Dealing with Death
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I recently received the following from a friend dealing with death of a close family member:
The worst part about being agnostic is the knowing of the finality. It's the greatest pain I've ever experienced. How do other agnostics and atheist cope with the pain?
I really don't have a good answer. My own experience is that I have had little problem with accepting the finality of death. It is just part of the continuum of life and comes to everyone, even me. And I accept that. But, I don't think I am typical in this easy acceptance.
There are a range of ways in which we cope with death. And I think many of those with firm belief in a deity and / or an afterlife have just as much problem coming to terms with the death of a loved one as do non-believers.
I put the question up on our discussion board, and following are some of the replies:
How do you cope with the pain of death of others close to you?
I have a rule I go by. Never love someone/thing so much that you cannot see it die. We actually don't know if death is final, or not. I can assure you that there isn't any heaven, or whatever people call it because it's a stupid belief. It doesn't mean that something doesn't happen to us after we die. You know, maybe it is final and the last moments are just like a big acid trip or something.
Death is a part of life and we're all going to have to face it someday.
To me, death is lights out! It is going to sleep and never waking up. I do not fear death and only hope it is a natural death and not a vicious one.
I was sad at my parents deaths and knew they were out of pain as I saw them with faint smiles on their faces as they lay in their caskets after a long time of suffering and faces of pain. I am a DNR person (do not resuscitate), and do not wish to hang on by artificial means. As I get older and see some of my friends passing, I only try to keep myself healthy and enjoy each day as much as I can because none of us get out of this alive and it is a natural part of life..
I think that natural and vicious are not mutually exclusive. Know how elephants die of old age? They remain viable, but their teeth crumble with age. No longer able to grind up the leafy stuff, they starve to death.
Kind of gives you that warm fuzzy feeling, eh?
Death usually sucks. It is most often painful, and that appears to be exacerbated by old age. When you are young, you die accidentally, often quickly. When you die of old age, you fade away slowly and painfully. There is no real argument to that, it is simply one of the less pleasant and therefor lesser publicized aspects of life.
I try to enjoy it while I can, do my utmost for my offspring (the better to ensure survival of my genetic contributions), and plan well for alleviation at the end. Dr. Kervorkian is a hero, plain and simple, and we should all find ourselves in so fortuitous a situation at the end.
I just don't understand.
Being an agnostic to me doesn't preclude anything in particular as pertains to after-death stuff. Having never died before I'm sure it'll be a unique experience. I just hope the process doesn't hurt too much.
When it comes to other people's deaths, I miss those whom I have known and can no longer talk to, but I also know that they don't hurt any more. Seeing as how they're dead and all.
When it comes to dealing with the pain of loss, I deal with it like the pain of anything else I've lost; my mind, my ability to walk well, etc.
It makes me sad. It's okay to be sad.
Well, based on the direct quote "The worst part about being agnostic is the knowing of the finality. It's the greatest pain I've ever experienced. How do other agnostics and atheist cope with the pain?" I'd say they lean more towards the atheist camp, since the afterlife is something unknowable.
It may exist, it may not. I don't know. I do think that death is one of the biggest factors keeping people involved in religion as there is the promise not only for yourself, but for your loved ones of a continued existence after death, where as coming from a perspective where we've resigned ourselves to the uncertainty of an afterlife it could be difficult to deal with.
Personally I don't have any problem with the idea that life is finite, but I have had to deal with grief over the last few years (although thankfully nobody I was really close to) and what I found that helped me deal with it was concentrating on the things that make my life worth living from day to day. Concentrating on the "thing" rather than the people.
Beyond that, while we may only be here for a short time, there is often a legacy left behind in some form or another. Exploring the legacy that whoever died has left behind may be a starting point to dealing with the loss. Did they build things? Did they leave memoirs, diaries, paintings? Anything tangible that they have left gives their life meaning and a sort of longevity. A friend of mine who passed away was an unpublished poet, so his family and close friends compiled a book of his poetry and had it published, with all the proceeds going to diabetes research (which he died from). In that fashion they have not only given a sort of immortality to their son, they're also contributing on his behalf.
I don't know how to deal with the reality of death in a comfortable manner. That has been one of the problems of being agnostic - no sweet fairy tale of meeting loved ones and angel wings.
I just hope when my time comes, it's not painful or I'm pretty high and I can feel the safety of my husband's arms.
I was a Catholic teenager when my first grandfather died. It was a very sad and painful loss for me. But in retrospect it was bad because of everyone else in the family and how they reacted. The man lived until 63 and had a pretty good life and yet everyone was so hurt by him "going to heaven". I never understood that. If heaven was so great why weren't we celebrating that he moved on to that no matter when it happens?
I think with death they (and many others) were focusing so much on themselves and their perceived loss that they didn't think of the man instead. Either way, heaven or not, religion didn't give them any more comfort than not believing in heaven because they were still focused on their loss.
Now that I'm Agnostic, my experience with the loss of my other grandfather last year was different. He lived to be 72 and also had a pretty good life. This time I believed that he just ceased to be as some day I will probably do. Since I don't know of anything after this life all that exists is this life. So the important thing was the life and that I got to share lives with this kind man. We said hello and goodbye many times in life and his death was just that last goodbye.
Knowing that we don't last forever there's no point in regretting his departure, but instead I was grateful for the time he was here. The funeral was a different experience for me because I was remembering the man, not the death. I was thankful for all of the times I had with him and not dwelling on the fact that there wouldn't be any more of those.
I know if I lose my wife or my children that there will be deep pain and loss for me. But it is nothing in my control and there's no god I'd be angry at for taking them away. It's just something that would happen for no reason. Instead I'd be thankful for each moment I had with them. If I outlive any of them I'll be sad for my loss, but I'll try and concentrate more on the joy they brought to my life when I did have them as a part of it.
Well, that's a range of opinion. Not everyone handles it the same way.
I also found several links dealing with the issue: