I was a hardcore very religious Christian believer for 15 years of my life. I firmly believed in God, and in the Bible as His Word, and in a Heaven wonderful beyond description waiting for us after we die. Back when I was suffering so badly from the then undiagnosed bipolar disorder, I desperately wished for death so that I could be embraced by the loving God that I believed in so strongly, and have all of my tears and suffering wiped away, and enjoy an awesome afterlife in Heaven worshiping the God I loved with all of my heart forever!
But now.. I am very much aware that, as pleasant and wonderful as that all sounds… it’s just ancient myth with no discernible basis in reality whatsoever.
When I lost my faith 14 year ago and walked away from hardcore religious belief, one of the toughest things I had to come to terms with other than the nonexistence of the God that I had once loved so much, was the harsh reality and absolute finality of death.
I am old enough now to have had to face the deaths of loved ones several times. And, of course, it’s been agonizingly difficult to deal with every time. My grandparents have all been dead now for several years, and I still miss them terribly when I think about them. They were all wonderful, fun, loving people who loved life and loved living it. My Granddaddy Shelley suffered for many years from serious heart problems caused by the rheumatic fever he had as a child. He discovered his condition when he volunteered for military service during World War II. He was not expected to live more than about another ten years, and I could very well have never known the man. But medical advances came along that saved his life. He was one of the first people to have open heart surgery, and because of modern medicine, I got to love and enjoy my grandfather for the first 27 years of my life. He never let his health problems get him down. He had to swallow a lot of pills every single day just to stay alive. But he worked hard and still managed to laugh a lot and really enjoyed life. One of the last things he did when he lying in his hospital bed in late 1994, very close to death, was to invite friends over to the house for pie. He was very ill, but still wanted very much to live! He was a great man with incredible strength of character. But he has been dead and gone now for 20 years, and as much as I loved him and would love to be reunited with him someday, I never expect that to happen. Death is brutally final, and my grandfather is as nonexistent now as he was before he was born. It’s a brutal reality that is not easy to face at all, but that is reality as it actually is.
My grandmother Shelley was wonderful as well. She was kind and loving. She too laughed a lot and thoroughly enjoyed living. She loved me dearly, and we had great fun hanging out together. I still remember well visiting her in the assisted living home that she stayed in after her inoperable aortic aneurysm was discovered. She was still very happy, and we often drank Diet Coke and some kind of sweet snack while we visited. She died in 2002 at the age of 84 when that aneurysm finally ruptured. I still miss her very much when I think about her, but her too I never expect to see again. I will never again hear her voice or her laughter or know her love. She too is as nonexistent now as she was before she was born. Once again, the brutally harsh reality and finality of death. Not easy to face at all.
My Granddaddy Reid was the first to leave this wonderful world. He died in 1993 at the age of 85, peacefully, and hopefully with little pain or suffering. He was watching TV and was getting up to go eat a meal after my grandmother called him to come eat. He fell back down into his chair dead, probably of a sudden and fatal heart attack or stroke. He too was a very kind and loving man, and 21 years after his death, I still remember the awesome bear hugs he greeted me with every time I came to their house for a visit. He enjoyed a long and healthy life, and he too loved life and loved living it. He was active until the day he died. I loved him dearly and still miss him much when I think about him. But he too is dead and gone forever. I don’t ever expect to see him or to know his love ever again. He too is as nonexistent now as he was before he was born. The brutal and harsh finality and reality of death…
My Grandmother Reid also, of course, was a wonderful woman. Kind and loving and giving and wonderful to be around. And wow, could that woman cook! I will never forget her awesome meals or her delicious chocolate pies! She adored me and I still remember the fun times we had together when I was a very young child. She lived to be 87 and died in 2003. Tragically, by the time she died, she had completely lost her ability to form memories. She could not carry on a conversation or watch TV or read a book because she would so quickly forget what had just been said or what had just happened in any book she tried to read. That is no way to live, and in my opinion, death was merciful. She was very religious for all of her adult life, as far as I know. She firmly believed in God and firmly believed that she would go to Heaven when she died. I wish for her sake that her strongly held and cherished religious beliefs could have been true. But the harsh reality is that she is dead and gone forever. I will never see her smile or hear or voice or know her love ever again. And, she did not get the Heaven she so looked forward to when she died. She too is as nonexistent now as she was before she was born. No God, no Heaven, no peaceful and awesome afterlife. Just eternal nonexistence. Once again, the brutally harsh reality and finality of death.
My parents are still alive and well in their 70’s. They are healthy for their age, and my mother still works hard and is very active. My father does not take nearly as good care of himself, but considering the crap he constantly eats, he is reasonably healthy and is still able to work. But I know their time is coming, and I can’t imagine them not being around anymore. But someday relatively soon, I will have to face their deaths, and I won’t have the comfort of believing that they are in a “better place” enjoying a happy afterlife. I will be left with nothing but the brutally harsh reality that they are dead and gone forever, and that I will never again see them or know their love and support.
I am an outspoken atheist, but I am not a heartless asshole when I see my religious friends post on Facebook about their losses of loved ones or when they post about wanting prayers for sick loved ones or friends. I often don’t say much when I see such posts. What can I really say? I have nothing but the brutally harsh reality of the world as it actually is to offer them, and when people are grieving the loss of a loved one, that’s not the time to jump in and inform them that their religious beliefs have no basis in reality and that their loved ones are gone forever. But I do often share sympathy and well wishes. When people post asking for prayers for sick family or friends, I will often post that I am sending positive thoughts so that they know that I care and that I am thinking about them. But, of course, I am well aware of the reality that prayer has no power whatsoever other than making the person doing the praying feel good about accomplishing absolutely nothing.