Julia Sweeney Talks About Dealing with Death as an Atheist

Actress Julia Sweeney filmed a segment for Chris Johnson‘s multimedia book about atheists and what gives them joy and meaning in life… though in the segment below, she talks about how she has dealt with death. It’s a short clip, but she puts things into perspective so well:

(via The Atheist Book)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Kevin_Of_Bangor

    My mother died from cancer in 2009 at the age of 64 and I had been an atheist for a few years prior. My mother was religious and had a deep belief in God. So much so that she once told me that God spoke to her in her kitchen and told her he was curing her cancer, God lied.

    My mother was cremated and part of her remains sit on my computer desk in a small urn which I sometimes talk to because I do miss her but I know she is dead. Not in heaven and looking down on me and I find that concept very creepy to be honest.

    Thankfully my mother wanted a celebration of life held for her. Not any sort of funeral. It was held in a church but it was just friends and family, no outside pastor or anyone like that spoke. We had lots of pictures and if anyone wanted to say some words they could.

    I miss her dearly but I’m 100% ok with the fact that I will never see her again. I had 39 years with her and I have a lot of good memories to reflect back on.

    • AxeGrrl

      Thanks for sharing, Kevin :)  my mum died at 60 and I had 33 years with her….we’re lucky to have those good memories to cherish, eh?

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Kevin_Of_Bangor

        Yes, we are. Some people never get the years we were allowed. The picture I attached is my mom. My daughter and the ex-wife had flown out to Albuquerque, NM so my daughter could spend her 10th birthday with her. My mother had stopped chemo because it was not working. Looking at the picture you would never know cancer was about to take her life.

        That picture was taken the first week of November. A week before Christmas she started to go downhill. On Jan 18th, 2009 she died.

        • Ibrewwedit

          I lost my mother 7  years ago. I was still a believer then. In some ways it started me on my path of real enlightenment. It also served to cheapen everything at the time. I now realize how special the time we have is. As a believer you lose sight of that with the promise of never never land. the time and memories we have are what matters. I still use the word blessed to describe having grown up with my mom though! For me eternal life is knowing i get to pass a bit of DNA and my personal values to this great cosmic machine, and in doing so help the latest greatest evolution to happen

          cheers all

          gotta wipe a tear now!

        • AxeGrrl

          Your mother has a wonderful smile, Kevin :)

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/A37GL7VKR3W6ACSIZPH7EID3LI rlrose63

      My dad died at 67 in 2005.  It was during the next few weeks that I told my mother I’m an atheist.  She blocked it out right then, but the following year, I mentioned it in passing while visiting her and she was not happy.  We came to an understanding that his is who I am, no I don’t hate her god, no I’m still the same person and am not under the influence of anyone.  She cried about my not being with her in heaven with Dad.

      I occasionally “talk” to my dad… and I miss him terribly. 

      Following my 2nd atheist coming out to my mom, she called to say she figures this means she’ll have to have her youngest sister take care of her funeral… because she wants a full Catholic funeral and somehow, my being an atheist now makes me ill qualified to do that?  We discussed it and she understands that I respect her faith and would do my best to carry out her wishes, regardless of my beliefs.  That’s what we DO in life.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Kevin_Of_Bangor

        I was about to write a novel but you are right. We do what we have to do in life.

        I miss my mother a lot. Sadly my drunk absent father is still alive and kicking.

        I have my father’s gene’s sadly. Drink lots of beer, eat horrible food and I will live to be 80. Nothing like being a Pollack with Viking blood in your veins

  • http://twitter.com/car_tag Josh Helton

    I lost my mom in April after her cancer returned. I’ve been an atheist for half my life now, and she didn’t care much for me being a nonbeliever, at one point even suggesting that her cancer was God’s way of getting me back to the church. Hearing that hurt a lot, but I stuck by her. 

