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?
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.
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.