Response to a comment on grieving.

I got this comment from Mary a few days ago:

Has anyone here experienced the loss of a parent? Has your atheism helped or hindered your grieving process? I’m going through a very difficult loss right now and am having trouble reconciling my stated belief (or non-belief as the case may be) with what I’m going through. Your thoughts would be appreciated.

And, as usual, you commenters offered up better responses than I could come up with.  My dad left this one:

I have lost both my parents. I was sad, I grieved, and I will miss them both. I am so happy that we got to be family together. My atheism helped me accept that is just the way of the world. When my times up, I hope my kids can celebrate that we had our time together as family, and that that helps them through the natural mourning and grieving process. I do not want my kids to barter their reason for false promises about an afterlife. Good luck to you.

Other commenters pointed toward Grief Beyond Belief, which is another good outlet for help with grieving.

The best thing I have to offer was in response to Dan Fincke’s question about grief.  I’ve yet to lose a parent, but I lost a grandmother for whom I cared very deeply.

Battles are often won long before the first shot is fired, by strategists who scour the environment beforehand and manipulate the conditions to give them the greatest advantage.  It doesn’t guarantee victory, but it seriously ups the winning percentage.  People dying, when it’s not sudden, is that way.  Don’t wait until someone dies to set yourself up to grieve – do it in the weeks beforehand.  When my grandmother was dying of cancer, I drove home every weekend I could.  I thanked her for helping me to attend college, and said all the things that came to my mind (even I struggle with that sometimes).  I told her I loved her repeatedly.  I sat at the side of her bed and hugged her during her few waking hours every day.

That way, when I went to war with my grief, it was on my terms and with as few unknowns as possible.  Pre-planning doesn’t mean you’ll always win, or that grieving will be easy, but it’s a heaping dose of emotional anesthetic.

Best of luck to you.  *hug*

PERSONAL: Sorry to disappoint you, Julian.
You guys are wonderful.
PERSONAL: Mid day lab pics from the wife.
PERSONAL: The corrupting power of fame and my love for my commenters.
About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.

  • Carol Eberhard

    Very good blog post and very good comments. Like the song Ned wrote, “Lucky Ones”, we can be thankful that in this short period of space and time, we were alive and that we had this time together. Losing someone we love is sad, but the happiness is that we knew each other and those memories are ours. Peace to you, Mary.

  • becca

    I lost my father just about a month ago. Through his last illness, his atheism never waivered. He asked for no memorial service. My mom is collecting people’s memories of him, however, in a note book with photos.

    Shortly before he entered hospice, my Dad pointed to his oxygen mask with an uninflated bag under it, and asked “how does this work?” That kind of questioning is one of his greatest legacies to me.

    In my family, we are each grieving in our own ways, but none of it involves the flase hope of an afterlife.

  • otrame

    I have a grief battle coming up. My dad, whom I have adored all my life (even when I was really mad at him as a teenager), is suffering from some sort of dementia, is in his 80s and will not live very much longer. As time goes on, I have found myself grieving more and more for the loss of my dad, because the man he was is gone. Oh, every now and then we get a glimpse of that man, but most of the time he is either napping, or wandering around, sure there is something he is supposed to be doing and frustrated because he can’t remember what. My mother spends a good part of her day finding little things for him to do that he can complete before he forgets what he is doing because the only satisfaction he gets these days is finishing some task.

    I know that when he dies I will grieve, but the truth is I am already grieving.

    Here’s the thing. Believing in an afterlife doesn’t really make your grieving any less painful. It just makes you ashamed of your grief, because, after all, “they’re in a better place”. When a dear friend of mine died a couple of years ago I was GUTTED. And I should have been. It should hurt to lose someone who is important to you. Don’t be afraid of the pain.

  • BabyRaptor

    I don’t know if this counts as lost or not, but I’ve been living with no contact from any family but my half-sister for 8 years running. I’ve literally only spoken to my grandfather (grandparents raised me) once, and that’s it.

    It was your typical Fundie Christians booting out the “gay deviant” situation. I’ve not yet totally come to terms with it, and there are a lot of times where I sincerely wish things had gone different, or I’ll get a nice bout of jealousy when a friend talks about how supportive their family is being during X thing. But I’ve managed to make life work thus far.

    • M

      *Hugs* No one deserves to be cut off from family because of who they are. I’m sorry this has happened to you, and I’m glad you’re making life work. I know I’m a random Internet stranger, but if I can help, I will.

  • Jeremy Shaffer

    My father died of cancer 6 years ago. Our relationship had been strained from the get go and there was even sevral years I would have as little contact with him as possible. The last year and a half of his life he had started to make an honest effort to change things, in both his life and our relationship. When he died there were still many issues unresolved between us. I ended up pushing them aside, throwing them away really, so that I could just enjoy my last moments with my father in a way that I wish we could have had to begin with. If I had a belief in an afterlife or gods or what not, I seriously doubt that I could have dropped the issues and past hurts that would never get fixed or addressed since I would have labored under the belief that we would get that chance in the “hereafter” or something. Ultimately, I would have set my self up to live the rest of my life carrying that baggage in a false hope of correcting things long after any chance to actually do so had since past.