I'm having trouble dealing with the death of my grandfather as an Atheist. To back up a little, I was a serious Christian for my whole life until a few years ago (not uncommon, I know). The only other time someone close to me died, was my aunt. She died about a year before I left Christianity and became an Atheist. I remember it was so easy when she died. I loved her so much, but I "knew" she was in heaven with God, so I was content. I was upset that she was gone, but I easily moved on with my life, just keeping her in mind.

A few years later (aka - a couple weeks ago), I watched my grandfather die. I knew he was nearing the end, but I thought he would die within days. I never expected him to die there, with me sitting there watching. I expected him to just get up again... or maybe he only stopped breathing for a second....... I've always had a phobia of dead people. It seemed to me that there were live people and dead people. In my mind, they were completely different and separate. Death was just a rumor. We never see live people again... there is an eerie corpse in their place. But they aren't the same. He was there seconds before... I could see "him" in his actions... the way he spoke, nodded his head, moved his hand...

I've been a little... messed up since then. I've been happy and content as an Atheist until that happened. I just don't understand... I feel like a child (I'm in my 20s). EVERYONE in my family and friends of my family are all Christians. They were all praying, a priest even came. But no one could tell me where the heck he was???? (I'm not out of the closet to my whole family, just my parents.)

How do you guys deal with it? It's different if it's me, but people I know and love... I watched death... It's excruciating to think about. What do you guys think in situations like these? We know everyone else we love will die soon too. How do you deal? What's going on? Thanks for any advice.

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Keri. First, my condolences. I can tell that you loved your grandfather very much. That love will not die. Everytime something reminds you of him, he is alive in your heart. How wonderful that he is still in your life like that.

20 yrs. ago, my wife died, and I was present. I also watched her when she stopped breathing. And it messed with my mind for awhile. I seemed to 'wake up' about 8 mos. later, like I suddenly became aware of my surroundings again. Hard to remember what happened in those previous months.

It does get better. I know that seems trite right now, but true. I take condolence in the fact that I am a part of something greater, the universe. Not in a religious sense, but that I am made up of stars, making me a being of the universe. My atoms will go back to the universe, and maybe become part of some other life, here or somewhere. What a gloriuos thought.

Please, remember. Death is a part of life. To me, it enriches the cosmos, just in another form. No soul, no consciousness, no reward other than being a conduit to spread my atoms and molecules to the earth and beyond.

Remember, in your time of grief, that what truly mattered, was that you loved, and was loved in return. Hold that dear, for it is the most precious thing you have.

  "And in the end, the love you make is equal to the love you take". -John Lennon

Please, be well, and peace.

My condolences as well, Keri. I'm very sad to hear the news.

I don't know if it will help you, but this is how I handled it (I have no grandparents remaining):

You can't get around the fact that it just sucks that they're gone -- no one can take that fact away, but it will likely get a bit easier with time. I do find some comfort in knowing that my grandparents are alive in ME. I have their genes. I even have some of the memories they shared with me and made with me. I can still remember the scent of their homes even decades later, and the sounds of their voices - it seems these things never fade even after decades. These things, and my very fond memories of them are alive and well in me, my parents, my aunts & uncles, my cousins, my siblings, etc. I see pieces of them in these people and I know they've passed on some of their best traits. I'm proud to be their offspring.

It may also be helpful to remember that your grandfather would very much wish you to be happy and to think good thoughts when you think of him. It's still very early - give yourself some time and you may feel better. Folks here on AN are very supportive as well -- don't be afraid to lean.

Best of wishes to you and your family.

So sorry Keri.  

Tony and Jude have given you very wise advice. 

I was with a friend at the moment of death many years ago. I had a hard time at first and what helped me was calling a hospice and talking to a nurse there.  I could not stop thinking about it and asked how he dealt with experiencing that all the time. He was very kind and told me 2 things that I'll never forget:

1) It gets a lot better over time, give yourself 6 months, the first month is the worst, and your memory of your granddad will become all the cherished memories you had together and the moment of his death will be just one small thing among them. 

2) There is something very special about being with a person at that time and helping them out of this world.  You shared one of life's most intimate experiences with your granddad. 

He was deeply loved, that is a beautiful legacy.  Take care of yourself and hang in there.

Condolences here also.

I would like to add that, since you are an atheist, you know that your grandfather is now gone - there is no more suffering, no more pain.

