How do YOU deal with a death in the family?

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How do YOU deal with a death in the family?

Long story short, my grandfather is in the hospital and is very ill.

I was told today that he "wasn't going to be coming home". It was only a few minutes ago that that finally sunk in and I was just like, holy shit and started bawling my eyes out, I'm not gonna lie.

I don't know how, being an Atheist, to really deal with a situation like this. Religious people have there huge religious families and prayer, and church, and all that jazz. I don't have any of that.

I thought I'd be able to deal with something like this quite good, but, well, turns out I'm somewhat of a wreck. I was hoping at least someone here could help me out and tell me there story and how they got through a rough time like this, it would help me SOOOOO much.

Thank you everyone.

Best regards,

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I'm in a similar situation

I'm in a similar situation with two Grandmothers to you. Both are on there way out. 


Being British and male I do the whole "stiff upper lip" thing rather than crying but emotionally it amounts to the same feeling.


I don't know if i can help at all, but I just think about what an amazing life both have them have lead and thought about all the frankly unbelievable things they have done in their lives and that makes me proud of them. It's hard and it hurts but if it didn't then it would have no meaning. So thinking that it's a bad thing is contradictory to me. 


I have a very close family and the way I always think about this type of thing is that if you think about what they have imparted on you, and what they mean to you, and that you remember that, it's all they would want and means a lot more than a theistic lie abut how they are watching over you and living on a cloud. Because if you think about it the things they have taught you are part of the make-up of who you are both physically and psychologically. I don't think anyone could ask for anything else.  


I don't know if this helps. But thats my thoughts.  

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Last November one of my

Last November one of my nephews died in a crash that was his fault. He killed two other people in the truck. The only one in the truck that survived was the one wearing his seatbelt. It was sheer stupidity but that really isn't what I wanted to share.

It was painful. The whole "your kids shouldn't die before you" thing was very much on my mind as I was trying to comfort my sister. Knowing that his life was not only over but that it was over over something monumently stupid was very painful.

What helped me was trying to comfort family. Also we tried to celebrate his short life with lots of sharing of tales of his life.  Nothing really diminishes the pain except time and letting it go. Logic and reality suck concerning death but it doesn't make them any less true.

I try to keep in mind the things used to minimize damage from radiation when I think of things that are painful; Time, Distance and Shielding. I don't like to be percieved as being vulnerable, no crying allowed. Crying and experiencing the emotions very likely helped me get over the pain of his death sooner.

Lastly the October/November issue of Free Inquiry had a very large section devoted to "Dealing with Dying". Lots of very good information was in that issue. 



"The righteous rise, With burning eyes, Of hatred and ill-will
Madmen fed on fear and lies, To beat and burn and kill"
Witch Hunt from the album Moving Pictures. Neal Pert, Rush

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My grandfather passed away

My grandfather passed away three years ago yesterday.  I cried many times over his passing.

I even cried the last day of the year knowing that I was leaving the last year of his life.

For the first week I had a burning knot in my chest in the grief I experienced.  His death was the first one that made me feel ok with dying.

If everyone you love dies, why would you want to keep on living?  I'd rather pass away along with them.  I hope that when I die someone grieves for me as much as I grieved for him.

No higher honor exists than aching over a person passing.

"I am an atheist, thank God." -Oriana Fallaci

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Before I tell you about me,

Before I tell you about me, I want to make a disclaimer.  I've seen and experienced a lot of loss, and the one thing I've learned is that there is no "right way" to handle loss.  The way you handle it is the way you handle it, and there is absolutely nothing positive that will come from feeling guilty for the emotions you feel or don't feel.  How you act is under your control, but how you react emotionally -- well, it's individual.  Having said that, here's how it is with me. 

I lost my father in a very tragic way, and my grandfather passed at a time when things were already not going too well for me.  Frankly, at my dad's funeral, it was all I could do to stay in the room.  He had been an absolutely apathetic atheist.  He and I had exactly one discussion about religion.  When I was maybe ten years old, I asked him some question or another about god, and he said, "Go ask your mother."

He only set foot in a church for weddings and funerals, and he didn't care about Easter.  Yet, at his funeral, people were talking about him as a man of god, and a devout Christian, and somehow keeping a straight face.  I didn't understand how people could rewrite his life before he even made it into the ground.

