Handling death

A question from Dominick

How do we handle it when someone we know and care about dies?

The reason I ask this question is because a good friend of mine died today. I guess it would have been easier if she had died from some kind of illness, but she died in a house fire at 6:45 a.m. this morning.

I saw her on Friday and we spoke a bit on Sunday and I was planning on going to see her at work on that day, just to mess with her a bit :) I am not telling you about my friend’s death to make you feel sorry for me or anything like that, it is just that I have to go to her funeral , when I find out what day it is, and i don't think I can handle that very well.

I have never had anyone this close to me before dying, plus the fact when I last saw her, she was smiling and laughing and now she is gone.

I am sure some of you asking why I am posting about my friend's death on an ex-Christian site. It is because I am a lifelong atheist and I wanted to know how other atheists handle it when someone close to them dies. I am also wondering if I am the only one that gets pissed off when Christians say things like. “Your friend is in a better place now,” “God only take the good ones young,” or “God as a special place in heaven for her.” When I go to her funeral, I have to listen a pastor, priest or whatever it is talk about what kind of person she was and how God was calling her home – a person that has never met my friend and knows nothing about her at all…

How am I going to be able to sit there and take that in when I know that bullshit is coming out of this person’s mouth, knowing full well that I will never see her smile again, never hold her in my arms again, and wonder why this good god these Christians keep on talking about would take my friend away in such a painful way.


Anonymous said...

I am very sorry for your loss. Not to be flippant, but I honestly think the song from Monty Python's "Life of Brian" says it all, "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life." Google that for the lyrics.

I'm no trained pyschologist, but I've dealt with this enough to know that you're better off if you recognize the signs of grieving and know what's normal in the grieving process, then let yourself go through it. This can be googled also. The important thing is not to shrink from the feelings you have, such as sadness; let yourself be sad, it's ok. Getting together with mutual friends of you and your late friend can be helpful also, you can all grieve together.

Nothing nor nobody can replace your friend, but try to celebrate the life they had and the positive way it affected you and your friends.

Regarding what the religious people say about your friend, just blow that off; that's their delusion to deal with.

Idea said...

I lost two of my good friends this year.
I miss them deeply, but I feel better now, when I realised how
privileged I was to even know them at all.

Unknown said...

I lost a beloved aunt this year and I was so fucking pissed at her funeral. I don't remember my aunt ever mentioning church or religion but you'd have thought she was the most devout Christian whoever lived. Her funeral was all about Jebus and not about my aunt. The pastor said nothing about her life. It was all about the preacher's agenda.

I guess as an atheist we certainly know for sure that the person who has passed is at peace. Not in a better place, but at peace.

I lost my best friend to cancer at 36, and I believe he was a non believer. On his deathbed he showed no fear. He was completely at peace with his fate. It was amazing to see someone so at peace, yet not clinging to the hopes of spending eternity with Jesus.

Spirula said...

Regardless of ones views on the afterlife, anyone who feels both symapthy and empathy handles death the same way...they grieve. It is natural. It is how we evolved. It is the nature of social beings. We feel loss. We should feel loss.

The ones to watch out for are the ones that don't feel this (see below).

Some try to minimize the pain with afterlife beliefs. I don't count that against them. However, when someone's death is exploited by another to proselytize for their religion or beliefs, I find this insulting and somewhat sociopathic. Death for them, is an selfish opportunity.

For myself, death is a natural process, but a difficult concept. Difficult because we humans are both self-aware and other-aware. And once we become aware, it's hard to imagine it ending. We can forsee our own death and forsee the death of others we care about. The idea that at some point it all stops is not a comforting one. But I remind myself, it all stops everyday...when I sleep. It's just that one day I won't wake. Then the story ends.

speck said...

Hi Dominick,

To endure the pain of loss is one of the hardest things we can ever experience. There is nothing that can compare to the emotional suffering we feel at the loss of someone that we really loved. I'm so sorry for you and for what you must be feeling at this time.

To make matters even worse, you will be in the position of being expected to sit and respectfully listen to all the ridiculous things that people will say in order to deal with such a tragety.

I hope you are going to be able to handle it all. If you can, talk to a friend that understands your (atheistic) viewpoint. Also be aware that many of your friends and common aquaintances will be struggling with the same questions and doubts that you have probably already wrestled with. Look for opportunities to help someone else. Even if it's just to let them vent their own frustration about how they feel.

I hope that someday our society will deal with death in a realistic and healthy way. Till then, maybe we should try to understand and support those who are going through lifes tragic times the best they know how.

Thanks for sharing your story. I hope you feel better soon.

Unknown said...

I am going to take this time to go off on a quick nut about an industry in which I despise. THE DEATH INDUSTRY. I fucking hate it !!!!!