It is natural to grieve, and grievance is a process, not a permanent state. It would be very odd indeed if you did not feel the way you are feeling. Just like a broken arm, it takes time to heal and you are at the beginning of that journey, just realise that every day that passes and every thought you spend on your grandfather brings you closer to being "healed". Don't repress your grief.

Although there is almost certainly no afterlife, people do live on after death; in their works and in the memories of those who loved them. Keep those memories alive and celebrate his life.

If I may be so bold and quote from from a book I believe holds a lot of wisdom (without overly resorting to theism) - "The Prophet" by Gibran Kahlil;

On Joy and Sorrow


Then a woman said, "Speak to us of Joy and Sorrow."
And he answered:
Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes
filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can
contain.
Is not the cup that hold your wine the very cup that was burned in the
potter's oven?
And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was
hollowed with knives?
When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is
only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that
in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.
Some of you say, "Joy is greater than sorrow," and others say, "Nay,
sorrow is the greater."
But I say unto you, they are inseparable.
Together they come, and when one sits alone with you at your board,
remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.
Verily you are suspended like scales between your sorrow and your joy.
Only when you are empty are you at standstill and balanced.
When the treasure-keeper lifts you to weigh his gold and his silver,
needs must your joy or your sorrow rise or fall.

Everyone here has given great replies.  It's true your Grandfather is 'alive' every time you think of him.  Not alive in the sense that he is actually here, but in your memories, and whenever you think of your love for him.  His physical body is going back out into the environment which is where it came from.  What Tony said about the atoms going back out into the universe and becoming part of something else.  Who knows whose or whats atoms we have in us?  It's so wild and wonderful to think about.  I am sorry for the loss of your Grandfather.  Just keep all the good memories of him alive in you.

  My deepest sympathies to you for your loss.

I haven't yet lost anyone since I became an atheist so I can't give you any direct advice as far as that goes.  When I lost my grandfather, it was my sister's wedding day.  My dad and I were supposed to go visit him, but he passed before we could make it there.  He was an awesome grandfather to me and the way I've learned to deal with those things is to be thankful that he was MY grandfather.  I could have had someone else, but, through the "magic" of the universe I got him.  I focused on being happy that I had the chance to know him rather than being sad that he wasn't with me anymore.  Yes, it hurts and you miss the ones you've lost, but it won't be helpful to you to focus on him not being there.  Maybe there is something that he was particularly passionate about that you could continue doing in his place.  Maybe you could write in a journal about all the things he did for you and what kind of person you are because of him.  He's never going to be really gone because he's left a mark on you, if not the world.  Not just in your genes, but in your behavior and in your memories.  It will get easier!  We all support you here!

A friend of mine died a year ago in March, and it was the first death I've had to deal with since growing up. My grandparents were all dead by the time I was 6 years old, so I never really had to face death.

Her funeral was... a nightmare, to say the least. She was only 20 years old, and it was a car accident, and while all death is sad, it just made it hurt so much more that she is going to miss out on all these great things. I noticed how much her death changed me. For the first couple of months I was terrified of getting into cars (because of the accident she died in), and I would have to deal with these crippling realizations that all my loved ones are going to die one day, and I am going to have to witness the death of my parents. I started to immerse myself in images of post-mortem photography and funerary practices, and I started collecting obituaries from the newspaper (I know, it's all totally crazy). Trust me, I understand how messed up death can make you feel.

I was having a really hard time getting over it, and until the day of her one year anniversary. I was at home, crying and feeling like shit, and then I looked outside and it was suddenly the most beautiful day. Twilight hour, and all of the light was golden. The mountains looked gorgeous, and everything was golden and beautiful. And I remember kind of marveling at it, and felt this really peaceful sensation and thought "It's all part of it." What makes me feel better about death and dying is that it's just one big pattern in life that everyone is part of.I know that sounds crazy and new-age religionish, but it's not, I swear. I just take great comfort in the fact that death isn't personal, it has no hidden agenda. It just happens, has been happening forever, and will continue to happen long after we're all gone. I don't know why something like this makes me feel better, but it does.

The hurt will get better, but not for a long time. I've heard that the first year is the roughest, and having just gone through with it myself, I can agree. Allow yourself time to grieve. I thought I was getting over my friend's death fairly well, until just the other day when I happened upon a clip on Youtube of 'Por Mi Valore', the song they played at her funeral, and I was instantly reduced to tears. It takes time, but you'll be alright again one day. Just hold on to all those good memories.

