Atheist Grief


Last night I had the privilege of being a part of Light the Night for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, but more importantly I was allowed to be a part of someone grieving.  As long as you’re not a sociopath, every human experiences this, usually multiple times during their lifetime.  

Grieving is a natural way to process a loss.  My friend allowed me to be with her during a part of this process and told me something that her psychiatrist had told her that helped.  He said “Grief is a beautiful thing, it shows there is love there!” If we did not have the capacity to love, there would be nothing to grieve about.” She said, “So I guess my heart is just about bursting with love right about now!”  I thought this was lovely of him to say to her.

I felt honored that she opened herself up, and let me be there while she was falling apart.  I confess that I did sort of force her to go.  When I learned that her father had just died of non-hodgkin lymphoma amongst other complications I invited her to join us in our walk.  She said she wasn’t capable of raising any money and I told her not to worry about that, just to sign up and I would take care of the rest.  Getting donations in her name was simple, with the contributions of a few kind, and generous people. I made sure she got enough so that she could get a tshirt, and more importantly one of the golden balloons in loving memory of someone to “Light the Night”.

I say I forced her because she called the night before saying she didn’t think she would be able to come, because she didn’t think she could drive and because she was afraid of falling apart in front of strangers.  I asked her if she trusted me and she said yes.  Then I told her I would find her a ride to make sure she got there, and promised her the people there weren’t strangers.  They were a crowd of loving people that are there because they are survivors, or because they have lost someone to cancer, and she would receive nothing but love and support if she came, and this was a safe place to break down, and let it out.  My dear friend Larry was kind enough to drive her there and back, and walked in support of our secular group even though he is a Christian.  He’s a person I include in my using the term Jesus folk, because I think they make an honest attempt to try to live their lives the way they think Jesus would have.

The above picture is my friend  falling apart at the beautiful remembrance ceremony that the Leukemia and Lymphoma society puts on before the walk begins.  You get to put in a gardenia into the water and say the name of the one that you lost.  I made her smell it before she put it in the water and told her to remember there is still beauty in the world.  I put in a flower for my aunt Bonita.  I think it’s a beautiful picture of my friend.  Moments later Larry, and I sat next to her and put our arms around her.

Why did I title this atheist grief?  Because the experience can be a little different for us.  We don’t believe in any type of guaranteed afterlife.  We have no idea what happens when we die.  I suspect that nothing happens.  Our consciousness leaves us and we are left with shells we call bodies.  What happens to the bodies after that, is usually left up to the family.  Most of us don’t have hope that we will ever see this person in any living capacity again.  This loss has finality to it.  Nothing more can be said or done with them.  Which brings me to a different type of grief.

Grief can be about love as my friends psychiatrist suggested, and in her case I think he’s correct, but it also can be about the loss of possibility.  If someone dies and things between you are less than you would like them to be, all hope is now gone that you ever will have a chance to change that.  This loss also has finality to an atheist.

When I finally came to terms with my lack of belief, one of the things I had to do was grieve the loss of my grandmother again, who died when I was only ten.  I don’t think I ever actually believed I would see her again, but I was continually told that I would, and I wanted so badly for it to be true.

This finality is just one of the reasons that I try so hard to cultivate my relationships with people, and try to choose wisely who I spend my time with.  I believe it’s a miracle that my insignificant self is alive, and I intend to cherish every moment I can with as many of the people I love that I can.


20 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. jasontrivium
    Oct 08, 2012 @ 06:09:43

    I agree that it is a miracle that we are all alive. I’m sorry to hear about your loss, and the loss your friend went through. As you pointed out, there is still beauty in the world, I believe that is because Jesus loves us. You said you used to believe, I’m not sure why you stopped, perhaps you encountered Atheist apologetics, and had not been given answers from a Christian perspective.

    I’d like to share this video with you, it is not exactly Christian apologetics, but is about Christian apologetics. I think you might find the testimonies interesting, and perhaps you may want to consider or reconsider Christian apologetics:


    • heathenflower
      Oct 08, 2012 @ 06:26:13

      Thank you for your comments. I will try to watch this video tomorrow when I have a chance. Atheists apologetics didn’t change my mind. I have read apologetics on both sides. Reading the Bible academically is what changed my world view. I am a Religious Studies major and I am most familiar with the Jewish and Christian texts. I appreciate your sentiment, but I don’t need Jesus’s love to find beauty in the world. It’s all around if you’re paying attention.


    • heathenflower
      Oct 09, 2012 @ 04:22:19

      I have watched the video and I have to say that it was painful for me to do so. I must admit up front that I already have a bias against this speaker because of some debates I have seen him in and I don’t like the way he does things.
      He speaks of faith being enough, that you should feel it, and seems to imply that you shouldn’t need evidence. I do not adhere to these beliefs. I question everything. I always have.

