I Get Reddit Mail – Atheism and dealing with Imminent Death

My mom has stage 4 lung cancer.

Anyone here been through anything like this?

I come to this community right now just to know I’m not alone in dealing with this.

I could just really use any stories you have, or any helpful hints. Tell me how you have had to deal with religious family during a time like this.

Thanks for your time.

I work in healthcare, I work in a third world nation. But I am from the UK.

Many of my patients who do die may have lived or not gotten their disease in the west. Many die slowly, many die because they never realised they were sick in the first place. In the past 5 years a lot of what I have learnt is how lucky most of us are and how easy it is to forget that. And that most people outside of the west may not have much control over their health.

And at that point you see why religion has such a powerful draw on humanity. It’s easy to see why people find relief and it’s easy to wish for such relief.

But we do not have that luxury, we know there is no future, no great beyond or no reward for those who suffer in this life.

I have the words “To Aim for Heaven, You Must Serve in Hell” in my head. I don’t know where I heard it or read it. I like it because it is descriptive of my journey in India. I went through (to me) Hell and at the end of this my “heaven” waits. Unlike the heaven of the believer mine is in the woman I love who will have waited 3 years for me to get back to the UK.

We have to make heaven where we stand with what we have and we have to help others make their own heaven. To quote a religious saying (and I cannot believe i am quoting an Islamic tradition here) “Those who are in love will have paradise at their feet”. I don’t think this only applies to the love we all have for another human being but also all the platonic friends and family.

We are our stories, your mother lives and her story isn’t over. Do not let her story be of a life never lived and of stories never told. I am told there is a great freedom in knowing you are dying by those who are. Because when you accept that you are truly free to live. Because then you realise that every single moment is precious. Don’t let those stories go untold and unlived. There is a freedom to dying in that those who die don’t care anymore about what society thinks about them. That freedom can set you free and there is always some secret dream that we have.

Fulfil it. It may not be possible, it may be ludicrous, it may be stupid, it may be impossible but at least you gave it a shot.

This is not easy, this is hard. There will be times you will break down, there are times where everyone will break and cry and feel sad. But that is okay, you are allowed to feel sad. You are allowed to not want to die, you are allowed to have regrets of things never said or did or experienced.

Others may bring religion to the table, and if that makes them feel better then who are we to invalidate their method of dealing with pain. But ultimately remember this, the reason why you feel pain is because you love your mother and that’s what counts. The pain is the symptom of the disease of love, and that is one hell of a disease to have because despite all this pain and suffering you will still do what is right.

The best we can really hope for in this world is to be loved and I think your mother’s got that pretty settled.

So live and make some new stories with her and for her memory. She lives on through you in mind and if you wish to be technical about it, more than 50% of your DNA.

No mother wants to see her kid cry. But many will and that’s not bad either. And one last piece of advice.

Everyone brings up “dying with dignity”, I don’t think there is such a thing. In all my experience of death I have never seen it.

I have seen living with dignity and that’s what we must remember more.

All I can really say is “live”.


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