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.