Atheism and Death.

I want to share a couple of experiences with you all and talk about the directions that those experiences have sent me in emotionally and cognitively. Here goes.

About a year ago, I was involved in my first ever “crash-call”. A crash-call in a hospital setting basically means that a patient who you are not expecting to die has a cardiac arrest, and every medical professional within the sound of an emergency alarm goes into action to try to save their life. To a layperson it probably seems like all hell has broken loose, but when you know what’s going on it’s actually very impressive to see it done well (in hindsight, anyway: at the time your adrenaline is so ramped that you physically shake and it’s the fact that you are trained and drilled in this stuff until it’s second nature that keeps you doing the right things). One person runs the whole thing; contrary to what Scrubs teaches you, that is not usually a doctor (because there often isn’t a doctor around at that point) – it’s usually whichever qualified nurse gets there first or the most senior nurse present; the whole thing gets taken over by the crash team when they arrive, but that can be up to fifteen minutes, or even longer if it’s the middle of the night and there’s another crash going on, or if you’re in a small hospital with no permanent doctor cover and have to wait for paramedics (fun fact: You’re more likely to survive a heart attack if you’re in a shopping mall than if you’re in a hospital – this is absolutely true).

I’ll take time at this point to big-up the crash-teams; those dudes are some seriously under-appreciated folks, and odds on one day they’ll save the life of you or somebody you know. Remember that next time you see a sleep-deprived looking junior doctor sprinting down a hospital corridor, and get the hell out of their way!

Anyway, on the day in question I walked past a patient’s room in time to see my ward manager pull the emergency alarm for a patient who I’d been nursing for about six weeks. We collapsed his bed back and I dialled the number for the crash team. Even this is a standardised, drilled, rehearsed procedure: The number is the same for every UK hospital that has a crash team (I’m not going to tell you what it is – the world is full of sick people who think prank calls are funny). You dial the number, it gets answered immediately and you say:

“Hello. Cardiac arrest, Ward [insert name of ward]”

Then the infuriatingly calm lady on the other end of the phone says:

“Cardiac arrest, Ward [insert name of ward], thank you.”

Then you thank her back and you both hang up. I can absolutely promise you that that is the shortest, most frightening ‘phone call you will make in your entire life.

By this point, there will be two or three other staff in the room, one doing chest compressions, another with a bag and mask, ventilating the patient (though I understand that in non-hospital emergency life support in the US they don’t do rescue breaths anymore, just chest compressions). A third nurse will be preparing the crash trolley or sticking defibrillator pads on the patient (they’re not like the ones you see on ER; the new ones are all singing, all dancing – and they tell you what to do. You just stick the pads in the right place and do what you’re told). The rest of the staff will be staying the hell out of the way. There might be a fourth ready to take over chest-compressions (which are bloody hard work after twenty minutes or so, let me tell you) when the first gets tired, but that’s it.

We didn’t save the patient that day.

My abiding memory of the experience is this: Watching my patient’s body and face go from taught and alert to slack and dead in under half a second. I watched the moment of his death, and I’m sure I will remember his name and his face for the rest of my life.

I didn’t know how to react after it was all over; I just worked non-stop until the end of the shift and then went and ‘phoned my mother to talk about it. Mums are awesome like that. The hard part for me was grasping that sudden transition from something to nothing happening right there in front of me.

Recently, this was brought home to me even harder by the sudden death of one of my best friends; he took an accidental overdose of insulin and fell asleep before the symptoms of hypoglycaemia set in. He subsequently fell into a coma and died, to be found by his partner the following morning. I cannot even imagine her pain at having to do CPR on his cold, dead body until the ambulance crew arrived.

What struck me from that experience was the incredible sense of disbelief that I felt; last time I saw my friend, we were sitting in the sunshine watching cricket and drinking beer. He had a very secular funeral, where we listened to his favourite rock music at the crematorium and said our goodbyes.

I find myself wanting to talk to him a couple of times a week, to the point where I drunkenly texted his ‘phone one evening to berate him for dying. Me. A staunch atheist. Weird.

And then I thought about it:

I have no framework for grieving. Different religions and cultures provide for different routines in grieving – ways to dress, rituals to follow, time-scales to adhere to. African Caribbean people in the UK sometimes still have open-casket funerals (something I maintain would have helped me to say my last goodbye to my friend properly), Muslims and Christians have their various traditions, Hindu people wash and dress their dead relatives as a final farewell.

I genuinely understand why people find comfort in religion. I would love to think that I’ll get to see my friend again one day and to finish all those silly conversations that we had while drunk and philosophising (well, drunk anyway) and to be able to tell him how much he meant to me as a friend. Problem is, I don’t believe that. Neither did he.

As an essentially culture-less, Caucasian, middle-class atheist, how should I grieve? I honestly do not know. The lesson I learned in my first crash-call was that one second you’re alive and the next you’re dead, so you’d best make the most of the first part – because the second part lasts a long time and you don’t get a do-over. Applying that to a close friend (who wasn’t yet thirty, by the way) is a very difficult thing to do. I miss him tremendously and I know that it’s going to be a long time before the pain of his absence is lessened. In the meantime, if I figure out a secular grieving regimen, I’ll let you know.

  • Mike

    This is tough. My wife, also a staunch atheist, is currently back home in NC waiting for her mother to die. They withdrew nutrition and hydration 10 days ago, and she is already well passed the point the nurses expected her to expire. I’m sitting in England just waiting for a phone call, and I have no idea what I’ll say when it happens. Conversations with my religious friends frequently turn to the topic of “What comfort can you give?” as if this alone justified their particular fairy tale, but in this they do have a point. A bit of basic psychology can prepare you for the raft of emotions following the death of someone close, but it can’t offer the comfort that religious belief does. “S/he’s with Jesus / in heaven / gone to a better place” is a nice thought. The best we can do as secularists is celebrate the life gone, and get on with our own as best we can – it IS the only one we have.

  • gardengirl

    Well, I found your story interesting as an atheist and as a medical professional in the US. I have witnessed hundreds of deaths in my 20 years, some much more difficult to get through than others…(a child vs. an elderly person). I have also lost young and elderly family members.Years ago I had some religious belief, at least in heaven. I, too, can understand why people believe…it IS a coping mechanism. Reality is pretty tough to handle sometimes. Everyone grieves in different ways, and I believe there are several stages. To remember and honor your friend in a special way may help..ie plant a tree, an engraved plaque at a local favorite restaurant or bar? TIME will heal.

    • Tabbie

      …some much more difficult to get through than others…(a child vs. an elderly person).

