I didn't find God the way most children find God. I didn't grow up being woken up on Sunday mornings, dressing up and sleepily going to mass. I didn't even grow up in a house where church was attended on the major holidays, where mass was long and hot and everyone is dressed up. I grew up in a household where religion was decided upon individually, rather than being forced. The relationship I found with God came through struggle, loss and, surprisingly, music.
In July of 2015, I lost my Nani. My Nani was my great-grandmother on my father's side, and she was the light of everyone's life. She was the smallest person I have ever met, but she had a big personality. She sat upon her throne in the living room, alternating between telling my mom and me about every aspect of her day that week and ordering us around as she "made us dinner." Making us dinner usually either meant us doing all the work or my Uncle Rick coming over with many pizzas. She was incredibly religious. She used to make me yearn for some form of religion in my life. My Nani was incredible, an Italian immigrant who was so forward thinking and strong that she was far ahead of her time.
In August of 2015, as we drove down to her services, The Wonder Years' song from their newest album came on. The Wonder Years had been there for me since middle school. Those lyrics weren't a quiet conversation about feeling depression bury itself in your bones, but they were realistic beyond belief. The song that came on, as we drove down to her services? "Cigarettes and Saints." I have never before felt tears well up in my eyes before the song even started.
"And I refuse to kneel or pray, I won't remember you that way." [...] "I'm sure there ain't a heaven, but that don't mean I don't like to picture you there. I bet you're bumming cigarettes off saints. And I'm sure you're still singing, but I'll bet that you're still just a bit out of key. That crooked smile pushing words across your teeth."
I spent most of the funeral service not praising God but instead cursing him. Why would a God who was supposed to be merciful take away the most incredible woman I ever had the pleasure to know? To love?
But what I learned was the important thing. After I healed, my grief subsiding, I realized that everyone needs something to believe in. It took the loss of someone so close to me to realize that as angry as I was, as hopeless and empty as I felt, all I needed was God. If for no other reason (and there were a lot of reasons for me to seek God), the most important was that every time I step into a church, I feel my Nani. I feel her love, her warm smile, and her spirit next to me every time I close my eyes to pray. Finding God kept me connected to my Nani, making it so I never had to say goodbye to someone who was so important in my life.
And so, here I am. This September I will continue to make my Nani proud beyond the grave by going through RCIA, and by next Easter I will be a confirmed Catholic. I'll never have to let go of my Nani.