I can't tell you that losing someone is easy.  It's not.  Something that helped me was simply understanding that everything was happening naturally.  We grieve, and sometimes we get depressed, or angry, or maudlin, but we also know that every human who's ever lived through this has done something similar. 

The other thing that helped me a lot was realizing that my father would have been mad at me if I let my own life go to shit because his had ended.  The most respectful thing I could do -- the best way to honor his contributions to the world (I'm one of those!) was to enjoy my own life as well as possible, and to stick to what I believe is important.

There's a lot to be said for recognizing that this is going to suck for you.  It's going to hurt, probably a lot, and then things are going to get better.  When the sense of loss subsides, you'll be able to remember the good things about your relationship, and it won't be as painful anymore.  Hopefully, one day, you can experience the joy of crying at a memory that makes you smile.  To this day, I still tear up a little when thinking of my father, but it's a happy thing.  He lived a great life, and contributed a lot to the world, and I enjoy remembering him.


Atheism isn't a lot like religion at all. Unless by "religion" you mean "not religion". --Ciarin
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Well, I am probably not the

Well, I am probably not the best guy to ask... as so many Deaths have taken place in my family, I began to seperate myself since my major influences in my life have passed. I unfortunately started accepting Death as part of life about five years ago. dont get me wrong as I question myself Why I dont feel as much pain as I once did, but I still shed a few tears but not as much as their lives deserve....

this is probably not what you want to hear, but truth of the matter is they still live on within me. I carry them around in my actions and thought, though I am aware the are being recycled back into the earth.  Maybe its just damaged thinking b7ut thats the best I describe it. 

If God didn't want atheists than we wouldn't exist..

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I am sorry to hear about

I am sorry to hear about your Grandfather.

It has been a few days since your post so I hope what I have to offer won't be too little too late. You mentioned you don't have a "huge religious families and prayer, and church, and all that jazz" do you have a group of family members? The time spent now as your grandfather continues to live could help you for when and if he passes away.

-Are there any questions any family member wants to know from your grandpa, any 'unanswered questions' ASK him! (if he is cognitive)

-Discuss or think about things that you remember regarding your grandpa, good or bad. How did those things effect your life or the lives of those in your family or his friends.

-There may come a time before he passes that you will think something like " geez, will he die already to take him out of his misery"  OR  " This is taking up so much time to come see him every other day, when will he die"  those things whether people admit it or not are common.

-Most of all, don't feel like you are missing some exciting, ground-breaking, wound-healing event if you don't have a god belief. Theists mourn too, they hurt and they ask why.

I hope all is well with you at this time. 


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Hi Austin.

Hi Austin.

I lost two family members last year. I will tell you that the pain of the loss isn't diminished just because you're atheist. This might end up being long, but I’d like to share my experiences to try to put things in perspective for you.

First, my great aunt died last June, when I wasn't really atheist, but rather still in my agnostic-but-leaning-toward-atheism stage. She was 57, and the death came as a total shock to the whole family. (Due to some very strange coincidences, some of us have whispered speculation that she may have actually taken her own life, but an autopsy was never performed, so we'll never know for sure.) She was my dad's aunt, and my dad's side of the family is German, and very Lutheran. We had an open-casket "pre-wake" for just the family members before the official closed-casket wake. As we were standing over the casket looking at her and talking about her life, my grandmother (her sister, who was 16 years her senior) said, "Well, she's in heaven now." I just remember that really bothered me... like how do YOU know that? Obviously, I didn't say anything, especially since my grandmother took the death of her baby sister very badly (even months later, it appears that she's been kind of losing it ever since).

But I realized that the whole heaven thing is a way for religious people to sugar-coat death. To me, it seems easier to grieve and experience true grief and true loss, and then accept that they're gone, and move on with your own life. I'd rather just focus on what they accomplished in their earthly life and think of how they impacted me, than worry about whether they went to heaven or hell, and wonder why God is punishing our family. I honestly think that religion has drawn out my grandmother's grief and has prevented her from gaining closure and moving on.

It was shortly after my great aunt's death that I truly became atheist.