    Many people from her church came by as we were mourning, and it took a lot for me to not say anything in response to the “I’ll pray for you” comments. I’m glad my close friend and my girlfriend were able to be there as secular support as well. My sisters took over the planning for the funeral, met with the pastor, chose hymns, etc, all just knowing that they’d see her again someday.

    I’m still having difficulties coping with losing her. My girlfriend did help put things into perspective though, giving me the same advice I gave her when her grandma died earlier in the year. She reminded me that we’re all stardust, and eventually we will all fuel other stars, giving life to other planets. The material components of our bodies will carry on well after the earth is destroyed, after our sun burns out, and after our little part of the universe goes cold. 

    Had to include a pic from 8 years ago, during her first bout with breast cancer. Before this, I’d had long hair down to my waist. I told her that if she was losing her hair, I’d shave my head. I gave off a creepy Uncle Fester vibe, but I’m still glad I did it. 

    I think I better stop typing now before I drench my keyboard thinking of her :( 

  • LesterBallard

    I was an atheist when, nearly two years ago, my niece’s husband brutally murdered her and his stepson, my eight year old great nephew, who was quite literally the son I never had and would never have. I feel that I have handled it . . . fairly well. 

    What I haven’t handled well is all the talk of god’s plan. How everything is for the best even if we don’t know god’s reasons. That he is in heaven now; or, as his little brother has been told over and over, mama and Ethan are sleeping on clouds in heaven. I haven’t handled that kind of shit at all well. 

    As much as I miss him, as much as I am pained by this, I know that he wasn’t the only little boy who died that day. He wasn’t the only little boy who was murdered that day. He was just “my” little boy. I can deal with that. It’s the god bullshit I have a problem with.

    I am just as convinced that I ever was that there is no god or gods or goddesses. The only change has been that even if I found out that this Christian/Judaic/Islamic god did exists, it still wouldn’t mean shit to me. Oh, he’s in heaven? Doesn’t change the fact that on that morning that little boy went into his mother’s bedroom and saw her lying on the floor in a pool of blood with the back of head busted open; saw the man who did it standing there; turned and tried to get away and was caught from behind and held down and hacked to death with a machete. But he’s in heaven now. Big fucking deal.

    • Maria

      You know what? That saying is very similar to one I’ve been hearing A LOT lately: “Everything happens for a reason.”  A lot of people have been saying they feel that this is the case.  But I always think of extremely horrible situations exactly like this one.  Really? Two people were murdered by someone they loved for a REASON???? Exactly in what universe could ANY reason justify THAT???? NONE! It infuriates me to hear people say this.  Oh, a boy and his mother were brutally murdered for a reason? I don’t even want to hear it.

      • Norma Manna Blum

        The only reason is that we are  were born .. and to “the   heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
        That flesh is heir to”

        The Abrahamic religions do not permit of such a conviction… but in the end one believes or disbelieves what one’s brain allows. Much of what happens in the universe and to whatever lives within it, is random.. has no purpose, and no explanation..We are in a sense brainwashed into lifting our faces to the skies and crying “WHY?” when anything painful, or terrible assails us.Waiting then for an answer from the unseen, ephemeral entity that we imagine has not only a reason  but also the power to revoke the tragedy.Such a travesty on reason..Sadly you have to make your own way to what will allow you to live with such a memory of such a cruelty… 

  • Norma Manna Blum

    This isn’t known as the vale of tears for nothing… whether one is a believer or not, the death of someone one  has feelings for is  painful., the ensuing void a cause of sadness…. the unimaginable finality of it. 
    Nothing whatever to do with god though … it’s part of the human condition to feel joy, misery and everything in-between. If, that is, one is lucky… because “tis better to have loved and lost  than never to have loved at all..”  isn’t malarkey either.Think of those who have lost lovers, mates, parents, for whom they have only bitter memories, deep seated animosities that will never go away…. spoiling their own lives…Be glad you had the best of it… a warm and loving relationship with even one parent is a great legacy. So have a drink and make a toast to the object of your affection, and pass on that legacy to some poor creature who missed the experience. Norma Manna Blum 


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