Recently, someone asked me:
For most people, when someone dies they rationalize the pian with thoughts of heaven and God. it makes them feel better to think they will see their loved one again someday. As an athiest, what do you say to someone or your self for comfort? What do you do to get through the sadness?
The answer is not so simple to say, but I finally got it all down and it turned out to be a kind of mini-essay so I thought people might find it interesting and useful:
I guess for starters I should say that each person that considers their self an atheist probably has their own individual view of this kind of thing. So what I say is what applies to me.
I believe and have only ever believed in reality, things which are present in my experience, or are logically true (based on evidence). So, the idea of things like heaven and hell are hard for me to understand, as is the idea that believing in things like that is somehow necessary. The concept of god as an intelligent master/mentor and the corresponding need for that kind of a figure in ones life is also hard to understand. I don't believe it possible to prove there is no god, just that it is so unlikely, that it would be a waste of time to believe otherwise. My views are more accurately termed pantheistic, specifically the views of natural pantheism. Wikipedia has some good write-ups on these views:
So what do I feel when someone close to me dies? I feel sad and maybe disappointed because I intrinsically know I'll never see them alive again. The disappointment stems from things I wanted to do with the person or maybe things I'd hoped I would see them accomplish, or maybe I feel the world has suffered a loss because the person contributes to life in a positive way.
Sometimes there is a sense of relief, such as when the person has been suffering through an incurable and severe illness.
Whatever these feelings are I typically try to celebrate the positive things in the persons history. I celebrate that I was even fortunate enough to know the person, because surely there are, have been, and will be a great number of people that would have been or could be a positive part of my life.
I am not big on ceremony in general, but sometimes I do like to have or bear witness to ceremonial items having to do with the person. This could be some small trinket or heirloom, or something like a grave-site, or even just a place that I share in common with the person. These things/places remind me of the persons life and the time(s) I had with them while they were alive and remind me to continue celebrating as I explained before.
The simplest way to put all this is that I feel I have a responsibility to remember a deceased person well, rather than feel I have some kind of right to continue experiencing them alive in the present via some father figure. I think believing in the latter counter-point implicitly means believing in the right of having an eternal life *here* *on* *earth* rather than in some alternate reality like the mystical heaven or hell. This also seems ironic to the extreme in the face of the stated views of the religious! In any case, given the current state of the phrase, "...nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes," eternal life in any form seems ridiculous to me.
Hope everyone is staying healthy and well (unlike the current state of my sinus cavities!)