      This is a sentiment I’ve never fully understood. It even troubles me somewhat to think hospital personnel might work harder to save a child than they will work to save an elderly person. Every person’s life is precious, not only to themselves but to those who love them as well. Sometimes an older person’s life actually seems more precious to me than a child’s simply because the older person has had more years of experience to develop into someone truly special. Older people often have many friends and relatives who will sincerely mourn their passing because of lifelong friendships and loving relationships.

      It’s important for all of us to remember that life is short. Embrace it. Live it. Tell those you love that you love them.

      I agree that religious belief is a coping mechanism. Ritual without the belief can be very helpful to some. Others may benefit from planting a tree or making a charitable contribution as a tribute to the person they have lost. I don’t think time ever really heals the pain of loss, but the passage of time helps to dull the pain somewhat.

      • Michael

        Every life may be precious, but every life also inevitably ends. To me it makes perfect sense that a long life is generally better than a short life, especially a very short life. I know I would rather die seventy years from now in a hospital than seventy days from now in a hospital.

        Of course nobody lives just to extend their life. Of course there are more important considerations, and every life deserves equally hard work to save. But that doesn’t mean all deaths are equally unfortunate or easy to deal with.

        • Tabbie

          Every life has a beginning and an end. Trying to save a life from ending prematurely when it does not have to end is a good thing. Artificially extending a life well beyond all mercy and reality is simply cruel. There comes a point when resuscitation simply should not be performed. Death can be merciful to many who yearn in suffering for their lives to end. These are all factors to be taken into consideration, along with a patient’s expressed wishes, when attempting to save a life. These are, however, merely the facts and practicalities of life and death. They do not reflect the value of each person’s life. The death of a 96 year old can be just as sad, difficult and unfortunate as the death of a six year old. Life is no less precious at 96 than at 6. A life which is lost is gone forever. Most of us would choose to live to be 500 years old or older, for example, if it were possible to do so while still maintaining a good and meaningful quality of life. The death of an individual is always unfortunate, even if it comes at extreme old age or provides merciful relief from suffering, but we all choose for whom we will mourn. I think it’s very important to make sure we don’t allow ageism to affect our judgement, causing us to arbitrarily place values on other individuals’ lives.

      • Custador

        You’re reading far too deeply into it, Tabbie. Every person has a span of natural life, and if their life is suddenly at risk of ending prematurely then medical professionals will not differentiate for any reason other than the patient’s own expressed wishes. It doesn’t matter if you’re 85 (in fact, the patient I talked about in this entry was 86) or 8, we’ll do our best for you. When healthcare professionals talk about the death of an elderly patient, though, we tend to be discussing the natural end-of-life process, which is often less tragic and harrowing (because it is expected and prepared for and they and their loved ones can be effectively nursed through it) than the sudden and unexpected death of a child.

        • Tabbie

          Perhaps I am reading too much into what gardengirl said and perhaps not. My comments were in response to two very specific things she said. I fully understand and appreciate the process of end-of-life planning and preparations vs the sudden and unexpected death of an individual. Even you, however, just now made differentiation, Custador, by using the statement, “the sudden and unexpected death of a child.” The sudden and unexpected death for anyone of any age can be tragic, and end-of-life planning can be a helpful adjunct to the process of dying for anyone of any age. My point is that a death can be an emotionally difficult experience for many reasons. Placing too much emphasis on the age of the person who is dying or has died in direct relation to how tragic the situation is perceived to be can quickly lead to the devaluation of older people. My other point was about time healing grief. My own experience and the experience of many others doesn’t match this well-worn idea. Time lends us the opportunity to acclimate to the pain of loss and thereby perhaps dulls the intensity of it somewhat. Time really does nothing to heal the pain. Actively working through feelings and learning to accept loss are more effective than the simple passage of time. I hope my comments are not taken as being overly critical or snarky toward either of you, gardengirl and Custador. I wasn’t trying to be that way. I made my comments with concerned sincerity in the spirit of constructive advice. I do very much like what you have written in your original piece, Custador, and I appreciate the direction you took with it.

          • Custador

            You just utterly failed to read my entire post and to even attempt to grasp my point (unless you’re being deliberately obtuse) and to be honest it just seriously pissed me off. Read again.

            • Tabbie

              No. You utterly failed to read entirely and grasp the meaning behind my comments. I assure you that I have read and understood your original post and your subsequent comments. Your accusations that I fail to understand or that I am being deliberately obtuse are rash and baseless, and now you have pissed me off, thank you very much. My original comment was not directed at you. It had nothing to do with you or your post. My comment was directed at gardengirl. When I made my first reply to you above, I was pointing out something not related to your original post. I was pointing out your choice of the word “child” because once again in this particular thread I felt it was important to emphasize that the unexpected death of any person of any age (and not just the unexpected death of a child) is a difficult situation. I was attempting to be gracious and explanatory about the reason for my comments, but apparently you just overlooked that aspect of it entirely. I assure you I understand what your original post was all about. It is a good post.

            • Tabbie

              And yes, I am aware that in your original post you were not discriminatory against anyone of any age. You talked about coming to grips with the sudden nature of death, the fragility of life, and the loss of both your patient and your friend. These are difficult things we must face in life. It’s good to talk about them.

          • Sunny Day

            “Perhaps I am reading too much into what gardengirl said ”

            Yes.

            • Tabbie

              Ageism is a subtle thing. It’s just like racism. Many profess not to be ageist, yet their words and/or actions may indicate otherwise. My comments were meant only as a gentle reminder of this. Do you know the mind of gardengirl? I don’t. I cannot say categorically one way or another whether or not I read too much into what she said. I maintain that the sudden unexpected death of any individual is a difficult thing to deal with and not just the sudden unexpected death of a child. So often in some humanitarian catastrophe we are bombarded with wrenching pleas to “save the children”, but no one ever begs us to “save the adults” or “save the seniors”. Children tug at our heartstrings, yet what damage do we inflict when we as a society focus solely on the children? It’s an interesting thought at the very least, possibly only a social conundrum, but it might just well be an indication of a more serious problem at which western society might want to take a more serious look.

            • Kodie

              I don’t work in medicine or anything but some of what Tabbie brings up does make sense. I think there has to be something of an impersonal nature in medicine, a really fine line anyway, or else it would probably crush you. You might think you work just as hard to save someone over 80 as someone under 10 or 20, and all ages in between don’t just go away… I wish I knew more about it from this perspective, but I think there is part of your mind that goes over a patient’s history going in, and what other issues factor into their survival. In general, when you don’t know someone, if the only thing you know about them is that they’re old, you might take the attitude that this person will be easier to grieve only on that one account than a younger person. Whereas, with a child, you suspect this will be harder for anyone to get over. It’s socially devastating to lose a young person with their life ahead of them, it’s socially normal to die when you’re old.

