Dear Surly Amy,
We found out Saturday that my partner’s cousin is dying. She is 54, but mentally and physically disabled her whole life. She has always been cared for by her mother, who is now 75, so finding out that she is going to die soon is in some way a relief to her mom. She’s at home being cared for by her mom and hospice nurses, which is good. But I’m having so much trouble with all the God talk. She’s going to meet Jesus… great. I’m actually ok with death, it’s natural and all, but you know, if there was a god, why would he let this poor innocent person scream in pain when the morphine isn’t enough? I want to be mad at someone, but I don’t believe anyone is to blame for this. What do you do when your emotions are overwhelming your logic? I’m not trying to talk anyone else out of any belief that comforts them, but it’s hard to not make a comment when they talk about “mercy” and shit like that.
I have found myself in similar situations and I completely understand your frustration. A part of me has wanted to scream out:
“BUT THERE IS NO AFTERLIFE! THIS IS IT! STOP WITH THE FUCKING FANTASIES AND THE LIES! THE MADE-UP BIBLE BULLSHIT DIDN’T WORK IN THIS PERSON’S LIFE AND IT WON’T WORK AFTER! WAKE THE F-UP, PEOPLE!!!”
You can sorta get an idea of how completely inappropriate that type of outburst might be when someone is about to lose a family member.
I have also been known to abruptly leave church services for departed friends when I just couldn’t stand to listen to another paragraph of the orchestrated fairytales warning the audience of fire and brimstone if (enter friends name here) hadn’t converted on their deathbed or been such a good Xtian. And this fiery hell can happen to you they warn! I found it very offensive and personally insulting but you know what? In retrospect, I could have left the room quieter because I feel it is very important that we all try to do our best to cause the least harm possible.
There is no one to blame.
There is a time and a place to have discussions about the rationality of life and the irrationality of faith and there are times when we need to rise to our feet and shout out about the injustice of organized religion but the times when we are surrounded by grief and when people are desperately trying to deal with the tragic loss of a suffering family member is simply not the right time.
Life is hard. Death is one of the most difficult aspects of life and it is very difficult to deal with loss whether your are atheist, agnostic, secular, or part of a faith based religion. We often act purely on emotion when driven by grief and yes, religious people lean hardest on their faith at these times. It’s what they have been taught to do.
Just be there for your partner and the family. Be a kind person. Be loving. Be helpful when you can. Try to understand where they are coming from in this difficult situation. Ultimately, just being supportive will set a far better example of atheism than anything you could ever say about it at a time like this. And there will be plenty of opportunity to discuss your worldview later on down the road, when people will be in an emotional state where they are able listen. Then you will have credibility in their eyes because you will have shown yourself to be a kind and caring person in times of need.
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