It used to be a person was given a simple service and buried in a pine box. Somewhere along they was someone saw opportunity for great exploitation and profit in grief.

The funeral industry has people at their worst and most vulnerable moment to rake them over the coals. How the Hell did we ever arrive at the point where we toss $10,000 boxes into the ground never to be seen again? Those bastards charge outlandish amounts for shit and mark up on products is beyond criminal.

It is in my wishes when I go whenever that is, either direct cremation or donation to a medical college. If you donate your body to a medical college the cost to your family and the profit to the funeral business is $0.00.

Sorry if I got a little off the original topic, but I just wanted to squeeze that in.

ryan said...

Dominick, there really is no answer. People like me tend to see existence as meaningless. Existence is not so complex, nor so mysterious, that we need philosphers and theologians to explain it. I believe that we are sophisticated animals up on our hind legs, nothing more.

When I was in VietNam, I saw teenage boys shot down like so many rabid dogs. The VC were younger than our boys--some VC were as young as twelve. If you can gaze upon the sight of dead boys, lying on the ground with their genitals blown off, their intestines between their legs, and still keep your belief in god, then they ought to make you the fucking Pope.

I know that one of my aunts wrote to my mother shortly before I shipped out. She told my mother that "Ryan is going to be an ambassador for christ". All the while I was in Nam, those words went through my head like an obscene song. We went to Nam to kill the men and fuck the women. I do not know what the bloody hell christ had to do with it.

Returning to the States, I had to endure the church services; people giving thanks for my safe return; people singing their little jesus ditties; thanking god for their plump hogs and ripe corn. This was like shitting into a punch bowl. But what finally put me over the edge was when president ford pardoned the draft dodgers in Canada, saying he was "healing the nation's wounds". Really. Tell some poor motherfucker who is spending the rest of his days in a wheelchair that we are healing the nation's wounds.

No, I am not mad, or depressed, or addicted to two or three drugs. I accept life and death for what they are. I do not give life and death a meaning. If I did, then I probably would be mainlining smack. If I thought there was a just and loving god who somehow governed this world, then I would have gone crazy.

Nobody goes to a place like VietNam and comes back the same. You are always misssing something. I know guys who cannot take anything seriously. Everything is a joke--if they watched a six-year-old child run down in the street, they would chortle like they were watching Johnny Carson. Others, like me, cannot believe in anything. Belief is for old women, like my aunt.

Thanks for your patience and for your attention. And know that there are millions like me who have done a better job hiding it.

Nina said...

I was very sad to hear of your loss. Death can be quite the challenge to our already sometimes confusing lives.
When my son died I just stared at the christians as they said their crap. I mean without a word, I just stared at them. Eventually they got uncomfortable and shut up. I had to get up and tell everyone there that my son was a practical guy with lots of belief in nature as a force and energy. He was athiest and the people sat with mouths open when I said it.
I did realize that the christians were just trying to help, but I was so annoyed by their comments. I did get mad but tried not to show it. Misguided as they are, the religious think they are comforting you.

Unknown said...

Wow Ryan,

What a moving post. You should have made this an individual testimony. I love your statement in which I agree: We are nothing more that sophisticated animals walking on our hind legs. There is no grand meaning or purpose to our lives. We are here soley by chance.

As you said about seeing dead teenagers blown to bits in Nam, I see tons of tragedy at my workplace that makes believing in any fucking loving God such utter nonsense. I am an xray tech and a couple of weeks ago I had to do a full body series of xrays on a deceased 13 month old. It's all part of the autopsy process and part of my job. This beautiful child had knuckle marks on her fucking head where she was beat to death. I recently saw a little girl who was about to loose her leg to bone cancer. She will eventually probably loose her life after a couple years of misery.

I guess we all deal with death in our own private way, but for most of us, it's certainly viewing realistically.

Kenneth W. Hawthorne said...

"I look upon death to be as necessary to the constitution as sleep. We shall rise refreshed in the morning." —Benjamin Franklin

I don't know if Benjamin Franklin was
right but I hope he is.
I am sorry you lost your dear friend.
But we do live in a world that has
physical laws. When some of these are
violated we humans can be hurt or
even killed.

ryan said...

Hello xray. I just got back from a late lunch--it is 2PM where I live--and I wanted to reply quickly to your post.

You are familiar with the classic philosophical issue called "The Problem of Evil". The problem is usually poorly stated. We are not talking about hardship or bad luck. The problem is the suffering of the innocent. There is no way around it: a just god would not sit by with his thumb up his ass and watch as children became sick or injured.

It is always objected that god permits pain so that a greater good may come. Now why would an all-powerful god need to hurt someone in order to accomplish his goals? god can do his good works when he pleases, and doesn't need cancer or third-degree burns.