Then in October, my maternal grandfather (Papou, as we referred to him in Greek) went to the hospital because of abdominal pain. He was 92, and his health had been declining over the past 5 years or so. In the hospital, tests showed that he was in stage 4 kidney failure (basically one step away from death), and his heart was weak as well. He needed a pacemaker, but because of his kidney complications, he was not a good candidate for the surgery. There was basically nothing to do except wait for him to die.

It was a rollercoaster for the next few weeks, during which time we all waited with bated breath for the call we were sure would come any day, saying that he had finally passed. We live in Chicago, and he lives in Maryland, so my mom flew out and stayed there for two weeks during this time. Even though he didn’t always recognize his own daughters, and even though he wasn’t always lucid, he was always in great pain. My grief began before he even died, because I knew there would be no saving him. Even if he did manage to eke out another year, it would be a pointless and painful existence of eating, sleeping, and drug-induced hallucinations, trapped inside his house. And I knew that that wasn’t what he considered to be a fulfilling life at all.

Of all four of my grandparents, I have always found Papou to be most inspiring. He took a bullet to the chest as a doctor on the battlefield in the Greek civil war. He was chairman of a branch of the Red Cross. He immigrated to the US and became a pediatrician and was heavily involved in the Maryland Public Health System. He would work at free clinics in bad neighborhoods, even though it meant getting mugged three times. He was an amazing humanitarian, and I wish I could have talked to him more about his experiences before he died. Unfortunately, after a series of strokes several years ago, he reverted back to speaking in only Greek, and my language skills were not sufficient to carry out a conversation of this caliber.

I finally received the long-dreaded text from my mother in November, on the day before Thanksgiving. When he died, it was almost more of a sense of relief, because his torment was over. I didn’t have to worry about his well-being anymore, and it felt like a huge burden had been lifted off my shoulders. Obviously, I was still sad, especially because I hadn’t lost a grandparent before… but I knew that it was his time, and I accepted it.

His funeral was much different from my great aunt’s. For one thing, it was in a Greek Orthodox church, and so the funeral was a 2+ hour ceremony of kissing icons, crossing yourself, and listening to endless chanting in Greek. But also, my mom, her sister, and her mother are all atheists. Many Greeks are superstitious, but not truly religious. These rituals are simply formalities that are carried out because they are tradition. They don’t really stem from any deep fundamental belief. After the funeral, we talked about Papou and his life… but there were no religious overtones, or prayers, or anything of that sort. We went about our business as normal, with his memory in our hearts.

I feel that the best way to remember someone is by carrying out their legacy. Even though there was a large age and language gap between me and my Papou, I always understood him, ever since I was a child. We have the same personality, the same methodical and inquisitive nature, and I think we both recognized it in each other. I too have chosen to pursue a career in the sciences, although I haven’t decided exactly what to do within that large realm. He told me, with his limited capacity for language, that he was proud of me. And even though he didn’t live to see me graduate college or pursue a profession, I think it was enough for him to know that there was someone who would continue to search for knowledge and help others when he was gone.

While Papou was on his deathbed, I was pondering my future. Suddenly an idea that had never occurred to me before, popped into my head: I had the sudden urge to be an eye doctor. I was born with an eye disorder that was corrected through surgery when I was an infant, largely because my Papou urged my parents to seek medical treatment before it was too late to be corrected. Although my depth perception isn’t quite as good as normal, nobody would ever guess that I was a cross-eyed baby. Papou changed my life in ways I can’t even comprehend, and I would love to be able to do the same for others.

I came home for Thanksgiving break on the day that he died, and at dinner, I mentioned that over the past few days I had been considering becoming an eye doctor. My mother told me that Papou had actually always wanted to be an eye doctor, but couldn’t get adequate funding to open an eye clinic in Greece, which is why he moved to the states. Hearing that solidified my desire to carry out his humanitarian legacy.

Similarly, I had a piano teacher who died of cancer a few years back. She wasn’t particularly religious (in fact, I think she may have been a closet atheist), but the best thing we did for her was to put on a memorial piano recital in her honor, and to continue playing piano for years afterwards.

Sorry, this has turned out to be so long, but the point I want to make is this: It does no good to think about what someone would do if they were still here. It does no good to worry about their afterlife status. And it does no good to neglect your own life because you are distraught over the loss of another life.

