How do you grieve when you’re an atheist? It’s a question I rarely considered before. And when I do, I play a scene from that Ricky Gervais movie where his dying mother confesses to him how she doesn’t want to become nothing when she’s gone. His character creates the idea of the afterlife to ease her into the great unknown. And that’s all there is to it, isn’t there? The Great Unknown.
I’ve done my best to comfort those who have lost a loved one in the past. And it’s never easy, because my words of comfort are usually taken with a grain of salt. Because how do you sound sincere when your atheism isn’t secret? Sometimes I borrow someone else’s words to aid in the comfort.
There are many articles that discuss the topic of grief and atheism.* Often, however, we’re robbed of our grieving process with hollow sympathies and condescending questions.
My aunt’s passing has affected me in ways I didn’t expect. Yes, there is the sense of loss. The sense of grief for the lost of someone I knew and loved. Losing a loved one isn’t easy. At least, it shouldn’t be. But there is a void I cannot understand. A clawing at my chest. A screaming peace (if that makes any sense).
What happens when we die? There’s the fantasy and there is the realism. We know the fantasy—I believed in it for years. But the realism is, I don’t know. And I don’t want to know. And as much as I would love to continue existing after this body has expired, there are doubts that I will.
Is that what this is? A sense of an old, abandoned me trying to feed into the hope of an afterlife?
I doubt I will find god (any god) before I expire. I doubt I’ll have an inkling of an answer. And that’s just fine. We’re not supposed to have all the answers. Because what’s the point of this limited journey if we know what to expect at the end? Why peak at the last pages and spoil the story? But if there’s one thing I know about the death of a loved one, it’s this: We may mourn their death, but let us also celebrate their lives.
And I guess that’s how I grieve. And I supposed that is how I’ll face my death when the time comes. To quote Dawkins: 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. […] In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here.
And that has to be worth something, right?