My introduction to death and grief came at a very young age — my mother was in a car accident when I was five years old. It was tragic and sudden — she was pronounced dead at the scene.
At that age, I didn’t understand death or that it was final, and following my mother’s death, I remember feeling a lot of confusion. I was sure she was alive, just away somewhere, but she never came home. Eventually, I realized she was gone.
My family isn’t very religious but most of my relatives do identify as Christians, and even at a young age, I was aware of my family’s belief in an afterlife. I found it comforting that one day I would meet my mother. I liked to think she was still in my life watching over me. She knew what I thought and felt.
Now I’m an atheist, and I know death is final. That’s it. It’s important to really make the most of life because there’s nothing after it. So with that in mind, I no longer hope to see my mom again one day, but I do spend time admiring what she did in life. She was an accomplished artist and art teacher and I think it’s awesome to have her paintings all over our house.
So maybe it was that early experience with death and grief — maybe it’s not — but people have told me that I’m weird about death.
I don’t like funerals. I don’t need to look at a dead body and I don’t need closure.
I’m cold and I don’t like to be touchy-feely. Sometimes it takes me a long time to show emotion. Sometimes I don’t react at all.
And as you can imagine, I cringe when I hear, “they’re in a better place” or “we’ll see each other again one day”, but I’m obviously not going to say anything about it.
I’d just like to say that we all approach death and grief differently, and for me, being an atheist plays a part.
How about you? How do you feel about death? Are you weird like me?
John Morales says
I don’t think you’re weird.
A point about atheism, though: just because someone doesn’t believe in god(s) doesn’t entail they don’t believe in spirits. Animism was a precursor to goddism, but not the same thing.
In childhood, I was exposed to lots of terminally ill children. I cannot accept the thought that the torture and death of children is all part of a “grand plan” by some superior being. It’s far easier to believe the universe cares about our lives, sufferings and deaths as little as we care about our food.
In the South Pacific during WWII, US forces landed on some islands not in contact with civilization, and made airstrips and had planes fly in supplies. Some of the uninformed locals formed what we now call Cargo Cults, believing if they faithfully made and maintain a control tower out of bushes etc, then planes from heaven will land and give everyone real gifts.
If you or I were the only person on one island who did NOT believe in the Cargo Cult, should we consider ourselves to be “weird” for not believing what everyone else believes?
I will add that Cargo Cult religions are MORE grounded in real-world observation than are any of the world’s “major” religions.
And I don’t let people accidentally make me feel bad for not believing in any Cargo Cults.
I don’t think you are weird at all. I too don’t like seeing dead bodies, but a few funerals/memorial services that I have attended have been comforting to me. For example, at my father’s memorial my nephew told an anecdote about his grandfather that got a big laugh (mixed with tears) from the mourners.
In Larry McMurtry’s book Horseman, Pass By (and in the film Hud made from it) someone tells a grandson his beloved grandfather is “in a better place”. The boy replies, “Only if dirt is better than air.”
My sympathies about your mother. That must have been so hard.
I guess Im weird too. People die, and Im going to die too. To me the way I go is a bit more important than when at this point. At 66, with my family history, I might have 20 more years. Living now while I can. Im with you, this whole ‘gods plan’ BS is just that. If dying puts you in a better place then how come all the religious people who think there is an afterlife arent offing themselves in droves? Only catholics think suicide is a sin. Meh.
I would say that I’m “weird like [you]”. After my paternal grandfather died 1½ years or so ago, I found myself not feeling much at all. (I also found myself biting my tongue repeatedly at the funeral, basically whenever the preacher said anything.) My general view is that eventually, we’re all going to die, and it’ll be sad for those who are still around for a time, but that once we’re dead, we’re dead. I don’t much enjoy contemplating my mortality, but it’s inevitable.
Dr Sarah says
I’m sorry for your loss.
I’m a GP, and a substantial part of my working week involves taking care of the medical needs of care home residents, so I’ve become very familiar with death. I’m pragmatic about it. I’m well aware that it comes to us all eventually. There’s a Stephen King quote I like: ‘We each owe a death, there are no exceptions’. I focus on making life good for however long it lasts.
One side-effect of my job is that I know that death isn’t necessarily the worst thing. I deal with many situations where people’s minds and personalities gradually disintegrate in dementia. I would far rather die a comfortable death than have my life prolonged in such a situation.
My father died very suddenly, almost twenty years ago. I found his funeral a great comfort as it brought home to me how much he had done with his life, even though he had less time than some people get. He lived a full and satisfying life that left a positive impact on others. My aim is to do the same.
What’s weird and how do we really know?
How do I feel about death? I dont like it but I know its inevitable.
It grieves me. I cannot avoid it and know those I love will die and be gone which saddens me. Personally, I don’t look forward to it immediately but maybe one day I will. It will be my end and only memories and writings and other transient metaphorical (& literal) footprints will temporaily survive it.
Death is. However we feel about it. Specifics & context as always alter its meaning depending on them.
For the dead I expect it is the same as the time before they were born.
For those who they are left behind, their permanent absence really hurts. / Capt’n Obvs?