The best thing you can do is to remember that person. The best thing you can do is to keep their memory and legacy alive here on Earth. You will still be sad… like a few days ago, I heard a Kelly Clarkson song, and started crying in public, because I remembered singing it for Papou. I always feel an eerie chill whenever I play a piece that my piano teacher taught me. Whenever I watch the Harry Potter movies, I remember how my great aunt took my siblings and I to the theater to see them. But it’s good to be sad. It’s good to know that they had an impact on you, and to pay respect to that. The best thing to do is to move on with your own life as a changed person, because of what someone else did for you.

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I have had to deal with the

I have had to deal with the death of both of my parents, within a year of one another, and can only say that it is hard.

Coming from an atheist family, I know that both my parents did not believe in an afterlife, and both were not afraid to die. That might not count for much, but at least I know they were at peace, which made it easier for me and my brothers to cope with their loss.

What we try to do, it talk about our parents, keep them alive in our memories, we 'celebrate' their birthdays, and never ever try to ignore the fact that they were once part of our family.

No matter what you believe, when you lose someone dear to you, you will feel pain, you must mourn the fact that you will never ever be near them again, be able to talk to them, or just hold them. It is a process you have to go through, but, and this is cliché, I know, it will get better.

Remember the ones you lose, share your pain with those who also were close to them, talk about them, have their pictures close to you. Celebrate their lives, it's the only thing you can really do. And try to spread the joy they gave you around, share their wisdom with others. It is something I hope others will do when I die.

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I am so sorry, Austin. My

I am so sorry, Austin. My heart goes out to you.

 There is no one way to deal with the loss of a loved one. Everyone grieves differently. 

When my grandfather died, naturally I was heartbroken, but it helped to remember him in a good way. All of the positive memories and the special times I had with him will always be in my memory. Death can be an opportunity to reflect on and honor a loved one.

If you feel up to it, perhaps surround yourself with others who knew your grandfather and loved him too. You can cry and share memories together. It is much harder to heal alone. Talking to friends who always put you in a good mood, doing something you love, going out to a nice resturant with family to honor your grandfather, those can all make you feel better. Finding a support group may also benefit you.

It will take time, but you will feel better. I know it sounds so incredibly impossible right now, but once your grief begins to taper off you will come to a sort of closure in the healing process. 


*Our world is far more complex than the rigid structure we want to assign to it, and we will probably never fully understand it.*

"Those believers who are sophisticated enough to understand the paradox have found exciting ways to bend logic into pretzel shapes in order to defend the indefensible." - Hamby

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Due to a childhood

Due to a childhood completely steeped in religion, I don't yet know how to deal with death in a healthy way.  I (along with my immediate family) was touching / holding my father when he died.  We all knew he was dying.

Being told he was going to live forever in heaven when I knew differently left me in the undesirable (and unpopular) position of finding another way to deal with life and death.  For years I had very strange dreams about my father.  I still have them.

A few months ago, I lost my paternal grandmother and my nephew lost his first cousin (more like a sister to him).  I decided I was too ill to attend either funeral.  (Back in July I caught a bad virus and due to my chronic illnesses I have not yet recovered.  Of course, I'm never "quite right," but this time seems worse.  Maybe it's age creeping in.)

When I went to rent a storage space, I ran into someone who knew a friend of mine who died a couple of years ago.  I found myself missing her greatly.  I doubt there was ever a nicer person on this earth.  She never had an unkind word for anyone.

It would be nice if those around me would face reality so it was easier for those of us who already have.  To be honest, it's been a being the only one who knows an "awful" secret.  If we all worked together to remember the departed rather than nurse false hope, it would be a lot healthier.  As it is, I mourn because I know that time, that old bald cheater, has robbed me forever of certain people in my life. 

I cling to my nephew because of what seems like a "death curse" on his family (long story).  Yes, it's illogical.  But sometimes our emotions don't obey our intellects.  Yeah, that sounds a bit like dualism, but I've found it to be true.  When I knew logically hell did not exist, it still took years to get over the fear.   Perhaps it's the stanch denial of truth in this society causes this phenomenon.  I just don't know.

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There's no reason you can't

There's no reason you can't turn to friends or family if you have them...religion is not required to find support.

 When my father died, I was very distraught. I went quite reclusive for a while...I found it important to just find a bit of support from loved ones.