About two weeks after my 21st birthday last month, my mom died of cancer. I come from a Catholic family but I've privately been an atheist for about a year, and as a result, I don't believe in heaven anymore. My mom and I were about as close as two people could be, and I loved her so, so much. She was the most incredible, loving, funny and strong person I've ever know, and no matter how sick she got, she kept laughing and never, ever did she complain. She was also very devoted to her religion, and it gave her great strength and hope, which is the main reason that I never told her that I had become atheist - I was afraid if I did, she might start questioning her own faith, or blame herself for my lack of belief, and that it would destroy whatever it was that kept her going.

Since the funeral, we've been getting great support from family, neighbours and friends, but despite people's best intentions, it's hard when they say "She's in Heaven, looking after you" or "She's with you everywhere you go", because I know in my heart that no matter how much I want it to be true, it's not. I miss her desperately, and it hurts constantly, and I feel that if I believed in heaven, or that I could pray to her, or talk to her, that it would ease the pain, but I can't. It just doesn't work. I'd like to be able to, and I've tried, believe me I've tried, but I can't. I can't even pretend. I know no-one's there, and my brain won't let me lie to myself. Nothing gives comfort. I know time will help heal, and I have the most wonderful memories, but they're not helping me right now - it's still too painful.

So my question is - how do you cope? Does anything, anything at all, that you do help to lessen the pain?

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The death of a loved one is difficult enough to deal with without false platitudes. I went through much the same thing when my father passed away several years ago, and what got me through it was realizing that the true 'life after death' is not some fictitious plane of existence, but was in one's accomplishments and relationships.

You mother lives on in you and in others whose lives she impacted just by having existed. She lives on in your memories of her goodness and laughter and strength. She lives on in the minds of anyone who thinks of her fondly or was helped by her in some way.

She also, obviously, lives on in your own personality. Just by being your mother she helped shape your mind in such a way that you have established your own codes of morality and ethics. Her impact on your life is reflected in how you impact others. You are a stronger, better person just by having had her in your life.

Remember her with laughter and tears, and know that in some small way, she lives on in everyone she has ever come into contact with.

I hope this helps.

A beautiful reply, Susan. 


Much in the same way our own lives have meaning without needing "eternity" because "we" live on through the legacy we leave behind, your mother lives on through her legacy.


For me, the greatest comfort in any loss is the knowledge that those I have loved no longer suffer.  While you may not have the false comfort of "They're playing hopscotch with Jesus", knowing that she's no longer in pain may bring it's own comfort. 


I am sorry for your loss, and wish you the best in this rough time.  Find support through your friends and family as you can.

I feel your loss and you have my deepest sympathy.


My mother passed away in June of last year - cancer, as well.


My own way of coping was two-fold. First,I reminded myself that her suffering had ended at last and that she was finally "sleeping the final sleep". Second, I've kept remembering all the good (and even bad) times I've had with her, while at the same time keeping in mind that her suffering was ended.


Thus, I've moved on, as life must. Sure, I still occasionally get a pang out of missing her - but the grief and sadness over her loss are gone.


I hope this can help - even if only a little.

let me start with a question. Who are U ? u probably know as you are an atheist that u are not some soul. You are made by the environment, the surroundings, all the memories you have acquired right from your birth and the way you see the world. So now that u accept that, U and I are basically memories which also means we are Virtual !!!. As you say your mom had a pretty good life and enjoyed her life, now that she's expired doesn't mean that she isn't there ....her matter and her energy is still out there !!! more over you have her memories, the most beautiful memories !! She's with U. the matter of fact is that we are all the same, made up of same matter and energy and for the only reason that No two individual can be provided exactly the same environment, No two are the same !! Now, all that i said is Just to not feel bad about somebody's absence, but in real we are Human Beings, we have emotions which is the most beautiful thing in our lives !!! What else would u do other than enjoying these feelings .... Enjoy the Pain of her absence, it shows how much love you have for HER more over you don't get situations like these all your life. when it happens enjoy the pain but YOU also have to remember that feeling this pain for her absence is not all your LIFE, You and I still have more things To Do. That is what the phrase MOVE ON says !!! not that u just have to be emotionless which doesn't make any sense !!!... All the best for your LIFE.... and I just don't tell You to believe in whatever I say !! U are no more or less than Others who can think !!! Just think for a few days you'll be alright !!!... Wish u again for your Life, All The Best !!...
First let me say I am so sorry for your loss. Secondly as a widow, people say some of the dumbest things to someone who has lost someone special. As for the idea that your mother will always be with you, I tend to think that is true and here is why. When Ron died I knew that ALL the wonderful lessons, love he had given me for close to forty years would always be with me. A day or week doesn't go by that I don't stop and remember that what I am doing is something we loved doing or something he taught me to do. Ron used to say that we live on in others by the lessons we taught when we were alive.
One thing that has helped ease the pain and loss for me is making an effort to remember Ron by donating money to the library in his name, helping fund a small scholarship in his name, giving to Heifer International and other causes that make the world a better place. Also talk about your Mom with others and the lessons she taught you that you love and use. And as someone else suggested, if needed, seek out a professional to speak to. I did after Ron died. It helped.
I can't fathom to imagine how much of a loss the death of your mother is. My deepest condolonces, from someone that recently also lost a loved relative, my grandmother.