              Picture a scenario — I am your co-worker. My grandmother has died and I need to take a few days off for the funeral. A different day, my infant nephew has died, but I can’t travel to the funeral so I stay home one day. What are your reactions to me when I return to work, how do you expect me to feel, how do you feel about 2 different relatives of mine whom you never met? My grandmother has been with me a long time and I would miss her. In reality, she is still alive, she is in her early 90s though. My nephew did die, suddenly, but I never got a chance to meet him and I’m not that close to my sibling. To me, I am anonymous here, he is like a child of a co-worker (sad, but somewhat remote) but I am very close to my grandmother and talk to her nearly every week. One is expected somewhat imminently only due to advanced age, and one was filled with hopes and dreams that never came true.

              Society generally has a little ageism built in. The death of a child is always sad for what never could be, and the death of an old person is expected eventually, so the people close to that person might actually be braced for several decades, and the death of a child is a sudden blow, usually. The old person may have the autonomy to admit they are tired, don’t do heroic measures; the parent of a child will take every step to save their child according to doctor’s orders. I guess this is considered being “realistic,” old people will die and young people aren’t supposed to.

              I remember learning when some of my classmates died in a car crash when I was a sophomore (age 15-16ish?) and how it was the first time it really just blew my mind that death was so close to me, but I “grieved” my way out by reasoning I wasn’t really friends with any of them, and wouldn’t miss them. I do sort of lack some normal human empathy. After high school, another classmate had died who I had known through high school, but I really wouldn’t call her a friend and I knew I’d probably never see her again on purpose. While in college, a couple alumni had died, they had married each other after graduation and the woman was pregnant. Sorry, I did not know them at all. But some kind of athletic field thing was named after them. I guess I’m more misanthropic than most people; very few people mean that much to me. I got sad when a young mother who comments on some other blogs I read had died, when I read how much her husband loved her and saw pictures of her children who are old enough to remember her. I get a little freaked out about car accidents in general, and although I never knew Princess Diana personally, and wasn’t really a fan, her death gave me nightmares particularly relating to my untimely demise in similar events…. which never happened, obviously, but that took a year to get over my anxiety about dying. I don’t have a life-threatening illness, but I do drive. Also, I’m a lot older now, and not getting younger. I got access to some newspaper clippings and learned that my great-grandmother at the age of 81 was killed by an automobile and her husband’s health quickly declined afterwards until he died (they had been walking together one evening), and never having met them either, I was very sad that is how their lives had to end. As far as I can tell, they had a lifelong love affair, that my great-grandfather had to lose his sweetheart in tragedy and missed her so much that he couldn’t hang on very long afterward.

              I think, so yeah, the idea that any medical professional might be trying less hard to save an older person than a younger person just doesn’t seem true. It is probably just easier for them to depersonalize the loss of an old person than a young person, not that it’s easier for the family. Sorry for the ramble.

            • Tabbie

              Frankly, I can see it was an error on my part to make any comments here whatsoever which were not in direct relevance to the content, context and intent of the original post which was published by Custador. My first comment, made in reply to a small and unrelated portion of someone else’s comment, is what started this entire little spat. My attempts to encourage an awareness of the subtle pervasiveness of ageism within society and to promote a culture of sensitivity and open-mindedness toward this important issue clearly backfired. My arguing points had nothing to do with anything written in Custador’s original post. The last thing I ever intended to do was spark disagreement or divert attention from meaningful discourse about the original content of what Custador published herein, yet that is exactly what I have done.

              Beyond that aspect of it, I’m quite baffled at how my comments could have offended Custador so very much since nothing I said criticized the original post he had made nor any of the beliefs or views which he had expressed therein. I was attempting to point out that sudden unexpected death can happen to anyone of any age and that it’s an equally tragic occurrence no matter what the age of the person is who has died in this way. This is something that Custador had already expressed for all intents and purposes in his originally-posted article. I also wanted to point out that end-of-life planning is something which is useful not only for dying elderly patients but for terminally ill children as well. Both are considered to be natural end-of-life scenarios.

              My only contention with Custador at that point was the way in which he used one particular word (“child”) in his reply to my comment, especially after he had just finished stating that medical professionals will not differentiate in the application of life-saving treatments based on the ages of patients. I was attempting to point out the insidious way in which assumptive age differentiation can creep into a person’s psyche without them even being aware of it. Reassurances of non-ageism within the health care industry doesn’t carry much weight when health care professionals routinely assume that the death of an elderly patient will be due to natural end-of-life processes and that the death of a child will be sudden and unexpected. These may be the norms of the past, but in today’s world of burgeoning birth rates, longer life expectancies, higher quality diagnositcs and better health care standards and practices, it can be dangerous to hold onto old clichéd assumptions.

              Warning bells began to ring inside my head when gardengirl commented about witnessing hundreds of death during her career as a medical professional and how the death of a child is harder to get through than the death of an elderly person. I doubt she meant anything bad by saying it. Today’s culture, however, often glorifies youth and beauty, and I’ve seen far too many older patients get crassly discarded by means of substandard health care for no good reason. We all grow older every day, and every day which passes brings each of us closer to our final demise. Our value as individuals does not decrease over time. The age of a person at the time of their death should not be the sole determining factor for how difficult it will be to let them go. Devaluing individuals based on their age (or race, sex, looks, etc.) is to depersonalize them in a way that is dangerous and not without precedent. All health care workers need to shield themselves from becoming too emotionally involved with any of their patients, but there are healthier ways to do it than by using discriminatory techniques. It was for these reasons and these reasons alone — the thoughts prompted inside my own head after reading gardengirl’s comments — that I initially made my comments.

              I can only assume that Custador somehow grossly misunderstood everything I was trying to say in all of my comments and that he completely misunderstood as well the context in which I was saying them. That is the only explanation I can fathom for his sudden extreme displeasure with me. I was clearly not expecting him to react in the manner he did. I had thoroughly read and understood his original post and was in complete agreement and sympathy with everything he had written therein. My comments were not made with malice nor were they made in regard to his original post. Never did I imply that he had stated directly or indirectly in his original post nor thereafter in any of his comments that younger patients got better care than older patients. My comments in that regard were in response to what gardengirl had said. My attitude toward Custador had been quite favorable, genial in fact, up to the point where he got pissed off at me. His reaction and accusational attitude toward me confused me and caught me totally off guard, and in the heat of the moment I became angry too. Que será, será. No matter how sophisticated mankind may be, misunderstandings will happen. That’s how life is. I’m over it now. There’s no going back, and there’s no point in holding onto any of this any longer.

