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 Polytheistic religious people in  india.

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.

End Note
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). Did you just tell me in which restaurant I can get that mouth-watering Alu Tikki? Wait, let me put on my sandals..........

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Comment by Michael Penn on November 9, 2016 at 7:51am

I love the way you present this and can agree fully. As a younger man I was afraid of death. This was so even when I was religious. At 70 today I no longer fear death but am aware of it causing much unfinished business and I hope that my personal death will not involve any pain. Otherwise, I know that it will be much like it was before I was born.

As for friends and relatives that have died and are no longer here, I deal with it by telling myself that these are people I no longer see anymore. This is literally true and the only way I know to deal with it. They are gone and you are not.

Comment by V.N.K.Kumar on November 8, 2016 at 9:06pm

@Daniel W: Your life is seemingly quite tragic dear friend. But I admire your resilient and happy-go-lucky attitude toward life and your commitment to 'Present-moment-living'. Wish I would have the same frame of mind when faced with similar circumstances. Respect.

Comment by Donald L. Engel on November 7, 2016 at 9:22pm

I have to tell this story.  (It's true)  My step father (Dave) died about 10 years ago, and his ashes were put in a wall at the cemetery.  In the last two years of my mother's life, she went into dementia gradually, and was almost always upset about something.  They've found that if you give a doll to women in this stage, it quite often calms them down.  It worked with Mom.  But it was strange.  She seemed to know that it was a doll one moment, and the next moment it was her son.  We always had to wash the doll's face because she was always trying to feed it.  But the next moment, she would say she wanted the doll cremated with her.  Soooo....when she died, I took the doll and cut off the rubber hands, feet, and head, and then burned the body in a coffee can.  We mixed the doll's ashes with Mom's ashes, and put the mixture in the urn.  Then, when we put her into the wall with Dave, my sister said, "Hi Dave, here's Mom.  She'll explain the kid.", and we closed up the vault, and had a good laugh.  Mom would have loved it.

Comment by Bertold Brautigan on November 7, 2016 at 6:27pm

@ Donald - I agree with you. We're lucky to live in a state where individuals have a choice in this regard. To my mind one of the most vicious and unconscionabe things retrogressive religionists do is to oppose this right (often using the frighteningly sadistic Catholic notion that suffering is a blessing not to be thwarted. As the absurdly sainted Mutti Teresa had it, suffering is the kiss of Jesus. The Marquis de Sade and Leopold von Sacher-Masoch ought to show up in the index of their Baltimore Catechism, if it has one.)

The thought of not existing for several more billions of years, just as I didn't for billions of years before I was born, isn't even remotely discomforting. As Woody Allen put it, I don't mind dying, I just don't want to be there.

Comment by BenGee on November 7, 2016 at 11:56am

I've never been able to touch a dead body, and I have seen far too many dead bodies. It's a personal thing, most of the people I know kiss the dead, squeeze their hands, touch their shoulder or hug the body, they tell them they miss them n stuff. To me the person that I knew isn't there, its just a body in the shape of someone I once cared about. My inability to touch a dead person is prolly a personal weakness, but I've gotten by ok so far.

To me its OK to say that the person lives on in my memories and the memories of the people their life touched. 


When a person is dead they are gone, that's all there is. This isn't scary to me, I know one day the same thing will happen to me. It'll be just like before I was born, I thought about this a lot as a kid, tried to imagine it. As a child it was scary to imagine a vast emptiness the awareness that if it were real (and not my imagination) even my own awareness of myself would be emptiness. But then if I'm not even aware that I no longer exist then I can't hurt, I cant know. I'm literally just gone. My only real problem with this is I feel shortchanged, I'm totally ok with this but we humans don't live that long to begin with, I'd like more time before the end. It's important that I make my life count, that I form meaningful connections, that I leave a legacy which is the closest thing to an afterlife that anyone gets, the echos of their past selves carrying into the future continuing to effect lives.

I think you're assessment is accurate by the way, I never really know what to say to someone in grief except to talk about the good things, the things that made them happy, remember better times, they know the person is gone and so do I, I don't really see the need to bring that up other than to point out the powerful impact that person will have on others even after they are gone.

Comment by V.N.K.Kumar on November 6, 2016 at 1:35am

@Compelledunbeliever: Thanks for reading & liking my post. Traditionally when we meet our parents after a lapse of time and when we are parting from them, we touch their feet with both hands and then touch our eyes as a mark of respect and to take their blessings. Same is the case when we meet others who are senior in age. This is an Indian custom. When I do that to a corpse, it shows the respect I had for it when it was alive.

Comment by Donald L. Engel on November 5, 2016 at 9:24pm

I was born, and I'm glad that the sperm that made me me  is the one that won out over the other million sperm in that occasion.  I'm 79, and I've had a good life.  I've travelled the world because of 24 years in the military, and made many friends in far off lands.  When I die, all of those memories will evaporate, along with the memories of my wife, kids, and the rest of my family.  The thought of dying doesn't bother me.  What bothers me is the thought of the years that lead up to death.  My mother went through two years of dementia on her way out.  I don't want anyone to have to take care of a helpless old man, and use up thousands of dollars in an institution.  I had a heart attack about 20 years ago, and so I carry nitroglycerin in my pocket.  I've decided that when I realize I'm at that point that I will just overdose on nitro.  I won't know I'm dead, so the thought of death doesn't bother me.  When my wife and I are both dead, our daughter has instructions to mix up our ashes and spread them around the property we live on.  It's been as close to heaven (as described) as we can get.

Comment by Compelledunbeliever on November 5, 2016 at 8:11pm

Your essay was a delight to read. I particularly appreciated your analysis of the difference of theistic and Atheist differences in the outlook of the afterlife. Please forgive my complete ignorance of customs. Could you explain to me as an ignorant American why you touch the feet and your eyes. What symbolic significance does this hold? What is its traditional background?

Thank you as always for your contribution.  Compelled

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