On death and dying - the solace of the living

I've accepted that I will (eventually, hopefully not soon) die - and I have come to realize that although the thought of dying is scary, the thought of being dead doesn't bother me.

Do not mistake me; I believe that being alive is better (in most cases) than being dead. I believe that death is an atrocious injustice to all people.

As an Atheist, I hold no belief that any part of my consciousness will continue after my death. I do not think that there is an afterlife for anyone. I believe in solace for the living, but what does that mean to the secular?

The religious have a tradition of offering comfort to the grieving - and their reassurance is often effective due to the mourning person's religious beliefs. But if that person is not religious, or if the deceased was not religious, then religious words of comfort assume a banality that is hurtful.

Rich Tillman, brother of fallen Army Ranger Pat Tillman, showed how hurtful religious platitudes can be to the living, and that they may disrespect the beliefs or wishes of the deceased. His rage at the injustice of Pat's death, and the inappropriate religious words that disrespected his brother's beliefs is clear. During Pat Tillman's funeral, Rich said:
I didn't write shit because I'm not a writer. I'm not just going to sit here and break down on you. But thanks for coming. Pat's a fucking champion and always will be. Just make no mistake, he'd want me to say this: He's not with God. He's fucking dead. He's not religious. So, thanks for your thoughts, but he's fucking dead.

How should an Atheist comfort those living who have experienced the death of a loved one? How should an Atheist honor the deceased?

I believe in memorializing our loved ones in the way that they would wish to be remembered. Hold a ceremony that our loved one would have enjoyed. Find time to grieve - because grief is a necessary part of healing the living.

I believe in honoring the memory of those who are no longer with us. As long as we hold their memory, their words and their teaching, there will always be something of them in the world.

Every life is like a rock dropped into still waters. The ripples of a person's life stretch to the ends of the Earth; people who never knew the cause will feel these ripples. We can thank our loved ones in our hearts; we can remember their gifts, and the sacrifices that they made for us and for others while they lived. We can know that their lives have touched everyone - if only in a small way.
Through our actions in their name, they may still make a difference in this world.
- Gary Kern.

1 comment:

Scientia said...

This is an issue I've encountered very recently, and it is hard to deal with- because death is awful and final, because the loss and pain are so great, and because those of us who refuse platitudes have to empathize and comfort and offer support to the grieving without lying, which is not a constraint under which most people labor.

I agree with you about legacies- of thought, action, and love. And I've told all my family that my memorial should be a huge wake- not a funeral. I want a party, man.