Death - the Atheist's Dilemma


I am not OK with death. I don't like to think about it, I am not good at dealing with it, I mainly try to ignore it because I don't think I can understand it. I know I can't understand it, because it is the great unknown and as with everything that is great unknown, the natural reaction is fear.

I am an atheist. I don't believe in God and I don't believe in Heaven or Hell. I have certain amount of hope that maybe there is something nice and pleasant that happens after we die, but if you pressed me for my most sincere opinion, I would use my brain and my logic and tell you that once you die, it's over. I don't know how many people wonder about cows or snails or rats or insects and their souls and if they have a heaven of their own, but I think people mostly think that once a caterpillar dies, it is dead and that's the end of the story. I believe humans are no different.

For the most part of my life, I just tried not to think about it. It made me really unhappy and worried and miserable, so I just pushed it away. I've lost some relatives, but it was either when I was a child and did not completely understand what was happening, or they were older and it was not totally unexpected. People who were left behind were sad, but not devastated.

As I am getting older and as more and more people have entered my life, the ratio changed. I am still lucky to not have lost anyone from my closest family or friends. But I've known a young coworker who died of brain cancer. And I have a good friend whose good friend lost her life to cancer and left children behind. I've heard many stories with unhappy ending. And I now have a child of my own. I think about these things now. I think about how my life would shatter if anything happened to him. About how his life would shatter if anything happened to me or Peter. I think about that conversation I will have to have with Kai when I will need to explain death to him and when he asks "what happens when we die?"

I used to envy people who had faith and had a religion they could turn to for comfort. It was never an answer for me, though. I am not concerned about the potential judgement day. I live my life the best I can every day. I do my best to love, forgive and not judge and I think I am doing a fairly good job at it. I don't need a church to approve of me, especially seeing how much wrong there is with church in the first place. You might think that the next thing I am about to say is completely crazy and stupid, but it was the Hunger Games trilogy that made me think about life and death excessively. It was that simple description of people's lives in utter misery and the fact that they still fight every single day to stay alive. It was the realization that there are so many people on this planet who live in fear and hunger and pain and they keep going on day by day. As if once they make it through one game level of horrors, they would be rewarded with an eternity of happiness. But we all die in the end. It could be today, tomorrow, next year or 70 years from now. But it is the same ending for everyone. For good and bad, for rich and poor, for young and old. People in the worst conditions and misery around the world struggle every day to make it and stay alive. And it made me wonder - what's the drive behind? There is no reward for the first place. You die no matter what you do.

Interesting side effect of this was that I suddenly became more in peace with the idea of dying one day. More grateful for every day I get as a happy, healthy, active me. Every little moment I get with my child - the ones when he makes me laugh and the ones when he makes me mad. (A side note - I am not happy about the moments he makes me mad, but at the end of the day I am grateful for having the opportunity to live them as opposed to not live them.) I know I have a great life. I have parents who love me, I have a sister who is always there for me, I have friends I can always count on, I have a husband who's always said the most important thing in his life is to make me happy and his actions show that he means it. I have the best kid in the world. I know how lucky I am. And I know one day I will die.

I am not sure yet how that conversation about death will go with Kai. I am not sure what I will say to him. But I think I know what I want to say to the child inside of me that is still scared. I want to tell her this: Death is a big mystery. It is such a big mystery that nobody really knows for sure. People have ideas, opinions and beliefs, but as of now, it is something to still be solved. Like thunderstorms and stars used to be once. Maybe this is a mystery that will never get solved. And maybe it will. It may be YOU who will solve it. Maybe kids will learn about you in school just as we learned about Copernicus, Da Vinci and Newton. I don't know what happens after we die. I know once I die, I will not be there to hug you and to listen to you and to kiss your tears away. I will not be there to laugh with you, to sing and dance with you and to listen to your stories anymore. But that love I feel for you - that love that makes me float instead of walk, that love that pains my heart because it is overflowing so much, that love that makes the sun come up every day - can't just disappear. The love I feel for you is a form of energy that will never leave. Maybe you will not always know it's there for you, but I imagine it as a blanket around your shoulders, an invisible shield, the one that will not protect you from everything just as my love as a living person always can't. But the one that will hover over you forever, like a little ray of sunshine.

And I will go on and ignore the questions about what happens to bad people who don't love but hurt. I don't have an answer to everything - yet.


2 comments:

  1. Beautiful Andrea. I believe that this life is where it is at and that it ends there. While it is an easy answer for me, it gets tough when thinking about explaining it to the boys. Reality, as we believe it, seems more difficult to teach than fairy tales.

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    1. Thank you Jenn. It is difficult to include both magic and reality even in adults' life, not to mention kids. I believe in everyday magic we create and I am a very realistic person at the same time. I hope I will be able to stay honest with Kai without upsetting him when we get there.

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