I wish I had something more constructive to offer you, but I'm still trying to figure out everything myself. Good luck, and I'm very sorry to hear about your grandfather.

Keri,

My condolences too.

I've had many losses, and it was hard to come up with a way to cope.   It might seem like small consolation, but in the end I've become grateful for knowing and having the people who have passed.  Some have given such joy.  I know people now who are sick or elderly, and it makes time with them sweeter knowing that I get a little joy from them now.  The few deaths I have seen were hard to watch.  I had to think that my presence there was somehow comforting, that they knew they didn't die alone.  It was harder with my parents, because I wasn't there when they died.   Life really is short.  There are people who get to know and love others, and who get to enjoy life and feel like they are doing something important.  Those are the good lives.  I hope yours is one of them.  You can make it so.  Again, I'm sorry for your loss, and hope that you will discover with time that the good times were something to treasure.  Maybe you can do a gesture in honor of your grandfather.  For my Dad, I planted a tree.  For my Mom, I planted roses.

I'm so sorry for your loss Keri. Two years ago I lost my grandfather extremely suddenly, and it was my first experience with the death of a close relative as far as I can remember. The fact that it was out of the blue didn't help - it was a sudden heart attack from a man that could run circles around me. It was very difficult because there was no suffering, he was just ripped from us. But I live every day with him in my memories. I learned so much from him in my life, he will always be a part of me and the lessons I learned from him will be passed on to my future children. I keep his funeral card in my wallet at all times. and I can't help but smile every time I come across it. My grampy is part of me, and he always will be. That is what helps me cope.

Keri,

I am so sorry for that empty space and difficult memory that is with you right now.  The starkness of it all will lessen with time, and the memory will soften and evolve.

I am the oldest of four grown children and our mother died of cancer in my home four years ago.  The final moments are indescribable.  We all adored her and knew that we needed to let her go because she was in so much pain.  We were so devastated that it was simple not to have any kind of services for a while, as she wanted to be cremated and taken to various places she had been with each one of us.  She was from a small town, and her high school classmates had a memorial after we placed a headstone for her.

Fast foward to Sunday, April 1st, and my grandmother, my mother's mother, died in her sleep at 93.  She was a small town hard core Southern Baptist, who had already paid for her funeral in advance many years ago. Thus, as the "new" matriarch of our family, it was up to me to see that the funeral was conducted according to her wishes.

We went to the Amarillo, Texas, area - one of the most fundamental and bigoted areas of the country.  I made it clear to the funeral home immediately that I was the "unchurched" member of the family and would prefer to have the service at the graveside only.  Oh, such scandal!  I also wanted a non-denominational minister, as the family is many flavors of religious.  We ended up with a young Baptist minister anyway.  I met him the afternoon before the funeral, and he seemed like a decent enough guy.  However, I have a series of bumper stickers on my car that can cause many christians huge problems.  One says, Eve Was Framed and the other is a cut out of t-rex eating the jesus fish.  I truly believe they caused him to go just a little overboard at the service the next day - good Friday - of all days.

He spoke of how she lived and where and then got into the real deal by telling us all that the reason we die is simple - we are sinners.  Not that my gran was 93 and desperately worn out, but she was a sinner.  But, we were so lucky because believing in jesus, which she did, was giving her eternal life....blah, blah, blah.  About that time, my five year old grandson, said, "Nana, are giants real?"  Out of the mouth of babes.

It gets better ... peace.

Becky

Hello everyone. I have read all of your messages. Sorry I did not respond back sooner. It has helped me so much to have the support, condolences, and to hear of similar experiences from all of you. It's nice to be told comforting yet realistic things in a situation like this. And I think that the next time someone I love dies (hopefully a long time from now), I will know how to think of the situation and handle it a little better. I've been doing better. I probably helps to be a busy college student to keep your mind off of things. Thanks again for all of your support! And I want to give you all the best of luck, peace, and goodwill in the future.

Sorry for your loss, I can definitely empathize. I've dealt with such loss by balancing my grief of the death of loved ones, with celebrating who they were while they lived.  Some of the grief stays with you, but most of it, the worst of it is only immediate and does lessen over time. The celebration of their life on the other hand, can last as long as you live. I've just written about this very recently, two days ago in fact.

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