My closest friend of 25 years is dying of acute lymphoblastic leukemia, lying in a hospice after she wisely refused chemo that could have killed her anyway, seizing a few days, a week or two, who knows, certainly not "God." I shouldn't go into Mackie, but what the hey, I will. If "God" is omnipotent, he cannot be good, since an omnipotent "God" would not let as precious a person as my Ellie die of a blood disease. That was Mackie's argument against the existence of "God," and that Old Time Religion is good enough for me.

Yet, when I visit her in the hospice, Camus's Meursault comes to mind as well. I think of the final scene in The Stranger when Meursault, a condemned man, looks up at "the benign indifference of the universe." That is what awaits my friend, not some graybeard at a Graceland gate. At least she has chosen cremation, which spares her heirs of expensive caskets and such. But the family has brought her Booble to the room, as well as a cross, and not to forget those horrid little books one finds in the supermarket about faith, hope, love, and such, all written from a Christian point of view.

I must suppose I am in denial. I haven't had a good cry. But I sometimes feel like my favorite character in a Bergman movie, the writer-father in Through a Glass Darkly who helplessly watches his daughter go insane; helpless because he wants to use her schizophrenia as a subject for a story.

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You seem an intelligent self-aware man, so you've already realized that grieving will come, and seeking avoidance of it would be folly.

While life often teaches us not to dwell on the past but to look to the future, the opposite is true when grieving. Don't dwell on the fact that she is dying, look to your past with her for solace. "Remember the good times" is the repetitive quote that comes to mind.

Make sure that when she comes to mind, not to weep tears of pain, but tears of joyful memories.


As an analogy, life is like a book. There's no point worrying about it ending, it's going to end.
The point is when you have reached the end, that you enjoyed the book.

The fact that she's been a friend for 25 years of your life clearly indicates you enjoyed the journey you've had with her. Otherwise you wouldn't still be in it. So when you find yourself feeling hurt by the loss of her, just focus back on your past with her. Remember the good times.

In the end, all we can hope for is that our lives were worthwhile.
You clearly think hers was.
Very beautifully put, Johnsky; very wise advice, for which many many thanks. I do find that when I am in the hospice room with her, and she is asleep, I go back to the times we had, and they were good. I'll do more of that.
Of what little advice I have, the advice on mourning is the only I have that seems to work always. I have lost many a friend. Too many.

I am only sorry that I cannot provide you an escape from the grieving to come.

Remember the good times. Forget the bad. And replace the loss with memories.
There never really were any bad times with this woman. We always had fun. We spent a week in Mexico while I was getting dental work done, in Jerez, near Zacatecas, staying at my brother's house while he was in the U.S. for the six-month visa renewal. (He lives full time in Mexico now.) We had a great time, all things considered. She was also like a step-mom to my sons. Yes, I will definitely take your advice and dwell on the great joyous moments we had. Thanks again.
Hi James, thanks for sharing. What a difficult time this must be for all concerned. I wouldn't worry too much about the religious knick-knacks. I imagine all her friends and family have to deal with this in their own way and, for the religious, this is only natural. It's not a time for confrontation, but for shared concern.
Your last paragraph reminds me so much of my mother last year, when my dad passed away. She said: "It's like a lovely story that you don't want to end, but you know it has to." I thought that was quite sweet.
For my own part, I was in a complete haze as I had to struggle to organise exit visas and fly 70,000 miles to go and see my dad on life support. No sooner had I arrived at the hospital, the doctor summoned the family together and discussed switching off the life support. Difficult days followed, but along with the tears came a growing acceptance, and soon enough I flew back another 70,000 miles. This time my dad was dead, but somehow it was easier to deal with than the earlier flight back, when he was dying and all there was was uncertainty and some vague, vain straw to clutch at that 'where there's life, there's hope'.
"Where there's life, there's hope" is like something I would expect to find in one of the inspirational books visitors bring along. What is the point of living when you are lying on your back, an oxygen tube in your nose, alternately snoring and sighing, oblivious to most that's going on around and about you. Reminds me of Burroughs saying, "Hope in one hand and shit in the other. See which one fills up faster." Also brings to mind the post hoc reasoning of those who believe in miracles: I hoped for it and it happened, therefore the hoping produced the miraculous recovery.
I do agree with you. That's not what any of us would want, and not something I would dream of saying to you at this difficult time. Please note I didn't use it in that context, and accept my sincere apologies if it caused any offence.
I should apologize; I didn't mean to sound critical of what you said, and I knew I was preaching to the choir. At times like this, we all question the meaning of existence, but I was fortified with the conviction there isn't any, unless it is compassion and concern for one's fellows. I am tempted to pride in the knowledge that when we (atheists) are concerned and compassionate, it is not because we want "God's" blessings but because we care, no reward in the offing. To me, that makes us superior to the believer, who has the ulterior motive of a heavenly reward. A novelist of my acquaintance once said to me in a letter, "Life is too chaotic and meaningless to deserve the dignity of the tragic view." I did not fully understand or agree with him until I freed myself of religious restraints. No apology necessary, Martin.
When my father died in September 2008, it was the first time I really had to face death. He was 56. I spent 14 hours in the ICU holding his hand, talking to him, talking to his brother. He was in a coma, and was so when I reached the hospital after learning he was taken by ambulance from his home. I had hope that it would all turn around right up the last second when his heart stopped beating and within just a few seconds he was dead. Then there was the awful let-down, that emptiness that comes when all hope is gone and you know all you have are the memories. I never wanted to forget anything about him. I sat beside his bed holding his hand in mine for about 90 minutes after he died. I wanted to memorize it all, every line on his hands, his face, his skin. I'd stand up and smooth his hair back and kiss his forehead and his cheek every ten minutes or so, and noticed the cold setting in each time. I stared at his hand and watched it turn blue. Eventually my uncle had to pull me out of there. Walking out of that room, I kept looking back. Leaving was the hardest thing I ever had to do in my life. The next hardest was calling my mother. I'll never forget her screams.

