If you’re familiar with my blog, you know about Jean, one of the people I’ve gotten to know through my work as a hospice volunteer. I’ve written about her a few times.
Jean’s always been one my favorites. She grew up in Maine, swooned over a 6-foot-4 Navy man – love at first sight – got married and raised two children. She loved the Kennedys and asked me to read her books about JFK – her eyesight wasn’t so good anymore.
Her eyes and her heart were failing, but Jean’s mind was sharp. And her kindness was always intact. I’d knock on her door, walk into her nursing home room, and she’d smile and invite me – in her Northeastern accent – to sit down and catch her up on things.
“Give me the good stuff,” she’d say. “I want details!”
Jean was in her 90s. On her birthday, she’d say: “I never thought I’d live this long.” When I turned 60 and had trouble wrapping my head around that number, she started calling me “Mr. Chicken,” as in a spring chicken.
I liked that a lot. I enjoyed walking into her room and hearing her say, “Oh, it’s Mr. Chicken!”
During one of our many rambling conversations, Jean turned very serious and asked me something totally out of the blue: Do I believe in hell?
How do you answer that question? I went with honesty.
No, Jean, I don’t believe in hell — not the way it’s portrayed, anyway. I don’t believe in the Santa Claus version – God’s watching like a peeping Tom, ready to punish us with a lump of everlasting coal if we eat a hot dog on Friday or break some other rule concocted by religious leaders.
No loving parent would do that
I told Jean that I don’t believe in any of that. No loving parent would ever torture their child. And besides, all that hellish stuff we hear isn’t even Biblical. It’s totally un-Jesus-y. He told us that God is a loving parent who wants nothing other than to give us a big hug and an amazing party.
Jean said she didn’t believe in that version of hell, either. As a parent, she didn’t see how any loving parent could ever hurt their child.
So, why was hell on her mind?
Jean came from a strict church background and was taught that if you’re gay, you’re doomed to hell. Her daughter is gay and had recently married her longtime partner. Jean loved them both very deeply. They’re a good match, and it’s obvious that there’s much love between them. Jean was glad her daughter had someone who loved her and made her happy.
So, what’s the issue?
Given her “religious” upbringing, Jean was unsure how God would feel about it. She didn’t think God would hurt her child, but she wasn’t sure. She was losing sleep over it.
Ugh!!! I hate to see people tormented and tortured by all this twisted, warped theology of divine hate and retribution. You want my definition of hell? It’s people spreading that crappy theology.
I asked Jean if she thinks that God is love, and she said yes. I asked if she thinks that God loves her daughter as much as she does, and Jean said even more than she ever could.
So, do you think God blesses their relationship, too? Jean smiled and nodded. It was settled. She decided it was “silly” to even doubt God’s love.
And we never spoke of hell again.
We spoke of other things, of course. We talked about JFK’s affairs. We talked about getting snowed in by Nor’easters in Maine. One time, we got into another “religious” topic – how did people in Jesus’ time trim their fingernails?
We never spoke of hell again
She said it was a “silly” question, but she wanted to know. So, we Googled it on my phone, right there in her room, and got a suitable answer. (If you want to know, you’ll have to Google it for yourself.)
Jean died last month. I was on vacation. I didn’t get to tell her goodbye. At first, that bothered me. Then I realized I was being silly, to use Jean’s word.
An improper sendoff? The God of unending life and unlimited love would never permit such a thing. No goodbye was necessary. Someday there will be a reunion of me and Jean. And I have an idea of how it will go.
She’ll give Mr. Chicken a hug and invite me to join the amazing party. And she’ll want to catch up on things – all the good stuff, you know. In detail, of course. She’ll want all the details.