How do atheists deal with grief?

I've found that on several occasions I've written, "I was married for 21 years, and then my wife died."

I do this in explaining how atheists deal with tragedy and grief.

Many Christians find solice in their religion when it comes to tragedy.  They are able to believe that their loved ones are in Heaven, and that they will see them again.  They are able to believe that there is a purpose for those who are sick or injured. 

Won, my late wife, dearly loved her Grandmother.  Won's grief during her grandmother's funeral was a terrible thing to witness.  Deep, wracking wales of grief as I and the other pallbearers dropped shovelfulls of dirt on her casket.  After her grandmother's death, Won took deep solice in knowing that she would see her grandmother again in Heaven, someday.

Even during that time that Won was an agnostic, she still believed she would see her grandmother again.

I wish that were true, in some way.  But I believe that both my late wife and her beloved grandmother are merely dead, and will never converse again.  I believe that the future words I will speak to my late wife will only be heard by my memory of her. 

I personally do not find the assertion that Won is "in a better place" or that "God has a plan" to be comforting, because I don't think these assertions are true.  I do think that such sentiments, if offered to me, are hurtful and thoughtless.

When Won died, my emotions locked down tight.  I went into high-speed problem solving mode, and flew to Korea to bring her remains home.  Won was cremated just hours after my arrival, and I brought her remains back to where I was staying.  Then I spent the next two weeks visiting her mother and our friends, and going through the very painfully slow paperwork to register her death, and to get US Customs to allow me to bring her cremated remains home.

During that time I was able to smile, even laugh, with mutual friends and with her mother.

When I got home, I was still in this mode.  Everything was brittle and hard, and seen through a fog.  My mother and sister stayed with me to make sure I was okay.  When they left, I had friends who visited, some of whom brought food.

And then I settled back into a daily grind, and spent evening after evening watching Stargate as my psyche slowly rebooted.  

I got help.  I saw a psychologist and a psychiatrist, and was put on antidepressants for a time.

It took about a year for me to stop thinking about "activities for us" and start thinking about "activities for me".

During this time, I found that it helped to share my grief with others.  "Grief Beyond Belief" had an online forum that was very helpful to me.  (They're on Facebook now.  I still return there from time to time).  It also helped to tell the stories about Won and our lives together.  In a way, Won continues to live on through these stories.

Our lives influence others, like ripples in a pond.  People are affected every day by others that they never met and never knew.  Kind words, hateful actions, and the stories of our lives can stir this world of humans like the so-called butterfly effect.

How do atheists deal with grief?  By remembering those we grieve over, and by telling their stories to the world.

Hold close those that you love, at every opportunity. 


Thesauros said...

Many Christians find solice in their religion when it comes to tragedy"

I'm not sure what other religions do but a "Christian" does not receive comfort from "religion."

Our comfort comes from the very presence of our Creator's Spirit Who lives within us, guides us, counsels us, comforts and gives us His peace. We are not promised nor do we expect freedom from the suffering that comes with life. We do expect and do receive His presence in times of suffering.

Calladus said...

Thesauros, I congratulate you on your ability to split hairs.

Of course you don't get comfort from religion, instead you get comfort from knowing that you are beloved by your creator.

But I have to ask you, WHERE did you come up with this notion?

Did your creator come down and speak to you? Did you see him in a vision, or did you just feel him in some mysterious, uplifting way - as I did when I was a believer?

The details of the belief system that you have been taught, in order to worship your creator, is called, "religion".

When you pray, or whatever you were taught to do to talk to your creator, is by definition the practice of religion.

Maybe you happen to be a prophet whose creator speaks to him in hallelujah chorus. If that creator says, "Call me when you need me" - that is a form of religious instruction.

So, you see, the religion you were taught, or made up on your own, does give you the rules to seek comfort in your creator.

As for suffering in life, that is a completely different problem with a creator, one that Epicurus is somewhat familiar.

R. Moore said...

I see that Thesauros has kindly responded with words without meaning.

As you well know, Calladus, the "expectation of His presence" has created many atheists and agnostics over the years, when tragedy reveals God's absence, and the explanation is always a fault of the believer. A cruel philosophy to be sure.

The introspection that follows a tragedy can be a great way to get to the "truth".