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As an Atheist, how do you deal with it?

It's definitely, definitely the hardest thing for me. I think about how crappy it is to have a mother who is hurt by my religious decisions, but how much worse would it be to realize that when I lose someone in my family, they're gone forever?

A lot of the Atheists I speak to don't think about it, or don't seem to mind. What do you think?
(Hopefully this isn't a duplicate thread.)

Tags: death

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This weekend I'm heading to the midwest to see if I can make arrangements for my Dad to enter hospice. He is very frail, and now has 3 types of cancer. He can barely move to an upright position. His speech is slurred. This is a man who, even though we have had very different lives, I greatly admired. When I became a true adult, he became my best friend.

At the same time, my Mom is in an Alzheimer's unit. She is a shadow of her former self. Her "true" personality, a bubbly, sweet, person, remains. And everything else is gone. The visits are a jambalaya of grief, loss, nurturing, guilt, and gratitude.

We all die. We all lose people who we love. Unless we are psychopaths, it is painful. Unless we are clueless, there is existential angst. I still don't know how to tell my Dad, this is the time that we think about letting go, stopping the transfusions, stopping the chemotherapy, and doing comfort measures. But I have to. Maybe - he'll tell me.

Naturally, I think about my mortality too. It's part of why I love to plant trees - I've done something that I hope will give a sense of comfort and awe, for a generation who will never know about me or how I have lived. The idea that something will live on gives me just a little comfort. It's also a reason that I am more activist than I used to be. To pass some of my values to the next generation, and hope that they can live better, in some way, than I did.
You wont know when your gone. Thats what comforting about death.
Daniel and Rosemary - I feel for you both and lots of good vibes headed your way.

On our own mortality, there are so many mixed feelings and few words that ultimately answer the question, "Where will I go? Will it hurt?" Weirdly, the thing I fear most about death is that it will be a painful one. But then afterwards, if we simply cease to exist, I guess I won't be remembering the pain, eh?

On the mortality of others, we know we're going to lose loved ones. We know everyone dies. In the case of old age or terminal illness, we know it's coming, sometimes for years, and when death comes it's sometimes more of a blessing than a curse - we have definitely reached the point where we can extend quantity of life way, WAY beyond its quality. And yet, it still hurts to not have that loved one around anymore. No matter how prepared you were for their passing.
Welcome Therese!

And yes, it's pretty awesome to find a 'nexus' of so many thoughtful, rational people and be able to discuss a topic like this without it being overrun with Jesus-this/Jesus-that.
Great topic thread. Fantastic participation and sharing. Thank you all.

I do not wish to detract from the emotions shared here. These questions and feelings about death are challenging. I have little doubt that it is this topic that keeps many clinging to the hopes offered through religious mythologies.

To take a slightly different trajectory on this subject, since we are supposed to be advocates of Science, why do you think that so many (but obviously not all) of our brains have evolved an instinctual fear of death and a commonly-observed response of grieving the loss of a familiar individual? Why would evolution support the continuation of these traits, especially when grieving can become debilitating for some? Similar responses are observable in other species, as Evolution would predict. Is this simply an accidental by-product of having a more complex brain structure or has evolution selected these traits because they increase our fitness for continuing the species? Would understanding our brains from this perspective change the way we deal with death?
Good questions Jimmo. I think that seeking emotional comfort, even in the form of fantasy/imagination, is definitely an evolutionary coping skill. Even in animals, I can engage my cat in play which helps her get over the grief of her missing sister.

But then you're on to something with how grief can actually become debilitating instead of healthy. I suppose it's like so many other ways we lead imperfect lives, not always in the most efficient way. For instance, why do people smoke, knowing it has no redeeming value and is horribly bad for you? Why do women wear high heels which hobble and do so much damage to our feet, legs and hips in the long run? Simply out of style.
Awesome question. Science recently made the connection with post partum depression and breast feeding. When our ancestors didn't breast feed an infant, that was because they were dead; thus, mothers who don't breast feed are more likely to be depressed. That leads me to believe that our brains are hard wired to fear death so much so that even the death of someone/thing else is crippling. Maybe it's because the loss of a human life effects the instinct to keep the species alive...
...Or in Heaven and subjected to Mormons for all eternity (according to South Park).
i'm not afraid of death for me or any one in my family. It has to happen at some point to everyone, and some people are better off dead than living lonely, suffering lives. Even though I don't believe in heaven or hell, i do think something has to happen with all the energy inside a person's body. So, i don't think that people are eternally gone when they die, i just believe that while their body is gone, their soul and energy isn't.
Well put Emma. From a purely scientific, quantum physics POV, I do not find it a big leap to wonder if some energy signature of, say, my deceased Uncle Jerry somehow tickles my own energy signature and there really is something to feeling his presence.

When I drive over Glen Canyon Dam and put my hand out to 'feel' the energy of the Colorado River, its history, and the peoples who have lived and died here, that's what I'm feeling for. Maybe it's all in my mind, but maybe with so much happening in and around the river through time there really is some particle of a distant ancestor connecting with some particle in me to say hi. Either way, that's where I feel my comfort; from this Universe our atoms came together to form us and into this Universe our atoms are constantly being recirculated!
exactly. its like a big recycling project going on throughout the universe and infinity.
Wow - you may have just talked me into buying that book!


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