I have lost people dear to me both when I was fully convinced there was a God and an afterlife and now that am fully convinced of the opposite (no God, no afterlife). I have actually found grief to be more straightforward now. People die, can die at any time, and there is no reason for it except that it happens to everyone. I can be sad and I can rejoice in my memories of the people I love who are gone. I don't have to wonder where they are; if they were "good enough" to be in a better place; if they are watching over me. They are in my heart and in my memories - and when I miss them, that is where I will find them - always.
As an athiest, I no longer feel the need to reconcile with God when I lose someone. I don't question why young mothers are taken from their families who need them so badly - I no longer have to make sense of why God would take them, when it seems so unnecessary and God presumably has a reason for doing so. I don't have to wonder why God wouldn't step in and save someone from a crippling depression that caused her to take her own life. These things just happen and they are sad.
After I left faith in God behind me, I often wondered if perhaps I would miss it in hard times. If I would wish faith back into my heart when I experienced pain, loneliness, or grief. When I finally experienced grief as an atheist, I was surprised to find that my lack of faith was actually a relief. I no longer have to try to understand why a supposedly loving God would let bad things happen to good people. I don't have to assume "He" has his reasons. Now, I can just accept that bad things happen, without reason, and be grateful for the people who touch my life, for the love that we shared, and be sad without feeling guilty for wishing they were still here, instead of some kind of paradise.
As an atheist/agnostic, I find death and grief more straightforward now. All I need to deal with are my own feelings and the feelings of those around me. My comfort is my memories and the hugs and community of those who also loved the people I've lost. I no longer feel the need to understand tragedy, but have just accepted it as a part of life. I find my heart comes to peace easier as an atheist than it ever did as a believer.
Last night, I read a blog post that a friend of mine linked to on facebook. It was written by Derek K. Miller who died of cancer. He intended for this to be posted on his blog when he died. He was diagnosed with cancer in 2007.
He was an atheist and wanted to leave some final thoughts regarding his beliefs and love for his family and life. I found it very moving, courageous, and poetic.
It turns out that no one can imagine what's really coming in our lives. We can plan, and do what we enjoy, but we can't expect our plans to work out. Some of them might, while most probably won't. Inventions and ideas will appear, and events will occur, that we could never foresee. That's neither bad nor good, but it is real.Anyway, I thought it was beautiful. He obviously lived life believing it was his only shot, found love, enjoyed family and friends, and pursued his dreams and goals. And then he faced disease and death without fear or even hope for more.
I think and hope that's what my daughters can take from my disease and death. And that my wonderful, amazing wife Airdrie can see too. Not that they could die any day, but that they should pursue what they enjoy, and what stimulates their minds, as much as possible—so they can be ready for opportunities, as well as not disappointed when things go sideways, as they inevitably do.
What I found even more interesting though is the comments section of this post. As we all know, those who believe in a god vastly outnumber those who do not. Some of them loved and knew Derek, or just read his blog. Many people expressed their condolences, but also added their own hopes and beliefs that Derek perhaps discovered he was wrong, having now "arrived" on the other side. Inevitably, those who share Derek's beliefs were offended on his behalf, finding it disrespectful for Christian to now imposes their beliefs on Derek's experience, his goodbye, his final words. I think its too bad that a feud is now tarnishing Derek's final goodbye.
Some say there are no atheists in foxholes; Derek is just one example that they do indeed exist.