Recently a friend of mine’s grandfather died. She is religious and made some comment on facebook about how the whole thing got her thinking about heaven: Is there one? Is my grandfather there now?
Well I know tact and not wanting to be a jerk in her time of grieving, I merely said that my thoughts were with her. But this got me thinking about Atheism and death. How do you treat people who are grieving because of a death?
To answer her question “is there a heaven?”, no. There is no heaven, there is no hell. This is going to sound very painful and very blunt, but there is nothing after this life, the person is gone.
Yeah, I know, it hurts and it’s ugly. But here is what people don’t want to accept: what we want to be true, and what IS true are not the same thing.
The fact that when we die we are gone forever is such a painful and scary thought that people turn to religion for comfort. Even if it is a lie, believing in that lie is easier than facing the facts.
This fact amplifies everything. What I mean by that is it amplifies the grievousness of loss at the same time it amplifies the preciousness of life. A person and their life is all the more beautiful because they are only here once. Treasure it. At the same time, murder and war all the more heinous because they destroy something so immensely precious. The cold unyielding fact is that there is no justice beyond this life. As much as we will there to be, no amount of wishing will make it so. For this very reason it is so important to fight for justice here and now, that’s the only time you might get it. (But I digress)
So how do you comfort someone without turning to comforting delusions? Well, the main thing you can do is to help them cherish the memories they have. Grief is a cycle, and the best thing you can do is be there for someone.