What About Death?

When my dad died a few years ago, I was surprised to find that the responses from people - some of whom I knew to be religious and some of whom had never before expressed any interest in religion to my knowledge - were overwhelmingly religious in tone. These were people who knew both he and I were atheists, but still I was told a lot of anecdotes and condolences which I imagine they must tell each other to make themselves feel better about death. Did it make me feel better? No. More than anything, it made me uncomfortable.

I did appreciate the intention behind the comments – I realized a lot of people don’t have any other way to deal with the finality of death except to ignore it and focus on an afterlife. I wasn’t mad at them for trying to help me deal with my dad’s death in the same way they must deal with death, it just made me uncomfortable because I thought everything they said was total BS but I didn’t want to be disrespectful in response to their way of mourning.

I think a huge amount of strength in regard to the power of religion comes from the comfort it seems to give people during mourning. If I were religious I probably would have appreciated all the mentions of him in heaven, doing his thing – smoking weed with Jesus or whatever. However, I don’t believe in an afterlife or Jesus or any of that, so really all that talk did for me was drive home the fact that he was dead and never coming back and that people seemed more interested in making themselves feel better than facing the reality of his death.

It didn’t make me mad that people were expressing what they felt were comforting words, but it didn’t make me want to join in that kind of comfort either. What these comments did do was solidify in me the belief that people can convince themselves of anything if they need comfort enough, even conclusions like heaven and an afterlife which I feel are entirely delusional, but that doesn’t add any validity to the delusion from which they derive comfort.

When theists pose the question, "What about death?" in regard to atheists, all I can really respond with is, "I'm dealing with life right now. When I get to death, if you're around, I'll tell you how I feel about it."

Incidentally, my dad is the only one so far that I’ve found in the cemetery that has the atheist symbol on his niche. That makes me proud - like the daughter of a pioneer.