Even after seeing the death of my parents, relatives, acquaintances & friends over the years and realizing the inevitability of death from age if not from accidents, I have not been able to come to terms with death.
When visiting the bereaved people who have just lost some loved ones, I do not know what to say to them. Well-meaning people say these platitudes:
"He/She is in a better place" or
"she will not suffer any more. That's a relief. She is going to a place where there is no pain" or
"Gods will take good care of him since he was a very religious person" or
"Gods recall all favourite souls early".
I cannot say any of these since I am an atheist. My views about death are entirely different from that of the religious people.
How different is a religious view from a Secular view?
1. The view that life and death are deliberately guided by a conscious supernatural being is radically different from the view that life and death are entirely natural processes, guided by physical cause and effect.
2. The view that consciousness (soul, spirit, atma) is a metaphysical substance with the ability to survive death is radically different from the view that consciousness is a biological process created by the brain, and that it ends when the brain dies.
3. The view that life is permanent is radically different from the view that life is ephemeral.
And the forms of comfort and perspective that we find helpful in grief can also be radically different............
4. The idea that life is eternal and we’ll see our loved ones again someday is radically different from the idea that life is transitory and therefore ought to be intensely treasured.
5. The idea that life and death are part of God’s benevolent plan is radically different from the idea that life and death are part of natural cause and effect, and that we and our loved ones are part of the physical universe and are intimately connected with it.
6. The idea that our dead loved ones are no longer suffering because they’re in a blissful Heaven is radically different from the idea that our dead loved ones are no longer suffering because they no longer exist, and that being dead is no more painful or frightening than not having been born yet.
7. The idea that death is an illusion is radically different from the idea that death is necessary for life and change to be possible. Evolution is impossible without death.
8. The idea that the soul will live forever is radically different from the idea that things don’t have to be permanent to be valuable and meaningful.
9. The idea that our loved ones will always live on in an afterlife is radically different from the idea that we keep our loved ones alive in our memories, and that they live on in the ways they changed us and the world.
Believers and non-believers have many things in common, and much of what we find comforting during grief is the same — but much of it is seriously different, and even contradictory.
My way of responding to death
What I have started doing is this. I enter the premises where the body is kept, remove my footwear, go inside the house, touch the feet of the body reverentially with both hands and touch my eyes. I choose a corner and sit down there for a hour or so and then silently make my way out, don my slippers and escape. No matter how many death scenes I may have visited, still I am not able to come to terms with this phenomena.
I feel sad for others. So many unfulfilled desires throttled mercilessly by the spectre of death. If only we get some prior notice saying that we are going to die in X no.of days, we could wind up our affairs and wind down our life .......... say sorry to all those we have hurt inadvertently, say how much we appreciate the help rendered to us, express forgiveness to those who have hurt us, say how much you love some of them or even disclose the various banks & account numbers & lockers or secret compartments in your drawers where you have stashed away your savings to enable your loved ones to utilize it.
My heart favours a utopian life-after-death in heaven but my mind is convinced of the dystopian oblivion awaiting all of us and so wants to focus on life-before-death on earth (present moment living). Death does not frighten me. I see a peaceful & natural death as a well-deserved reward of permanent rest for my arthritic limbs after having lived an eventful, fulfilling & productive but none-the-less exhausting life & having acquitted oneself of all responsibilities.