              I extend my apologies to everyone all around, especially to Custador, and I recuse myself from further discussion on this topic. I meant no offense to anyone. I find myself in need of a long break from board conversations anyway. It seems like everyone is too quick to go on the attack these days. I stand as guilty as the next person, but I intend to take some time off and try to cultivate a better me. Crucify me first if you must, but I sincerely hope everyone involved will then be able to get back on topic and engage in the relevant talking points of Custador’s thoughtful and meaningful original post, moving forward from there without any additional and unnecessary distractions from me.

            • Custador

              Tabbie, you’re offensive because every comment you make seems to be a long and involved discussion of how wonderful and progressive you are in comparison to all the flawed and imperfect peons surrounding you. You nit-pick at tiny, irrelevant details in phrasing and amplify them into prejudices and character flaws that only exist inside your own head – and yet you blithely state them as if they’re accepted fact. Then, when people get offended at you, you fling your hands in the air, look injured and say “Who, me?” Yes, you.

      • gardengirl

        I understand your view, and in no way was I suggesting that medical professionals would EVER “work harder” to save a child. In my own personal experience, the death of a child is always a tragedy. An elderly patient who has been ill and has suffered, and has said good-bye to their family, and has accepted that their life is nearly over is not. BOTH are sad for the family, no question. Human life is always precious, but to lose a child is unbearable.

        • Kretren

          I’m an ageist and proud. Of course, I’m only 18 at this point, but I see it like this: young people are valued more than old people because they have potentially grand futures ahead of them. Every parents believes their kid is going to be the next Einstein, and if the kid sucks at science, then there’s always Mozart or Beethoven. An old person, however, probably can’t accomplish much in his/her remaining lifespan. In fact, his/her entire life has proven what the person can be. At a certain point, a person cannot really accomplish anything further, and can only sit back and watch their lived lives. Children have potential; adults, not so much. Further, children are considered ‘innocent’ (less and less each day, to be sure), whereas adults are merely composites of sin and tainted wisdom. There’s nothing pure about someone who has lived their life.

          Of course, there’s no moral way to life. A child dies, an elder dies.. These things are natural and inevitable in the scheme of things, and nature cares not what you consider right and wrong. You can scream at the skies all you like for ‘stealing’ a child from you, but in the end you know nobody will reply, and it’s just an empty gesture.

          Ageism makes sense though.. Think about it. We can’t all be equal in anything except legal contexts, and even then it’s not even so black and white. Some group has to be preferred over the other. Logically speaking, adults rule the world: they have the experience and the strength to do so. Children have possibly more strength, and elders more wisdom, but neither has the complementary attribute to gain real respect. The world is designed for adults (younger ones, sure, but still). Can you imagine what it would look like if it were designed for elders or children?

          Next, we are of course animals who breed. Youth is an attractive feature because it implies fertility and strength. On a biological level we would do well to laud youth and try to imitate it for as long as possible. Age is seen as a negative thing because it represents decay into inevitable death.

          Honestly I don’t see what the big deal is about ‘ageism’. At a certain point, you’re only clinging onto life for the sake of staving off death – quality of life eventually becomes unbearable. Ageism, at least, places emphasis on living life well as a young person, which is probably the most important thing of all since it’s all downhill as you age.

          Inevitably, ageism affects us all and manages to affect how we deal with people in any given situation. We DO consider children more valuable because their potential is near infinite, whereas an adult’s is quite finite. Like it or not, these perceptions leak into your lives. The only way to win in this situation is to live it up as a youth, and gain enough respect as you go to be appreciated in your old age. Seems oversimplified, but that’s all I have given my few years’ experience..

          • Kretren

            …Realizing that my tone is rather rash and deliberate, and completely out of place in this thread, which is laden was sobriety.. Sorry for that.

            Dealing with death is a tough thing for a non-theist to deal with. The scariest thing about it is, that if life matters so much in the face of the open void that follows, why do I waste so much of it? Saying live life to the fullest is an empty statement for me, since I just wait for life to happen for me.

            One thing I don’t understand completely (forgive my lack of empathy) is how people place so much weight on how a person died. Does it really matter if they died doing what they loved or if their death was extremely painful? Either way, they are gone and aren’t coming back. Their life’s experience is the only important thing, which stands in your memory. Remembering HOW they died merely taints this memory, and focuses attention on their death rather than their life. I don’t know. I know how I would like to die, but judging others’ deaths seems a tad idealistic.

            • Custador

              That’s okay, it amused me to think of Tabbie’s head exploding when she read your post…

              However: Look up the life story of Sir Ranolph Fiennes. He acheived more in his fifites and sixties than most people will ever acheive in their entire lives, including seven marathons on seven continents in seven days (four months after coronary bypass surgery), walking to BOTH poles and climbing Everest. I don’t see him as somebody with no more potential, somehow.

              Old people have massive potential because in general, they know stuff that would make your brain implode. I’ve spent hours listening to patients who, for example, escaped a Nazi concentration camp and then came back four years later leading the force which liberated it. That is one of many, many stories my patients have told me – my point being that they have valuable things to teach us if we’re smart enough to let them.

              You’re brash because you’re very young, I understand that and I’m not angry at you for being the way you are – but I promise that somebody as obviously intelligent and eloquent as you is going to change beyond recognition in the next five or ten years. Enjoy the ride man, it’s a fun one.

  • Pen

    This was brilliant. By writing this, and recounting the way you felt in the moment, and in reflection afterwards, you may have defined the way that you personally grieve. Even if you have a the traditions attached to a religion, it doesn’t mean that you will find the process personally satisfying, even after you’ve been through it.

    The benefit of religion is that it sort of takes the “guilty feeling” away after someone we care for dies. If you are a part of the Islamo-Judeo-Christo persuasion, you know that the person has “ceased to exist in this world”, and we will soon leave them behind out of pragmatic need to continue life, and progress to our eventual death. When we have the funerary process, the religious will tell you that they have “moved on to a better place”, and then they celebrate this transcendence of sorts. We do it because of our “survivors guilt”, and because of the genuine feelings of loss (which are often selfish, and we feel guilty about that as well).

    In other words, it seems that an honest, clear-eyed examination of the details and facts, and a chronicling of what went through your mind, with some subjective sideways glances at your own emotions seems to be a great process, in comparison. It is personal, and it involves no pretense.

    Well Done.

    • Custador

      Thank you very much.

  • Dave

    It sounds a bit “Hallmark” to say, but the way to keep friends and loved ones alive is to allow others to see the effect that person had on you. Telling stories (beginning with today’s post) is one way. Since there is no evidence of anything happening beyond death, it’s a powerful motivator to not waste time, and to make the most of the moments and relationships we have. (Wow, that sounds incredibly trite… not my goal though.)

