Yesterday, I attended funeral home visitation for a friend who passed away on Saturday. It was my first loss of this nature since becoming an atheist. It was a very different experience for me, and besides being very painful and sad, it made me reflect on a few things.
First of all, it made me realize just how strongly I used to believe in God and the afterlife. Yesterday, that belief was noticeably absent, and its absence had a strong effect on my emotions. I realized that my friend was gone; not waiting for me in Heaven, not finally reunited with his father and his grandfather. Gone. It hurt a lot. I remembered what it was like to have that small solace in saying “He’s in a better place” or “We’ll see him again someday.” Although those things did not take away the pain of missing a departed loved one, they did offer some comfort, however fantastical.
It made me realize that I will always be, for the most part, silent about my atheism. The time I spent with his family and friends at the funeral home was a combination of sadness over missing him and happiness over remembering his life. We all reflected on what a wonderful man he was. We laughed about joys remembered, and we cried about the years ahead without him. I cried for his mother, his sister, his wife, his daughter, and his son, whom he left behind, and who loved him very, very much. Their pain just rips me up inside. There is no way I am going to tell them that I do not believe, as they do, that he is in Heaven. Just because I no longer believe it doesn’t mean I have to take that comfort from others. Some may disagree with me on this point; I assure you that I give less than a fuck whether you disagree. I don’t tell small children that there is no Santa Claus, either.
It also made me stop to think of how precious life is, and how very important it is to take care of ourselves while we have it. My friend who died was only 53 years old. Cancer is a beast that doesn’t give a shit whether you’ve had time to live a full life, or how much your wife loves you, or whether you get to see your grandbaby born in just a few months (Yeah. That completely breaks my heart. He was so close to seeing his beautiful daughter have her baby). Get your cancer screenings, folks. Take advantage of the wonderful thing we have called medical science, and catch it early. Early means before you feel sick. Check everything on schedule.
Finally, I realized that as an atheist, I feel much, much more connected to my fellow human beings. Many religious people would expect that to be just the opposite, I know, but I truly feel a love and a desire for the well-being of others that I never had before. Not this strongly, anyway. I suppose that could be a result of my new world view, or it could possibly be that I’m just getting sappier and soft as I get older. Either way, it’s nice.
Love on someone who is important to you today.
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