Over the next few days things got harder. I tried to put my own misery aside and be there for my grandparents. They were driving up from southern California as fast as they could when they learned of Dad's condition. They didn't make it up in time to see him. I met them the next day at the funeral home when they came to see his lifeless body. The worst of it was watching my grandfather, a stone-hard man, cry his heart out in racking, choking sobs. It was the first and last time I ever saw Grandpa cry.

After the family dispersed to their home states, it was just me. I stayed in a daze for the first few weeks, and then moved on to being pissed off that he was gone so young, that my sons won't remember him in time. Eventually the acceptance came in knowing that for my father, there was nowhere else to go in life. He doesn't have to suffer anymore through pills, vomiting, not being able to eat, not being able to walk without help, and the horrible depression that ate him up through it all. As much as I would love to have him around and in my life, I would never want that if it meant he would have to continue suffering the way he did. No one deserves the hell that he went through in his last few months.

So... I suppose in the end I am happy for him that the road ended, but I know I will cry for me for the rest of my life, missing his voice, his humor, his smile, his laugh and his love every day.

The following May we lost Grandpa to emphysema. The following September we lost Grammy... more due to grief than anything, I know. Through both of their funerals, seeing them without life animating their bodies... I thought "one day it will be my turn to die."

I never had any thoughts of a god or religion or a heaven, but in place of those things just a curiosity.

You'll get through this death, of course. It will just take time.
Most of my older loved ones died in their sleep, which is the most merciful way to go. Your experience indeed sounds harrowing, though I suspect you are stronger for it. I was really touched by the account of your father's death. My own father had a massive heart attack and was dead in about an hour. I was not there but had been with him a few minutes earlier, when he assured us it was just indigestion or heartburn. But then he was much older than your father -- a couple of decades -- and I can easily see how it would cause you some anger at his going so young.
I was just informed yesterday, that an atheist friend whom I've only known for about 9 months killed himself. This came from what was going to be his ex-wife. I don't know if it is real skepticism about her playing some cruel joke as her voice didn't seem to indicate any emotion or my denial that a person who seemed so critical of the moronic things people do, would do the stupidest thing possible, especially since he had two young children.

I certainly would be upset if he died in accident, but for a healthy father of two to kill himself over the incompatible with his wife is excessive and , of course, irreversible and only makes me angry.

We live then we die, instead of fearing my inevitable death, I embrace the dawn of each day and thank the stars I am alive once again.
I think that if your atheist friend did all he could to provide for his family in the event of his death, and if he accomplished the latter by his own hand, he at least did it in a manner and in a place where no one close to him would have to deal with the situation, he should have no apologies to anyone. I thought Ernest Hemingway's suicide a fitting end to a life that supplied material for several novels and short stories but was lived in such a way that, once the potential for its enjoyment had been taken from him, robbed Papa of his raison d'etre. He could not eat, drink, fish, hunt, or write. What was the point of going on? To those who claimed his suicide was a cowardly act giving lie to his stoic philosophy, I said, "Could you do it?" That shut them up.

And by the way, Hemingway was one of us. I never will forget the moment in Islands in the Stream when Thomas Hudson, the protagonist, calls the sea "our Mother," and says "She is the god for those of us who have none."

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