Losing a loved one, as an atheist

Saturday, September 12, 2009

When I was around 11 or 12, I started to question the received wisdom that there was a deity. I came to the conclusion that all signs pointed to no. Do I outright, unequivocally and without reservation deny the existence of such an entity? No. However, I don’t see it as a likely scenario, and until I’m presented with hard evidence, I have enough reason to say that there isn’t.

Some people take comfort in their religious beliefs, especially their belief in an afterlife. I have no interest in an afterlife, either for myself of my loved ones. In the past five years I’ve lost both my grandmother and mother, both of whom I loved dearly.

No amount of belief in an afterlife would soothe my pain. I mourn at the fact that they are lost from my life, right here, right now. I imagine it’s the same even for those who believe that the dead pass on to somewhere else. You can’t escape the fact that their tangible presence is forever gone from your life. Unless you believe in ghosts, but that’s a whole other can of worms.

I have my memories of them, and if I filter those memories, I can choose to only remember the good things. I can remember my mother’s kind words, my grandmother’s stolid support, and their love for each other. Aside from senility, nothing can take those memories from me, and I wont ever let anything try to. They’re mine to keep, and I’ll treasure them until I die.

I loved them both, and it’s hit me hard, especially my mother’s recent death. As a non-believer, I don’t have to question why a god would choose to take my mother away at 59. I don’t have to ask why they would let such a thing happen, if they hadn’t directed it specifically. Even if there is a god, I don’t care why. Our universe operates under certain natural laws, and I’m okay with that. Those natural laws brought me to life, and gave me a happy life with my mother’s constant support. Would I trade that in for false hope of an afterlife? Never. I wouldn’t dream of it.

To me the beauty of the natural world is that it is there in its own right. It doesn’t require any omnipotent fiat, it operates within a consistent set of rules, and it has brought itself to this complex state from incredibly simple components. Belief in some sort of deity would actually take away from the universe’s beauty; it would steal from it its grandeur and splendor. To stand on its own legs it demonstrates a quality of greatness.

Would my grief be at all assuaged by thoughts of an afterlife? No, I am certain it would not. I loved them, and they’re gone from my life forever. I’m not angry at anything for their loss. I’m left with memories to cherish, love in my heart for them still, and the knowledge that what they left behind came from themselves.


Jonas-Thanatos the Engineer said...

I have been thinking of you all this time, I even thought of the subject you treat in this blog entry. I wanted to tell you that I believed it would be harder for you since you have no god to find comfort in. That kind of comfort, like you seem to me to be saying, you wouldn't want it. That is my basis for being an atheist, that I don't need a god to make things easier for me, to be what, to be an opiate? to numb the pain? If god doesn't pay the rent and put bread on the table, I die. Oh, but I do that.. I saw it when a close friend of mine (also atheistic) lost his father: I saw that others had less trouble because in the end they were going to "be with him again". I find it dangerous to etertain such delusions.

skwirl42 said...

I don't even see that the hope of "seeing" the person again really makes it that much better for anyone. Sure, I cried the most at my mother's services, but at the same time, I was (I guess am) a big mama's boy. I emailed my mother several times daily, every day.

amynicole said...

Sigh....you are truly a strong individual. I admire you immensely!

skwirl42 said...

Thanks, Amy. :)

You've been through a lot too, and you're still here. That takes determination. I admire you as well!

crazybeanrider said...

I think of this often. It was a difficult experience for me to lose someone as an atheist. Those around me, "oh she went to heaven" so I guess that makes it easier than dead is dead. And that is how I have to accept it. I will never meet her again on the other side. I know that. But I still am scared of losing someone again. It seems more final I guess.

I just wanted to say I liked your post. And the way you share your experience.

skwirl42 said...

Thanks. :) I think this is the post that's received the most comments, and I'm thankful for that. It was a great relief to be able to write these thoughts down.

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