I didn’t know how to end.
So what would have helped my transition into the next part of my relational life? Perhaps something concrete. Perhaps a ritual. I’m honestly not sure. I bet my ex would have probably said yes if I asked for one… And now that I’m talking about it, I’m so glad for people like that in my life, even if/when they leave it. The people who would understand why that is important. The people who might say yes if I asked.
What if I (I can’t speak for anyone else) could redefine what it means for me to have a complete and successful relationship? What if a “successful relationship” means the relationship has completely run its course, served a greater purpose, and we are deeply grateful for it? What if we could cry together and not push away? What if we had the communal support that’s usually given to mourners? What if I opened myself to that support in the first place? Would recognizing the completion of our time together with ritual, care, and kindness help redirect our paths a bit sooner? Honor the past as well as set intentions for the future? Perhaps. This is something I’m taking forward with me on my path.
Not every relationship needs the same things or looks a certain way. Some need a clean break. But I am looking for more ways to love and be loved in this world, and I admire the idea of sharing a moment that intentionally comes out of true love and compassion for oneself and one’s former partner.
I remember reluctantly stepping out of faith into atheism feeling as if everything I cared about had been erased against my will. My community support structure was gone; my family now felt like strangers; and I had no direction in life or understanding of my place in the world. Who was I? Weren’t all atheists lone wolves without a pack? Was I going to be alone and floundering forever? I picture myself back then as a child standing alone in a dark, empty room with no Exit sign or clues about how to find my way back to safety. I felt lost in so many ways.
And yet I still knew I’d made the right decision following the truth where I saw it. So I lived in discomfort for a long time, and sought out all of you. Twitter, GG.com, and a local Meetup.com group pretty much saved my bacon. I searched for community anywhere I could find it outside of a ritual setting.
So thank you, friends. Thank you for reaching me and showing me I could still know friendship, connection, and common values even without a guide or set of rules. Thank you in those little ways you showed me I was okay in the closet and out of it. Thank you for showing examples of what it means to be confident and skeptical, kind and daring, driven and open to change. Because of the examples of others, I discovered I wasn’t alone in that dark room. I had people all around me. I just needed someone to turn on the light and show me what was available to me in this new life. Because of the examples of others, I now have a real community online and off, I am out of the closet everywhere in my life, and I’ve tried in my little ways to show others it’s okay. You’re not alone.
Thank you, Atheism, for:
Causing me to realize my ethics need to come from my own truth, and not from someone’s interpretation of a book or prophetic message.
Challenging me when I was comfortable and complacent in my thoughts and beliefs.
Propelling me into years of self-reflection and change. Nothing showed me I would be okay after asking myself the scary questions like my transition to atheism from faith.
Opening up an entirely new community of friends, online and off.
Giving me the space to make my own choices without worrying about being shunned from a rule-based community, eternal consequences, and punishment.
Showing me I can be bold about who I am in public because I’m just as “okay” and worthy of respect and understanding as anyone else.
Being another example of a label that can shelter bigoted, cruel, abusive, and closed-minded people behind an assumption of “rightness”. I realized that changing labels doesn’t free me from having to confront the same failings of humanity as are found within other social groups. This fact inspires me to focus more on the people and their actions more than the simplistic fact that they don’t believe in a deity.
Helping me find other issues I care about more than religion. As you know, reader, I don’t blog anymore. I don’t get very angry about religion anymore. I don’t consider myself an outlier in society.And there are other causes I care about more than arguing theology. I met social justice warriors I admire through the skeptic and atheist communities. I changed my tune on some social issues through the influence of these bold few who educate and call-out/call-in those who perpetuate socially destructive ideas and all those *isms I didn’t realize had to do with me after all.