8/2/07                                                                                       View Comments

Honest Closure for Grieving Atheists

by Best Blanket

Two people I love very much died within months of one another. They were father and daughter.

He was ill for a very long time and we all had been readying ourselves for the worst in one way or another, but she was killed first by a cancer that spread quickly after its diagnosis. We learned she was given 2 weeks to live while we were at a hospital here in New York awaiting a surgical procedure on her father. She lived in Florida and hadn't told many people about the diagnosis, but she had assured the few in the know of her doctor's confidence in there being a remedy. I don't think a month passed before she was terminal.

Her mother and I flew out to stay with her until she died. One of her sisters went a day or two earlier and her other sister stayed in New York with the father and the rest of the family. It was chaos and I could never put it in the most accurate and effective perspective. Hours before and moments after she died, everybody at her bedside was encouraging her to go towards the various family, friends, and pets that had died in their history. Everybody around me has always consoled one another that way. "She's with so and so now." "Oh, they must be having a ball up there!" I bent over, embraced her, and held that position. I may have been crying and I may have been trembling, but my head was perfectly clear. I knew this was the last time I would see her with my eyes and be able to feel her against myself. This was goodbye. We will never meet again, but I will remember her fondly for the rest of my life.

The father's death was precisely the same. The sister that hadn't been present for the daughter's death was there this time. She looked absolutely empty and said "they're together now" in a tone of voice that made it sound like a question. "They're together now, right?" While very prominent in this instance, the absence of closure in that sort of statement is always there. When applied to deaths that invoke nothing more than an "aw really," it's something like "he must be so happy to see everyone" with an undertone of "yes, yes, because that's what happens when you die, now let's move along." This time, uncertainty was loud and clear.

I am an atheist. I do not believe in an afterlife. I am very confident in my belief given that there's no evidence to the contrary. To believe otherwise would require faith. Faith can be challenged. Faith can be defeated. Faith can be lost. Faith can be delicate and faith can betray somebody. A bridge to closure built with faith can break when you try to cross it. I am very sad because two people I love are gone, but at least I can accept it. I am nowhere near the end of my bridge, but I have the benefit of knowing that it isn't going anywhere.

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