    Rather than worry about ritual (especially ones based on fantasy), maybe it’s best to find a meaningful method of remembrance for your friend that’s unique to your friendship. If you were drinking buddies, why not raise a glass of his favorite? Take an old in-joke or quote of his and make it yours?

    It hurts to lose someone because we become so attached to them. That attachment hasn’t left just because he did. Making your method of remembering someone specific to them (and avoiding the routine of ritual) makes it “real”. Have a time/place/reminder you devote to thinking of his friendship. With the rest of your time, enjoy the life you have with the others who mean something to you.

    Just one opinion, of course.

    (Apologies again for sounding cliche above.)

    • http://www.katcox.com kat

      This is exactly how I’ve learned to deal with death. As atheists, we believe the here-and-now is what matters, not the afterlife. Therefore, your stories are the here-and-now of your friend’s life. Find other people who knew him and talk about him. Make a book of your stories of him with his friends. Publish his letters or emails or blog entries. There are so many options.
      As far as a ritual goes, you can take it as a kind of luck that, as an atheist, you get to make it up as you go along.
      When my best friend died, I found all his letters and kept them in a special place. A year after his death, when I felt ready, I got in a nice hot bathtub (he loved taking baths) with a glass of wine and read as many of them as I could. Every year on his birthday, his parents print a short memoriam in the obituary section of our local paper, and I write something on his MySpace page (I know, MySpace. Yes. It still exists). I have a little candle I burn that I joke “invokes his spirit”. I also have a change jar with his picture in it where I put all my spare change in the (also somewhat joking) hopes of founding a memorial library in his honor someday. I don’t say a prayer; I don’t go to a cemetery (he was also cremated). His parents actually kept some of his ashes so that whenever a friend goes on a trip somewhere far away, they can take ashes along and give my friend a taste of the places he never got to visit in his life. I think this is a very comforting tradition for me.

      I also think most religious people deal with death just as we atheists do — daily, hourly, with time and grieving and stories; there’s just the veneer of the fairy tale ending for them. It doesn’t make death a hopeless time for us atheists just because we don’t buy into the afterlife idea. In fact, I think our realism and lookout on life give us a lot more freedom to deal with grief than Christians or Muslims are allowed (for instance, if you believed in the Christian god and your friend didn’t, you’d feel like he was in hell now, which would be horrible). As atheists, we keep people alive inside our heads, and we know that is the only afterlife they are getting, which makes it that much sweeter.

      • runty_cactus

        Daniel, could you effect some kind of like feature similar to Facebook’s? Such a beautiful post, Kat. And your ways of grieving for and remembering your friend are simple and so meaningful. I too think our way of grieving for people is much more personal and less constricting than religious traditions of grief. Thank you for this.

  • nazani14

    I’ve discussed this with other atheists, and the answer seems to depend on who the deceased was in life. Some people wouldn’t want you to grieve at all, just carry on their pet projects or have a party where you get out the photo album and talk about the good times you had together.

  • http://livingwithoutthem.com Lei White

    This is exactly the reason why I created my blog after the death of the twin girls.

    You texted your friend knowing he would never receive it, I wrote a diary to my girls knowing they would never see it or feel my intentions while reading it. But it is cathartic and does help with the grief process that we have no framework for.

    Grief is human nature and for it to be pigeonholed into some way of having to do it is unnatural. I say you grieve as you are meant to and whatever you do during that process that feels natural is right. Even an atheist can speak out loud to the dead. It doesn’t mean you expect them to hear you, it just means you are working through something that there is no concrete way of working through.

    I have a friend who wrote a book on this exact subject. The subject of grief and how society expects us to grieve in certain ways, but what happens when that isn’t working for you or you don’t believe in the ways that it expects. Check out my website Living Without Them for a link to her book (under recommended books), available for download.

    Much Love!

  • John C

    Custy, thanks for sharing so courageously and transparently, your heart comes shining through friend. I too have witnessed many pass from life to death right before my eyes, its hard to watch no matter who they are or what the circumstances may be, ie sick, elderly, trauma, young, it makes no difference, they were alive one minute and now they’re not. Once, I saw a man placed on an x-ray table and left by the attendant. I walked over to the water fountain to get a drink which happened to be right next to the door of his room. While I was drinking and watching him lie there, suddenly he rose up in a jerking motion and then flat back down again having experienced a sudden and massive MI that killed him despite our many attempts to save him. One minute he was alive and nodding at me as I drank my water, the next he was suddenly gone forever. I spent many years as a trauma tech in a level 1 trauma hospital, saw it all from child abuse, MVA, murders, suicides, you name it, I saw it. It was like a perpetual war-zone.

    Death is disturbing because its final, not because its death. The question is the purpose for that brief appearance on this earthly scene. How to reconcile it all, is so fleeting and momentary, it makes no ‘sense’ especially in the case of younger folks like your friend you mentioned.

    Thanks for your thought-provoking post, reminded me of my earlier days and similar experiences. All the best.

  • http://brgulker.wordpress.com brgulker

    Custador,

    Thanks for having the courage to share this. I obviously don’t have any answers to your questions, but I appreciated reading your honest take on this. Kudos.

  • Jerome

    It is quite tough indeed! But you might appreciate the book ‘Sum – 40 tales from the afterlives’ (http://amzn.to/9TbzeS) by David Eagleman, an atheist scientist who is also very talented in writing creative and interesting stories.

    Personally I like the idea that we’re composed of a zillion molecules that work together for some time (our lifetime) and then they part again, reconfiguring themselves, creating different, new objects …

    And also, since I’m an agnostic, who knows? Maybe there will be a sort of higher consciousness (NOT BibleGod or any of the other known gods!!) after all where we all ‘meet’ again in some way that we can’t imagine or describe. But that doesn’t really matter anyway. Death is the last big riddle. We’ll see what happens then when we die. No need to worry too much about it. Though it’s normal to miss loved ones of course.

    And if there’s indeed nothing after death then there’s nothing to fear in the first place. There will be nothing left that could fear, or care.

  • Jasowah

    This was a very powerful and well composed story. I have often wondered about what I would do if someone I knew died, since I’m an Atheist now. I still have no idea though. I suppose it’s different for everyone, but that probably isn’t helpful.

    I know that during times like these, words are generally useless, so the only advice I can think of would be to take time to grieve. I know a lot of people tend to push through tough times, but the emotions always seem to resurface later.
    Best wishes.

  • Mike

    Regardless of belief, the loved one is now in a place of eternal rest and peace and I personally take a bit of comfort in knowing that. Sure, it doesn’t mean I don’t miss them dearly but it does provide a bit of comfort knowing that they are resting peacefully.