As I told a professor friend of mine: "you don't have a god who gets things done, you have a religion that explains why he doesn't".

Your remarks have been much appreciated.

ryan said...

Mr Hawthorne, the professor I referred to says that very thing; that which we call "evil" is simply the world following natural laws.Without these laws, existence would be chaos.

In that case, I answer, god could not answer prayers, because each answer to prayer would be an interruption or a reversal of the natural order of things. If your child was sick, you could not expect for god to help, because sickness is simply the body following its own laws. He went dumb as a post.

Of course, Mr Hawthorne, you could always say that god is unjust, and doesn't give a flying fuck. That works for a lot of us.

clair said...

Dominick, I am sorry you are hurting. I agree with many of these fine people, and the advice on dealing with grief. I have been to well over a hundred funerals, and the words from some jabbering minister never did anything at all. The funerals that I was desperately sad at, I simply held my true emotions in until I got to leave. I usually bite my tongue till it bleeds to keep quiet, or to keep from slapping someone for giving me the usual "At least they're in a better place." At my father's funeral I had a serious problem with that one because he was in a jar in the chapel. I kept trying not to yell in somebody's face, "You mean that jar? It seems kind of cramped to me!" I laughed until my eyes were all swollen and red, and I am quite sure my Dad would not have cared, he had a fairly sick sense of humor, that's where I got it. I'm hoping you can get through this okay, and then you can get back to peaceful again.
And Ryan, thanks for your thoughts on this and other subjects. You are amazing. Clair

Dave8 said...

Dominick: "How do we handle it when someone we know and care about dies?"

We handle life based on our values. Values are displayed in behavior, and thought.

Christians are typically, very outspoken, certain and typically "precise" about the exact details of the afterlife, and how each human that passes will fit into their vision.

Their religious beliefs are typically couched in terms of an "eternal" reward. This "reward" for obeying religious leaders, laws, bible, etc., becomes the "greatest" reward one can ever be given.

In short, a Christian who dies, while in a state of grace/salvation, has "won" the race, they have "passed" the finish line... and they "expect" an "eternal" reward, that can't possibly be taken from them - no Change. It makes being sent to "Hell" more just, if a person must spend "eternity" in Hell.

I only bring this up to show the contrast of my values and knowledge.

I've recently had to bury a father in-law, and I had to deal with the religious sermon that stated those who don't make it to Heaven, will never (eternity) meet with him again; because he was going to Heaven.

As I listened to the hour long sermon, over the casket, I knew the sermon was in memorial for him - not me. I showed respect, for the family/people, not the religious verbiage.

As I sat in the church, I reflected on his life, and his impact on me. However, I held no grief, as "grief" exemplifies mental stress or anxiety. I didn't have grief, per se... while I miss his company, I do not exhibit mental anxiety over his passing.

In terms of psychology, I actually felt relieved when my father in-law passed away. He had lived eleven years on kidney dialysis after losing both kidneys - he suffered. His kidney loss was due to parasitic damage, incurred during a tour in Vietnam/Cambodia.

I am somewhat simple in terms of death... I can't sympathize or empathize with someone who has passed away. Empathy is the identification with and understanding of another's situation or feelings... I have not experienced death, therefore, I can not honestly "identify" with another's passing. Because I can't "empathize", I have no ability to "sympathize", as that requires a mutual connection.

Now, I did empathize and have compassion for the family, but "only" on the level of "loss" of his human "presence" and the joy he brought others.

I could not empathize, or intellectually identify with the families' religious perspective. However, I did have much compassion for them, and did all I could to provide for their physical needs and psychological well-being.

Regarding my contrasting values with Christianity. Everything I know, and have experienced, leads me to accept "change" as a constant. Everything we experience is in terms of a "transformation". The birth and death of a person are events in a/the transformation process.

Transformation (change) to "me", elicits a sense of "freedom"; I do not have a reason to believe that "transformation" will end the second we die...

My father in-laws' passing, to me, was a natural step in a transformational process. I was more concerned for his well-being and constant suffering, while he lived, than in his passing...

While Christianity, per most, if not all, traditions, seeks to restrict "freedom", as "free will" doesn't exist in Heaven, no ability to sin, etc, I expect "freedom".

I could say I am not "certain" about transformation, but... I could also say, there isn't a "single" exception I have found in this life, nor any exception that anyone has ever been able to "provide" to challenge "change" as a constant.

In short, I have no "reason" to believe against transformation, and "every" reason to accept it as a natural event.

Again, we each approach the passing of someone we know, based on our life experiences and values.

My values, and those of Christianity are divergent; Christianity's declaration of an "eternal" paradise (freedom-less) as a "reward" for "relinquishing" one's freedom to a religious leader and ancient books' scripture, here on earth, "to me" is a recipe for earthly "suffering", followed by "eternal" suffering as the prestigious Christian reward; take care.