My advice: try as much as you can to not make this unfortunate time about your feelings and sorrow, and focus on reliving her memory. Look at old family fotos, remember the best and worst moments with her, carry something she gave you or was hers with you, like a watch or a bracelet.
You'll never get rid of the recurring feel of loss, but try in some way to embrace that feeling. Aknowledge how much she was responsible for who you are, and feel happy about it.

I found that by doing this, I no longer felt grief. I sometimes shed tears when remembering her, quite like as I'm writing this, but looking at the tiny gold bracelet she gave me when I was little, I remember how much she cared about me, and that makes me happy.

About your attempts to 'become religious' of sorts. Don't. Attending the funeral mass was the most traumatizing event I witnessed. I was there to pay respect of a beloved one's memory, but all I saw and heard was fear and cries for mercy of an almighty God, in the form of prayers and songs. The priest spoke about my nana once, and not mentioned her name... They may cope, but in their attempts they stop thinking about the deceased, and start worrying about their fears.

Sorry to hear about your loss. Just remember that everyone deals with death in their own way. Religious people will deal with it that way, which doesn't help you of course. Remember, though, that to greater or lesser degrees they may be grieving, too, and the others are simply letting you know that they care about you and hope you get through this period okay.

there is a facebook page    Greif beyond belief  that you might find helpful. I know I do.

Sorry for your loss.

With respect to loved ones I've lost, I know it may not sound like much, but I remember them as best I can and what they may have taught me or the impressions they have left on me.

Some examples- I cook my grandmother's best dishes periodically (and use her techniques constantly), I play a game of golf in honor of a dear uncle, my family and I constantly remember another dear uncle and regularly make a toast in his honor, I don't take any car I have for granted (my other grandmother left me her car), etc. 

Hi Ciara. I'm so very sorry for your loss. I can only imagine the pain you must feel. As you said, things will get better with time and your mom does live on in you, in your memories. Those are real and you own them.

Try to keep yourself busy and involved in other things to keep yourself distracted and I would recommend talking about how you feel. In my experience, hiding your feelings just leads to more pain. Either a professional or a great friend who won't judge. It will get better with time.

Allow yourself to grieve. Regardless of your belief or lack of belief, everyone grieves at such losses, and grief is a journey.  Cry when you need to cry, and laugh when a fond memory strikes you.  Let this loss wrap its arms around you and squeeze you until you can't breathe. Eventually, it will loosen and you can inhale.  Whatever you do, don't let others tell you how to grieve or when to stop. 


I lost my brother in Iraq in 2004 (yes, 7 years ago).  I was the only atheist around at the time and grieving was very hard for me. You'll do things your own way, but I must have created five mixed CDs of songs that made me think of him, or that expressed how I felt.  I created a scrapbook of all the letters he'd written me and pictures from his life.  I created a picture slideshow video set to some of the songs that reminded me of him.  Do what you have to do.


Eventually, the fond memories took over.  While I do still cry now and then at this great space in my life, I spend more time smiling at memories that pop into my head - things he used to say.


I hope this helps a little.  Know that you are not the only atheist to have to deal with believer families.

I’m truly sorry for your loss. I lost my father as a teen and although I wasn’t extremely close with him, I can slightly relate to your issues. Have you tired writing as a therapy? It helps in the same way people find prayers comforting. It may sound silly and obviously she won't know, but writing letters to your mom may help. If it is within your comfort zone, maybe even writing one and posting it on a blog where others can read it. You could make a special scrapbook and when times get difficult for you work on it. You could donate to a charity in her memory or simply doing things like writing this on TA when you’re having a tough time. 


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