    To the living, death seems like a tragedy, but to the deceased it’s nothing… just pure tranquil peace.

    When I die, I want some of my ashes to be used to plant a tree or flower… this way, I can “live” on by giving back to nature.

    We borrow the energy we have from nature and one day we will give it back to nature so that a new life can use it.

  • Darwin

    I always felt that the idea that my atoms would be spread throughout the world after I died was comforting. Maybe you could find comfort in the fact that he is still around in a way. And, I’m sorry.

    • http://calabriarose.wordpress.com Kelly

      What Darwin said.

      But everybody grieves differently, and honestly, however that process happens for different people really is OK. Calling peoples’ phones? It’s OK. I’ve done that too. For weeks after my grandmother passed away I would call her phone just to listen to her recorded message on the other end.

  • CNR

    I like this Dawkins quote. We got a chance to live. We are the lucky ones. That is the comfort. We got a chance to do it. Sure it ends and that is sad. But what a gift!

  • CNR

    And the quote is…

    “We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people
    are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The
    potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in
    fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia.
    Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats,
    scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of
    possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of
    actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I,
    in our ordinariness, that are here.”

  • Meanie

    I am an RN in the US and “lost my religion” due to working in the intensive care unit. I have seen more people die than some combat soldiers. This witnessing of death is what led me to believe that while religion (specifically Christianity and by extension all other spiritual-based belief systems) may offer a vehicle wherein one may fool themselves into hope of a post-death reunion with loved ones, it offers no tangible help or relief to grief. My words of (little) comfort to those who have lost a loved one are, “He/She will live on through your memories” and sometimes, “Make your life a memorial to him/her and in that way honor his/her memory and keep it alive.” These have become my personal platitudes and I hope they are as comforting and less hurtful than the ones my believing coworkers utter. After all, how much comfort can be found in “He/She is with god now?” when speaking of a beloved spouse, parent, sibling, or child? Cold comfort at best. Cold comfort is all that religion can offer in the face of death.

    • gardengirl

      very nice, and very true.

  • http://www.secular-celebrations.com margaret downey

    I work to put grieving secular people in touch with each other. Please look up the chat group “Godless Grief.” Also, one-on-one private conversations are available. Contact me at: margaret@ftsociety.org. I also have a dear friend who is a “guaranteed” secular counselor. I can make the needed connections.

  • ryedo

    “I have no framework for grieving”

    Do people really need a “framework” for grieving. I, like most, have lost family and friends. I missed them dearly at first and, sometimes, when I look back, I remember them and get a twinge of feeling sorry for myself. On those occasions I sometimes try to imagine they are still here; thinking about what they’d do or say in some situation I find myself in. Other times I reassure myself by thinking at least they’ll never suffer again. Throughout the deaths in my life, I’ve never needed a time limit to grieve – nor have I needed any silly rituals to help make myself feel better.

    • Christine Canada

      This.

    • Shrubber

      Yep. This.

      Grieve however you want, buddy. Sorry about your friend.

    • Jasowah

      Good for you.

    • Custador

      There are all sorts of things that humans handle much better if there’s a formal framework that they’re expected to follow, one of them being grieving. The psychosociology behind it is fascinating and is similar to the placebo effect; we respond a certain way because we are condtioned to respond that way. It really is very interesting to learn about and is (in my view) a disadvantage of being atheist.

      • ryedo

        Where grieving is concerned, I’ve never found not having a framework a disadvantage. The very idea of developing some OCD or adopting ritual to help with the grieving process seems bizarre to me. Likewise, so does setting a time limit on how long you grieve.

        • Christine Canada

          The OCD part is so true! Thank you for mentioning that! It seems no one ever does!

          Prayer beads, kneeling, standing, making the sign of the cross, kissing the Bible, Hail Mary’s, Novenas in the classified section of the newspaper, St. Christopher medals pinned to newborns…

          I just watched a documentary called Leaving the Fold, about ultraorthadox Jews leaving their community. Scary, scary daily rituals. Every single thing they do — from the first thing in the morning to the last thing at night — must be done purposefully with God in mind.

  • Lana

    I was a believer until my mom died. I won’t go into everything on how her death changed it all, but I will tell you how I dealt with (and continue to deal with) her absence. And my grandparent’s absence, when they died one after the other in the following two years.

    Basically, I’m okay with the concept that we die and there is no afterlife. It’s actually more comforting to me, personally, than the alternative. So to deal with my mom’s death, I just keep her alive in my conversation and memories.

    I still have photos of her in my wallet and phone, and on my FB page. I recount family memories and stories of my mom on a regular basis to my son and husband. My son was 2 when she died and has no personal memories of her, but he can tell you what her favorite food was and pick her out in a photograph and sing her favorite song (though he doesn’t know it’s her favorite song yet — I sing it sometimes, and my son loves it so much that he learned it. When the day comes that he asks me where I learned it, he’ll hear another story about my mom).

  • Anne

    First off, I am sorry for your loss. I know the experience and all I can say is it gets easier. I like to think of it in the terms Carl Sagan used, we are all made of star dust. When we die, our bodies return to the stars as atoms to wander and make new things. They never really die, at least not on the atomic level. That person is not gone as who they were as long as you remember them. Throw them a party, talk to others about them who might also be grieving, donate to a cause they supported in their name, all of these things help in my experience.

    • Olaf

      This is what I experience when a moved ones dies.
      To the family I will probably use some heaven and reincarnation explanation, it helps for them. But personally I your atoms are now free the travel the universe once they are set free when you die.

      I don’t care about dying young or old. I just want to have an interesting life and if possible dying painless. Then I could reassemble my atoms and reincarnate in something else or travel the universe which is also my dream.

  • wazza

    My family is essentially godless (this branch, at least) and when my grandfather died we all rushed to his house. When the embalming was done, he was laid in his bedroom in an open casket and his daughters gathered around and cleared out his liquor cabinet, drinking whiskey and other drinks long into the night. When I arrived (at the time I was at a remote boarding school, and he had the courtesy to die a few days before the holidays) I was given fifteen minutes or so to sit in the room with him – I think everyone close to him got the same. For me this was particularly poignant because the last time I’d seen him was in the same room, with me lying at the foot of the bed just talking one afternoon.

    Anyway, after the service/cremation (I read a poem he’d remembered and recited just a few days before his death, by Rudyard Kipling), we all gathered in his house and drank whiskey and Harvey Wallbangers (his preferred name was Harvey) long into the night, singing all sorts of songs. There would have been twenty or thirty of us, and we all woke up with hangovers the next morning… but it was what we needed.

  • Olaf

    I had a young child of age 2 dying in my hands. I was coming back from work, waiting for public transport, heard people yell in the park and when I turned around someone on the walkway.

