Dealing With Death

In the last 18 months I’ve had far too many people pass from this planet. I’ve lost two grandparents, my father, and two friends during this time.

I’ve never been “good” with death. Not a fan – I know, shocker… Death sucks, but it is part of the human condition. My grandparents led full lives, my father’s life was cut short by muscular sclerosis, but friends passing in their 40’s from cancers is still unacceptable to me.

Rationally, I understand it. I get that the hollow feeling I have is borne more from the sense of loss I have knowing they are gone. But the worst part of death is the consolations for those left behind.

Religion helps people deal with this great mystery of the hereafter. People often console one another with the idea our loved ones are in a better place, or with god now. But, when you don’t buy into that? What do you say? I’m sorry for your loss sounds so trite, but it’s normally the best I have to offer. I don’t buy into the heaven and hell story – and what if the deceased was a real prick or an atheist? You never hear words of consolation like, I’m sure he’s with Satan now, or hope he packed up some ice cubes…

When my son Joshua died, at his funeral, people came up to me right and left offering condolences of how this was all part of god’s plan. I so badly wanted to reply that if that was so, then god is a supreme prick. The look on their faces would have almost been worth it…but we don’t do that, we accept it for what it is – people struggling with the great unknown and trying to offer kindness in a time of sorrow.

I have no idea what happens when we die or where we go, if anywhere other than where our bodies are laid to rest. Religion offers hope that there is something more beyond this life, but it is founded in a belief and not in a fact. Funerals are often steeped in religious ceremony – tradition I assume – even for those that weren’t particularly religious in life. It is more often than not a ceremony for those left behind rather than the deceased.

My friend Jeff Sneddon passed away this week. I hadn’t seen him in over 24 years – since we were in college. Jeff finally lost to a rare form of intestinal cancer after a four year battle. In college we were good friends and I always enjoyed his company. My friend Paul Parsons passed away last summer – his cancer attacked his brain and not his stomach. He was a beautiful man with a wonderful family. Both these men made my life richer for having known them and being my friends. The world is not as good a place today as it was when they were in it, at least not for me.

I know there are a few non-theists out there that read this blog – how do you handle death from the standpoint of consoling the loved ones left behind?
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5 Responses to Dealing With Death

  1. Lydia says:

    Your physical presence alone is comforting to those "left behind"…there are no words, but sharing good memories is also helpful.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Sean, there is nothing wrong with just saying, "I am so sorry for your loss." It means much to both the Christian and the athiest.Sean, I am sorry for your many losses. My heart breaks for you.Your Calvinist friend,Sean

  3. Matt Foss says:

    My aunt and my grandfather both died of cancer several years ago. My consolation to fellow family members was to say something to the effect of "at least they aren't suffering anymore. Better that they passed than continued on in pain."I suppose it depends on the circumstances of the death. If it was sudden/accidental as opposed to from a terminal illness, I might say something different.When speaking of the dead, I try to keep the focus on the way the person lived as opposed to how they died.

  4. Anonymous says:

    You're a much kinder, much more patient man than I am, Sean. If my son had died and someone came over to me with the "all part of god's plan" crap, I doubt I'd be able to put consideration for THEIR feelings ahead of voicing my own contempt for their empty-headed if well-intentioned garbage. I'd be more likely to turn red and scream, "Shut the @%$# up about god!!!" Because you're right–god, if such exists, is indeed a supreme prick.

  5. Chip says:

    There is a group called "Grief Beyond Belief" … a support network for those dealing with loss who are nonbelievers.I do not know if they have a separate web site, but they do have a facebook page here: hope this helps. My condolences for your losses.

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