Atheist Grief

Are there many of you out there who have had to experience grief as an atheist?

I'm finding it incredibly difficult to find secular support. There is one group called 'Grief Beyond Belief' that operates through facebook which is a group of grieving nonbelievers. It's a nice little community but there is nothing else like it.

When my mother died earlier this year, she died in a catholic hospital. It is the only hospital in our area that treats cancer patients. We were offered religious chaplains, but were not offered a secular social worker. We were offered bereavement support but it was run by the catholic church. I tried searching for grief support in my community and still haven't found anything that isn't religious. 

I have found secular forums online, but they are filled with members who post religious platitudes. 

"They're in a better place"

"They're an angel now"

The only reason my mum is in a better place is because she doesn't exist anymore and while she was living with terminal cancer, she was in incredible and excruciating pain. 

She is not in heaven, because she was an atheist. And according to any religious scripture...You can't be an atheist and get into heaven. So, if we're being literal my mum is currently burning in hell (according to religious belief). 

While my Mum was dying, and I was caring for her, I had a family member tell me that cancer was a test from god in order to save her from hell. I no longer speak to that family member. 

Sometimes I think it must be easier for religious people in their grieving process...How comforting it would be to believe that my mum was still with me in some spiritual form, or that I could pray to her and she would hear me, or that she is able to watch over me..etc.

I have no problem with people who believe this, and I understand completely why someone would believe in an afterlife in the desperation of losing someone you love. 

But I don't believe any of that. I believe my mum has ceased to exist, and the only way she exists now is in my memories, my DNA and how she shaped me as a person. That finality hurts deeply. To know I will never see her again. 

I just wish I could receive support without having prayers and religious platitudes thrown at me. 

I can't even write about my grief on this site in my blog without having someone comment about how she's with god now and **** like that. 

How have some of you coped with your grief being nonreligious? And how did you deal with people constantly saying religious things to you about your dead loved one?
BettyValentine BettyValentine
22-25, F
7 Responses Dec 3, 2012

When my big brother died everyone was in my ear about "God' and "Heaven". However when I mention it was a suicide they say "Sorry" and they know that I know they believe my brother is burning in Hell. My brother was a great guy who suffered from chronic depression. I'm not fully aware of my brothers beliefs, but I know he believed he had no other options. It hurt so ******* bad when my dad called with the news. As an atheist it can be tough coping with a death. We dont believe they are in a city of gold with nana and uncle donnie. We believe they are gone forever. So since they are gone forever all we can do as atheists is remember them, and reflect on how they touched our lives, and try to pass on the knowledge they gave to us. I will always remember the time my brother grabbed a beaver accidentally while we were hand fishing, and this beaver smacked him across the back with his tail. You could see the waffle pattern for days! Ill have that memory forever, and I dont wanna cheapen it by thinking we will do it in paradise. I wanna remember it as the last summer I spent with my big brother.

I have no memory of existence before i was born. I did not experience pain, nor strive, nor grief before i came into existence. I have no recolection of temperature, hot nor cold, nor sense of time passing before i came forth from my mothers womb. As an intelligent being of free mind and will, i would have to submit that i will not sense these thing after i die. Life is about life, the time from between being born and being dead. That is what we own in truth. Nothing more and nothing less. Our memories, our experience as individuals, our actions and reactions make us. We are nothing but memories, to ourselves and to the ones that share our lives and experiences with us. In conclusion of this, someone previously posted something to this effect, let pain pass but cherish your memories. That is truth, beyond faith, that you can lean on.
As an atheist, i have lost loved ones, which brought me to atheism in the first place, and I cherish those memories. Beleiving in after life certainly would make things easier, but it doesn't make it right. Only if you could prove afterlife would it be right in my mind. Even then i would question it. There are a few scientist that have delved into this dark science of death. I have found that brings some more peace to my mind, knowing why and how always helps.
Oh, and get therapy, you can interview therapists you know. My last therapist was openly atheist, the one i interviewed before that was most definitely religious because she kicked me out when i said i need non-religious help. Good luck, dont be afraid of that rejection, its gonna happen for sure.

It's aggravating, isn't it? Even the reasonable and well meaning post by damselfly ends with more religious babble...no, there's zero good reasons to believe in Heaven, and as BV mentioned, even if there somehow was a magic Disneyland in the sky, her mom had zero chance of getting in.

How to deal... as an atheist living in a religious world? well, tell ya what, it's not easy. Both of my parents are gone. A small part of me is even a bit jealous of their religious delusion, for it surely makes some things easier. I do have lots of advice, but not a lot of time at the moment, so will only say this: Once the pain starts to fade, REFUSE to let the memories fade along with the pain. Moments shared with my mom, to this day make my wife and I literally LOL... and they will continue to bring us those flashes of happy for the rest of our lives. How cool is that?

I hear you - but sometimes 'religious' is the only language people have to deal with such matters. People want to tell you that your mother is in a better place because it is unimaginable to them that this might not be what you want to hear. They would want to think that, if their loved one had died, and they are just trying to comfort you the best they know how. But of course they can't because you have to feel the pain for yourself and nobody can take it away from you. I too am an atheist, both parents dead, except in my memory. Sometimes something will trigger a memory; a similar sounding voice, a scent, a phrase, a familiar object - stuff like that. You miss your mother of course, and it's painful, and you have my sincere sympathy. But believe me, eventually it will become less about YOUR loss and more about the kind of person she was. She was suffering and couldn't be magicked back to good health. It will stop being grief, it will become part of the wealth of your mind.

Anyway, you never know. Unlikely as it may seem, perhaps there really IS a heaven, and she's in it.

I am an atheist and my mother has stage 4 cancer. Everyone's prayers just **** me off. My mother is gods biggest fan, and she has a disease for nearly every letter of the alphabet. We have no crutch, no heaven to look towards. I have no consoling words, as I'm having trouble coping myself. But I understand.

I am 41 and was raised in a southern baptist church. I became an atheist in college. Since that time I have experienced the death of my grandmother and father. I was a psychology major in college and had that to help me. I learned that anger is part of the grieving process and like all emotions is ok. Let yourself be angry. As for the thearapist, tell her you are an atheist and that her referals to religion are not helpful. Be blunt! If possible find a true professional.

Well, I don't have this problem as I am agnostic. So I just take it as well meaning concern and an attempt to comfort me. I guess if you can afford it I would consider a therapist, as they come from a psychology background and should be religion free.

I'm currently seeing a therapist...She wears a cross and changes the topic every time I mention my atheism so I have a funny feeling she's religious..lol.

I take most things as well-meaning. Prayers and things like that...Just when people tell me that my mum's in hell because she wasn't saved..That's when I wanna punch some faces in

Well, that is understandable. I can't imagine who would say that, but I know they do. I vividly remember making a romantic gesture to a girl how even in death I would be with her, and she said not if you don't give yourself to Jesus you won't. I didn't talk to her for like two weeks after that. I am sorry people can be so insensitive when you are hurting so deeply.