Telmi said...

Ryan, I like your reasoning, which is nothing less than logical, and I have always enjoyed reading your posts.

Keep it up.

ryan said...

clair and telmi, I am nothing less than touched and humbled. Thank you both so much for your generous praise.


Feh23 said...

I am an atheist who was raised by atheists, and as a result have an only passing knowledge of religious tradition. I've had similar situations where close friends/family die completely unexpectedly.

How did I deal with it? My answer is: How can I not? I know for a fact that there is no escape from death, everyone I know will die eventually, I will die and to deny those facts is the height of delusion, in my estimation. I was crushed when I found out these people, who were vaulable sources of comfort, happiness and fun, were no longer around.

It is a part of life, and while I miss my friends from time to time, what I feel more is an almost overwhelming sense of honor to have known them. They aren't here in the physical sense, but in my memories, and how they've changed my life, they're still here...as long as I am. What happens when I die is of no consequence as there is no other option.

muttmutt said...

I cannot say what happens after we die, nobody truly knows. Remember her in your memories, live in the now. At least she had a wonderful friendship with you. Have a beer, get plastered, it might make you feel better? My condolences.

speck said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
speck said...

We already know what it's like when we die...; it's exactly like it was before we were born.

hi ryan.

Chacha Latte said...


How fucking awful. I hate this for you.

I am a first time poster. All I can contribute is that I personally believe in physics. I think that if you can believe that matter cannot be created or destroyed, you can believe that there is something our life energy is changed into when it stops being manifested in a 'living form' that we understand (transformation I suppose is the best description and was discussed before).

We just don't know what happens (but I agree it is the same place or what we remember from before we were born). I hate funerals for this reason. People need to speak this kind of deluded crap to soothe themselves. Recognize it for what it is for THEM.

Now, if you need to soothe yourself because c'mon this is horrible to go through and very tragic and shocking, please give yourself a break. You are going to have a tough time. If it overwhelms you, I recommend psychopharmaceuticals, therapy, etc.

Why not make a memorial to your friend that is meaningful and will bring honor and closure to your friendship? I would do this After the crazy memorial service. Consider what this friend added to your Life and how you were enriched by them. You are keeping them 'alive' by the proof that they gave meaning to your life and thus those who are still living. And you will know just how to honor that relationship in the right way.

Having said that, if and when a very very close family member dies (I have a twin sister for example) or my daughter, I am going to fucking lose my mind and sanity with grief.

Nobody has the answers....you are not alone. What I think is ironic is that I actually had a Xtian tell me that nobody knows whether God exists or what happens when we dies. I thought about that when I was at his funeral.

WhateverLolaWants said...

I don't have any answers, I just wanted to tell you how sorry I am for your loss. That's really sad about your friend. I'm not sure if I deal with death very well, so I can't really give any practical advice, except to be true to yourself and in tune with yourself.


ryan said...

And hello billy. Aren't we all pleased to see this thread taking shape? I expected it to be fundie bait but so far, no takers.

If somebody tells me that there are no atheists in foxholes, I am going to track him down.

Michelle said...

Hi Dominick. Most likely you are still in shock over your friend's death. It's hard to predict how one will feel and how those feelings shift while you're grieving. I lost my younger brother last year. I watched him suffer and bleed internally for 3 hours while the hospital staff ignored his suffering. I will never forget or forgive what they did to him, but I am gradually coming to accept his death.

To be honest, I like to believe that I will see him again. I know that statement will upset others on this forum, but that's my own goddamn belief, not theirs. I don't advertise that belief or shove it down others' throats. I'm an ex-christian, so I no longer believe in all that dogma. So what if it helps me deal with the horror of the events? I don't get on other people's cases for smoking, watching porn, or anything else they're into. The thing is, no one can tell you how to feel or how to deal with your loss. Only you will know how to do that. Everyone has their own way. Just know that while grieving you will experience a range of emotions that will come in no particular order, and if you feel you can't handle them, talk to someone. Just having someone listen helps so much.

What I think is a tragedy is that our culture does not do anything about preparing people for death, for others or for their own. We're not taught about that in school, and not all parents are up to the job. The christians poison their children's heads with either fairytales about everlasting life or burning for eternity. This country really needs to do something about teaching people to deal with death in advance, not afterwards.

I agree with Ryan about the insignificance of life. What was the point of evolving to this stage? I think the most important thing people can do for themselves and each other is to live their lives not hurting one another as much as they possibly can. Minimizing suffering should be the priority. Everything else is just killing time until our time is up.

speck said...

Woody Allen said;
"...I'm not afraid of dying; I just don't want to be there when it happens."

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