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An Atheist in Mourning

July 13, 2011

Today is kinda eh. It’s not only the two-month anniversary of my dad’s death, it would have been his 55th birthday. I’m meeting my mom, sister, his girlfriend and one of his old friend’s for dinner to celebrate his life, share stories, etc. But today just sucks.

Sometimes it feels like he’s been gone for so long, and sometimes it hits me how new this all feels, and it hurts all over again. I’m used to missing my dad – he moved to Florida when I was about 12, and there was a long stretch of time a few years ago when I was denied regular access to him. So, missing him hurts – but I can deal. It’s the sudden, gut-punch of realization that the missing is never going to end that really gets me. I am not saving these stories up for later, or to write down for him. He’s just … never coming back.

And that’s what I think the hardest part is about being an atheist. My dad just isn’t there anymore. He isn’t in Florida, he isn’t on vacation, he just no longer exists. People will try to comfort you with things like “He’ll always be with you” or “He’s watching over you” or “You’ll meet him again.” And that’s just … not true. Sure, he’ll always be in my heart and memory and all he taught me and all that jazz. But he’s just not here anymore. He’s nowhere.

And I get it the whole comforting aspect of religion. I totally do. It would be so nice to believe that this isn’t the end, and that he’s out there, somewhere, just not accessible to me. But I don’t and never will. But sometimes I really, really want to.

17 Comments leave one →
  1. July 13, 2011 11:33 am

    I’m so sorry for your loss. I hope that by the end of the day you’ll have all new memories that will help bring you some joy.

    I also know what you mean, from the other point of view. I’m a Christian, and my husband is atheist. When his father passed away, it was so hard for him. He struggled with knowing that his dad was gone forever. It was so painful to watch and know that though he respects my beliefs, and like you gets the comforting aspect of faith, he will never have that. I know exactly what he believes (and why), and so I know that he will never share my faith.

    It was just that they were so close, and watching him mourn was so hard. Sometimes, I really want him to have what I have too.

  2. kathy permalink
    July 13, 2011 11:41 am

    I totally understand how you feel. I was raised catholic but am a practicing pagan, i want so badly to believe in an afterlife or reincarnation but most of the time my better judgement tells me those are all ideas created to comfort people and unfortunately i don’t buy it. it’s the main reason that death scares me so badly, my brain has a hard time comprehending nothingness.

    i’m glad i’m not the only one.

  3. July 13, 2011 2:01 pm

    First of all, I’m very sorry for your loss and that you are stil hurting. Atheist or not, losing someone hurts. A lot. I don’t think any of us cope with it well. I hope that your gathering brings everyone some comfort. I think it’s great that you are doing it.

    That said, I’m a Pagan, too. I am fully aware of religion as a construct of man. I view my own faith from a more psychological point of view. The Gods, Goddesses, etc. are all symbols of qualities that those who believe as I do want to manifest in their lives. To me, they are a source of mental focus.

    I do believe in reincarnation, because I’ve experienced…things that help me to believe in it. I also believe in ghosts, spirits, etc.

    There is no right or wrong way to believe, IMO, and there is no right or wrong answer. I also fully believe that not everyone needs religion for comfort. My boyfriend is an atheist. He turns to his friends and family for comfort in times of sorrow. That appears to work for him.

    Take care of yourself!

    Jen M.

    • July 13, 2011 2:08 pm

      Wow, check out all my pagan readers! Thanks guys.

      I briefly dabbled with paganism in high school, and it makes a lot of sense to me. But just to clarify, because I’m not sure if it came across – I’m an Atheist. It’s just as much a part of my personality as being a Christian would be to a Christian.

      I’m not questioning my belief structure or anything. I’m just kinda sad because my choices and beliefs don’t allow the kind of comfort that I’d really like right now.

      In a small way – it does. I know it sounds totally fatalistic, but I do like the reminder that we’re here… and then we’re not. And while my dad’s life was giant to me (and those who knew him) it’s so fleeting and small in the grand scheme of things. That’s terrifying, but also kind of awesome.

  4. July 13, 2011 2:19 pm

    Oh, gosh. I was just responding to the other Pagan commenter.

    My whole point was that there is always a way to process grief and loss and that not everyone needs religion.

    In other words, I never have those feelings of wishing other people have the faith that I do, because I know that my experience is different from everyone else’s.

    “but I do like the reminder that we’re here… and then we’re not. And while my dad’s life was giant to me (and those who knew him) it’s so fleeting and small in the grand scheme of things. That’s terrifying, but also kind of awesome…”

    I love this line!

  5. July 13, 2011 2:37 pm

    I’m not sure what I believe, but I’ve never found the whole “he/she is in a better place / watching over you” platitudes to be helpful. I think death just sucks all around.

    Hope things start to feel just a little bit easier soon.

  6. July 13, 2011 4:53 pm

    It’s hard without the faith others’ have. I imagine it’s hard with it, but I kind of think it’s harder without.