    I am a Red Cross volunteer, trained for this but no one prepared me to this. Especially not when you are not expecting this and not have a team with you. I did not move the child since he was already laying on his back but was unconscious. And blood coming out of his skull. Around me people screaming especially the grandmother hysterical in dangerous close to the child and I had to shield the child since she was almost trampling the child in the hysteria. What made it worse is that I could communicate with her; they were immigrants and did not understand my language.

    The child was alive while I was trying to stop the bleeding using my handkerchief that was dirty. In the Red Cross I was trained to use sterile material and use gloves to protect from blood contact but here I was my hands unprotected in the blood using a none-sterile handkerchief. I had to make a decision, life was at stake.

    Although it too only 10 minutes I had the impression that it took half an hour before the ambulance came. All those times I was so focused on signs of breading and heartbeat of the victim.

    Somewhere between my last checking and the moment the ambulance people took over the child stopped breathing. So they performed CPR on the child, and I could remove myself. Eventually I could wash my hands at a neighbour woman, it was all blood, and took public transport home.
    The moment I left I did not know if the child died or not. And was afraid to listen to the news because it might be bad. I finally listened to the news and it turned it that the child died in the ambulance. This is very hard knowing that you did everything possible but still failed.
    I had this scene repeating all over again like a wake up dream, and took a week before I processed it.

    The processing was done by talking about it and also realizing it that this child died in very loving hands. There is nothing religious about this, during the time I was with the child I was stroking his head gently with my free fingers that was holding the cloth making it feel much loved, even though I am a complete stranger. I repeat there was nothing religious only the logical reasoning that the child needs someone very loving in this period of need so I gave my love. What also helped me is the comfort of that the child suffered no more pain when it died. Just like going to sleep.

    It is amazing that I, a complete stranger turned out of the blue, and freely gave my love and support without some religious basis as moral.

    What also helped to process it, is the knowledge that from all people around the child, I was at that moment the best to handle the emotional process of loss. I might not like it but I am stable enough to process the loss.

    The sad part of the story is that it was not an accident at all; the child was murdered by being thrown from the 3e floor because of jealousy of a stranger.

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  • Crys

    WoW!! having lost so many close people unexpectedly i was very touched and can empathize with everything this guys has felt!! i dont have the words to express how much i relate to this!

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  • http://jonmarke.blogspot.com JonJon

    Thanks for sharing that Custador.

    For whatever it’s worth, I don’t think you absolutely need a “process” for grieving. At the same time, I don’t think you should be ashamed of borrowing religious or quasi-religious grieving strategies for pragmatic reasons. Writing letters to your dead on Dia de los Muertos might be grounded in a long and variegated religious/ethnic tradition, but it also serves a very pragmatic purpose for people who are grieving. Taking a process that works for you on a pragmatic or functional level is not admitting that religion “works.” Don’t be afraid to find ways to work with grief.

    (Not that I think you’re afraid. You seem to be dealing with things fairly well, and I have a good deal of confidence in you, from my extremely limited interaction over the interwebs. There are certainly non-religiously-affiliated ways of working with/through grief, one of which you have already engaged in by writing this article.)

    All the best

  • Sundog

    I was struck by this about five years ago, with the death of my father. Over time, I have found myself, not grieving over his death, but that he is no longer here to share my life. The pain fades; the loss remains.

  • Jenell

    I am not an athiest, I begin with that statement about myself because I want to address this from a perspective not often talked of, or perhaps even thought about, about how anyone is impacted by and recovers from the death of someone they cared about, or even, as in the case of the author of this article, death itself, without regard to whose death it may be.

    The beliefs, rituals, and rhetoric with which the religious surround the matter of death, their own or of a loved one, or death of anyone in general, are often devoid of much that really helps those ‘left behind’ adjust and move on. The focus upon the deceased, as being in a ‘better place’, that being whatever the particular religion involved teaches as the fate of our human souls when life stills in our bodies, often not only offers little to assist, sometimes even impairs, the grieving process of those still living.

    The grieving one is often bombarded with sweet and pretty platitudes, dont grieve but rejoice he.she is in heaven, better place, better off than we are, you’ll see them again someday when you too pass on….

    While that one, perhaps a widow with young children, is screaming in her mind things she dare not say, lest she be considered impious…What the Hell am I to do now? How am I going to handle everything by myself? How am I going to house and clothe and feed myself and my children? How am I going to cover the rent? How am I going to do all the things I have to daily and what he always took care of as well? Even less close, if the deceased was a friend, a brother or sister, a child….often neglected in religious based death rituals don’t offer much in that way of how do I deal with a chunk of my life, maybe my daily life, just got torn away, and how am I to put it back whole again?

    When we grapple with death in general, the deaths of people we care for and about, and even our own deaths, the real, practical and emotional impact on those still living is not often adequately addressed even within religious traditions. This is not a matter of concern for only the religious or only an athiest, but all equally. We struggle to know how we put our life back to whole again, fill the missing space, and in turn, about how to make that easier on the loved ones we leave behind when it is our own time to die.

    To comprehend death itself, as this writer does in this article, is something we are all confronted with eventually. Other than those working in a health profession that exposes them to incidents of death, most people have never actually watched another person die, witnessed first hand that moment when there is life, and then there isn’t. Oh, we all see countless ‘deaths’ on tv and in movies, that we seem calloused to it, but that make-beleive death of an actor, or even real death of someone in front of a news camera, just isn’t the same at all as to experience it for real, personally, right in front of us.

    The reality that people, even me, can be alive one second, dead the next, is something that can hit us suddenly, unexpectedly. Perhaps those that have never faced that reality before their own sudden and unexpected death have the advantage over the rest of it, for never having had to find their way to this acceptance in their own time,

  • Zotz

    “As an essentially culture-less, Caucasian, middle-class atheist, how should I grieve?”

    Party as normal with mutual friends. Atheists do wakes and share stories about the deceased.

    Someone already implied this, but the highest honor you can bestow on your friend is telling and/or showing the good your friend imparted to your life.

    Then, continue to live and remember.

  • Scott M.

    Custador, I don’t have much to add in place of what others have said. I did find myself thinking about this subject a bit the other day though (for whatever reason imagining my wife had died and leaving me with two children and two dogs).

    Anyway, I came to the conclusion it’s OK to talk to the memory of a departed loved one even though I know they can’t hear me, respond, or anything like that. I accept it as a gift of comfort I’m willing to give myself. Just as having a good cry when needs arise or (forgive me) masturbation to release some tension doesn’t mean crying fixes things or masturbation means I’m loved by the person I’m fantasizing about. It just means I’m human with emotions and other things that need attending to. It doesn’t make me a bad person to do these things or a lousy traitorous atheist for talking to the memory of one left behind.