    I don’t believe my dad is watching over me, I don’t believe I’ll ever see him again, but there are still places I go, things I do that are so strongly connected with him in my memories that I wonder if that’s the feeling people get when they say they know somebody is watching over them. It used to provoke gut wrenching sobs when I would drive up the California coast, or walk through Central Park in the snow, but now I find it comforting.

    I guess what I’m saying is maybe I found some of the comfort others have in what’s above, in the places my father could be found here. I don’t know if that helps, or if that even makes sense.

    My heart aches for you and my thoughts are with you.

    • July 13, 2011 5:02 pm

      Thanks Alana. It does make sense, and while I do find comfort in the stuff that is so “Dad.” I just … I still can’t wrap my head that that’s all there is. And that those things may eventually fade.

  7. July 14, 2011 11:40 am

    This must be a horrible time for you. Watching The Mister go through the same thing has left me with sorrow but also an appreciation for what I haven’t had to go through yet. It’s debilitating at times and nothing anyone can say can change that.

    I think that atheists and believers have more in common than we actually understand. I’m not an atheist, but I’m not quite a believer…at least not of any standardized religious beliefs. But I do think our energy stays moving forward despite our physical demise. It’s kind of an Einstein-ian theory. So maybe he’s not here and his spirit isn’t anywhere, but his energy lives on through you and the things you do. There may not be life everlasting, but there is love everlasting.

    Hang in there the best you can.

  8. Amy permalink
    October 20, 2011 10:14 am

    I am so very sorry for your loss. My dad died at the end of July, 2 months after his 55th birthday. My husband and I are atheists, but the rest of the family is Christian, and I was almost jealous of their belief that they would see him again some day. (I also fumed at all the “he’s in a better place”; what better place is there than with the family who loves him?!)

    I felt like the people who were talking about heaven and such were cheating, somehow, in their grieving. They didn’t have to hurt as badly as I did, because they believed they would see him again. I didn’t have that luxury, and so had to actually grieve having lost him completely.

    I just wanted to let you know you aren’t alone. I think I probably know quite well what you’re going through, and my heart hurts for you. We’ll get through our grief; what choice do we have? from one grieving, unbelieving daughter to another.

    • October 20, 2011 4:57 pm

      Thanks Amy. That’s totally, totally it. Thank you for “getting” me.

      And I’m so sorry about your dad. The whole thing sucks.

  9. October 20, 2011 12:16 pm

    Please accept my sincere condolences on the loss of your father.
    My mother died six years ago, and only recently I began to accept the loss.
    Being an atheist and a former Catholic, and becoming an atheist after her death, I experienced the false comfort of religion and how to gain comfort myself through my non-belief.
    Neither my catholic faith, nor the birth of my son one year after her death have been of help.
    Seeing my child grow day after day was painful in this respect, because that made me think at her even more.
    Nothing helped me in coming out of mourning except the lately realization that, no matter how much I miss her and how many things we can no more share, she have had “her own” life, with its joys and its sorrows, with people who loved her and that she loved.
    She, as Richard Dawkins said, was one of the lucky ones, one of the people who won the improbable lottery of life.
    I still miss her, but suddenly I accepted her death as a normal part of her life. Her teachings and her example guide me in my life as a father and a husband, and though I’m sorry that she no more finds pleasure in the joy of life, I take comfort in the thought that she no longer suffer any more.

  10. Ashley permalink
    February 19, 2012 10:10 pm

    I know you made this post for yourself some time ago (on my birthday actually) and I just wanted to say thank you for sharing your experience. My mother died today and I am heartbroken. I also wish there was something to believe in. Again, thank you for sharing. Being an atheist in mourning is not easy.

    • February 19, 2012 10:21 pm

      Hi Ashley. I’m so sorry to hear about your mom. The whole losing a parent thing just sucks. Hang in there.

  11. Jessica permalink
    April 4, 2013 11:32 pm

    I know this is very old for your website, but I came to it by googling “atheist in mourning.” I lost my mother last March and I thought that the pain would get better over time, but it hasn’t. Everything you said here sounds just like me, just like the way I feel right now. I even said some of those exact same things to myself before reading this post. Thank you for putting this out here, it truly helps to know that other atheists wish as much as I do that they could believe in the possibility of seeing their loved ones again.

    • April 4, 2013 11:47 pm

      Hi! I’m so glad the solidarity helps a bit. And I’m sorry about your mom. Two years later and it still sucks quite a bit. Keep your head up, and know when to ask for help. Internet hugs!

  12. Jack permalink
    April 8, 2013 9:43 am

    Last week was the 8th anniversary of my mother’s death. She was also in her early fifties. I too occasionally have a burning jealousy of the people able to live in fantasy. The truth is that the departed *do* live on inside us. I can still picture my mother’s smile, shiver with anger at her stubbornness, and warm my heart with memories of our lengthy conversations. I just want to share that it does get easier with time.

    We all are built of stardust. After death, that’s what we become once again, an unconscious part of this amazing and vast universe. Our dead loved ones are now a part of everything we see and touch.

    If it wasn’t for our grief, I think death would be considered equally as miraculous as life.

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