    So, give yourself permission to talk about and “to” your friend and when you sober up, go about your business without guilt.

    Best wishes.

  • Dave

    What do you mean “culture-less”? How can someone be without a culture?

    • Custador

      Being a white English man growing up in Wales is a good start. I have no ethnic or cultural identity in relation to the place I live (Wales has a very strong cultural identity, but I’m not Welsh) because I don’t belong to any particular demographic other than the usual bland, all encompassing White Middle-Class Male. There’s nothing in that group which marks us out as having any kind of shared identity or cultural experience.

  • Sarah

    Thanks for writing this. I’m actually sort of going through the same thing right now. I had a coworker and friend die suddenly from a seizure just a few days ago. She would have turned 24 next month, making her about three months older than me. Believe it or not, I’ve actually been lucky enough to not have one of my peers die before.
    It’s shocking and it seems so wrong that she is gone, and I, too, wonder how exactly I should grieve. I ended up writing a letter to her in my diary, and later leaving a note on her Facebook page. I know she won’t read either, but it helped me.

  • objectifier

    That was amazing. It really summarized well watching someone die quickly and unexpectedly. I am right now dealing with the opposite extreme. My father was a 4 to 5 pack a day smoker until 11 years ago when he quit on Christmas eve. All of us had wanted him to quit for years but he is very stubborn and he was going to smoke regardless of the consequences. Unfortunately he didn’t quit soon enough. 4 years after quitting they found a tumor in the bottom lobe of his right lung. He never had symptoms of cancer and it was found when he had pneumonia. For a few months he did pretty well but then emphysema set in and for the last 7 years we have watched as he grows sicker and sicker by the day. Several times I have thought he cannot look any worse and still be alive but he continues to spiral down.

    The grief I feel is building and I too don’t know what to do with it. Its not like he has died but I face the certainty every time I see him.

    This last week my sister and brother came home from California to see him, probably for the last time. Its hard seeing him like this and we were discussing with his doctor what life saving measures could be used at this point.

    I am in two groups, one for grief and loss, the other for depression and anxiety. My best friend is a woman who lost her husband two years ago. Two years out, her pain is still very real and very raw. I think reaching out to Cindy does more for me than anything else I do..

    The solace of the church is one of the more effective and helpful facets of western religion. I know that the end will come for my father and eventually for me as well. I am quite sure that I won’t be going anywhere, nor will my dad. I’m ok with that, but the wait, watching him get weaker and losing his mental faculties has been hard to bear.

  • MahouSniper

    One of the worst parts of religion to me is how it standardizes everything. I don’t think there should be a “framework” for grieving. Everybody has a different life and every death should be dealt with independently. To just lump all grieving into one universal routine I think really diminishes the powerful emotions felt and the true value of that individual.

    Grieve how it’s most appropriate, don’t just sweep the emotions under the rug of conformity and standards.

  • http://www.jesusneedsnewpr.net mpt

    Daniel,

    First of all, I’m very sorry for your loss. And secondly, thank you for sharing this part of your story. Funny thing is, even with faith, I find it difficult to know how to grieve and comprehend death.

    Loved this post man.

    Matthew

  • http://www.jesusneedsnewpr.net mpt

    Uh, just realized that Daniel didn’t write this… my apologies… either way, loved it…

  • Len

    Custador, thanks for sharing this.

    I understand what you mean about not having a framework for grieving, as theists do. There are no prescribed steps to take, no pre-defined time to mourn. But I guess that, in the best atheist traditions, we each must find our own framework. It will likely be a little (or a lot) different for each of us, but it will be whatever gets us through the process. But of all the things to do, celebrating the person’s life seems to be way up there.

    Once again, thanks.

  • http://psnt.net Paul

    Hi. My name is Paul. I am a Christian and I really appreciate your honesty. Your willingness to admit your not knowing how to grieve is a welcome breath of clean air in a blogosphere where certainty and “knowing” tend to prevail.

    As a Christian I have a context for grieving, but it is not what you may think. My idea of the afterlife is vague and shadowy and I almost never think about it, if it exists at all. Yes, I said, “If it exists at all.” That’s how little I think about it. What I do have in the midst of grief is a belief that God shares in that grief. I don’t know how that happens or what it looks like, but it feels like serenity. It feels utterly calm, even as I weep and mourn externally.

    I just wanted you to know how much I respect your atheism. I imagine that it takes a lot of courage to not believe. And I also wanted you to know that not all Christians share the belief in a gold-road, singing-with-the-angels, playing-poker-with-your-dudes-again afterlife. It’s big damn freaky world. What do we really know?

    • Olaf

      I imagine that it takes a lot of courage to not believe.
      Actually there is no courage evolved it is very natural.

      The courage is actually when you grew up within believe and stop believing because just in case and when you know that you will disappoint some people that still believe that you will go to hell.

      I grew up as Catholic but failed to create a believe-system.
      My girlfriend grew up never believed anything and for her it feels like a cultural thing. She even does not understand what it means to believe. Just because she grew up like that.

      • http://psnt.net Paul

        Olaf, that’s interesting. I wonder if other atheists would agree with you about it taking no courage. I can assure you it takes some courage to take Jesus seriously. And I did spend a number of years outside of Christianity. And I disappointed some people. And in my years as a Christian I have disappointed people. I think that, if one really lives according to one’s convictions, some folks will be disappointed! And I don’t doubt that it is cultural; Christianity is not an obvious thing. It’s peculiar. But that doesn’t mean that it does not point to something real. In any case, thanks for your thoughts. If you’d like we can continue this elsewhere; I feel like Custador really put something great out there and I don’t want this page to become about something else. We can do it at psnt.net if you’re interested.

        • Olaf

          What I meant was that a lot of people including my girlfriend grew up without religion. That is about 50% of the people here in Europe. The other 50% grew up as some kind of Catholic.

          People like my girlfriend does not understand what religion means. yes she sees people pray and go to church but it has no deeper meaning. For her, churches are just like painting and other old historical and cultural things. Nothing more. And I can tell you she is the most happy and wonderful person you will ever meet on this planet.

  • Siberia

    Custador, darling, I’m sorry for your loss.

    As I’ve never lost anyone other than a beloved pet, I can’t say I can help. But I agree with the people who say catharsis might be helpful: write, think, invent your own remembrance ritual – who says it has to conform with someone else’s? With anyone else’s?

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  • VidLord

    Death should not be a sad time. Death is pure freedom. Your society programs you to think it is sad. It is not. It is as normal as your breathing.

    “The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.”

    Don’t voyage too far – that is where it is scary….


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