      He seemed to argue that the enlightenment was a bad thing because people began thinking for themselves. I see it as a wonderful thing.
      He also seemed to argue that free thought without the authority of the church or state was a bad thing, and that freethinkers were usually led down the path to atheism.I would agree with him there, but don’t think this is a bad thing.

      It’s true that most scientists don’t try to explain theology through science because it lacks evidence which is what science is based on.

      He also said he thought debates were often helpful but I have found them to be quite the opposite. I find that people usually go to debates especially theological ones with their minds already made up. Both sides make arguments, and both parties and the people on their side often walk away thinking their side one because they just had their own beliefs reaffirmed. Even though Christopher Hitchens was well respected by me, and was a great debater, I still find little value in theological debates.

      I believe in teaching people critical thinking and letting them come up with their own ideas and paths.


      • jasontrivium
        Oct 10, 2012 @ 00:13:04

        Hi Heather, thanks for taking the time to watch that video and give such a thoughtful response. I’m sorry it was painful for you to watch, I understand that you approach things from a different worldview. Wow, there are so many things we could talk about based on your comments.

        You said, “He speaks of faith being enough, that you should feel it, and seems to imply that you shouldn’t need evidence. I do not adhere to these beliefs. I question everything. I always have.”

        One thing I would like to say is that I don’t think Professor Craig was saying you should physically feel the Holy Spirit, rather, he was saying there is a mental understanding reached with God. God is Spirit, a disembodied mind on the Christian conception, therefore it is a mental union that Craig speaks of, not a physical feeling. Experiencing this union could be referred to as “feeling” united with God, but this refers to a spiritual sense, not a physical touch.

        Dr. Craig was saying that you don’t need evidence since you have the testimony of the Holy Spirit proving the truth of God to you. I must say I wholeheartedly agree with this point. You said, “I do not adhere to these beliefs. I question everything. I always have.” But do you question THAT belief? Do you seriously and rigorously question weather questioning everything (or even most things) is smart?

        I suggest that most people who speak of “questioning everything” rarely question most things. I don’t think ANYONE questions most things in a highly critical sense, so many things are just accepted at face value. I think this maxim of “question everything” comes in for people who have already decided to reject God, and now seek to intellectually justify that decision. Think about it, outside the religious conversation, who do you ever hear saying “question everything”? No one.

        If you questioned everything, you would quickly find that you know nothing. Every philosophical system has its axioms, those things which are not questioned or proved. So you do not question everything. You have a set of presuppositions you have chosen to begin with, a worldview you have decided to view the world through.

        Think about those things you do not question, and ask yourself if perhaps the Christian worldview makes more sense of your axioms.

        I’ve not even scratched the surface of the topics we could discuss in light of your comments, so hopefully we can talk some more. I’d also like to thank you for your kind words realizing that I was directing my conversion attempt towards you and not your grieving friend. I hope that both of you are feeling better about that difficult time.

  2. gnatseyeview
    Oct 08, 2012 @ 12:49:54

    Your thoughts on the grieving of atheists are important. The sense of finality can be overwhelming. Living well takes a great deal of courage, a courage that perhaps only another atheist can understand. Thank you.


    • heathenflower
      Oct 08, 2012 @ 15:19:43

      Thank you for your kind words. I feel like a lot of people don’t understand the finality of it to us which is exactly why I thought it was important to write. Thank you for appreciating it.


  3. Lizzy
    Oct 08, 2012 @ 21:01:30

    @Jason, as the woman in the picture, the attempt to convert a grieving woman repulses me. How dare you! In your time of grief for someone you have lost, how would you feel if you were told that you would never, ever see them again, when at your core, you believe you will? The incredibly hard job as a nurse and a daughter, caring for him until his last breath, cleaning him, bathing him, soothing him, watching him fight and fail, administering meds to him to make him comfortable as he died, to see the life fade out of his body was the most fulfilling, challenging, and loving things I have ever done in my life, secondary to the birth of my son. The outcome is the same, He is dead, I am devastated, and we hold different beliefs. Why can’t you just accept that and keep your mouth shut?
    Respectfully, Liz


    • heathenflower
      Oct 09, 2012 @ 01:58:53

      Lizzy my dear,
      I know you are hurting very much right now, but please try not to turn that hurt into anger against other people.
      The conversion conversation was directed at me, because I had said I had been raised by believers.
      I really don’t know anything about Jason yet. Perhaps he is just trolling my blog, but that is not the impression that I get. I don’t think he meant any malice in his comments, and unless he shows me, that that is what his intent is, I will continue to welcome his and your comments here.
      I feel very strongly about not wanting to censor anyone here, so I hope that most of the people that find there way here will continue to be respectful. I do believe in freedom of speech but I have no tolerance for intolerance.
      I will try to moderate the comments as time allows me. I draw the line at name calling and belittling others.
      I hope you know after this weekend how much I love you, and want to support you. If you need to get some anger or frustration out, I hope you know you can call me. I was actually quite pleased to have someone like Jason post here, because I want diversity here, because that usually leads to more open discourse.


  4. jasontrivium
    Oct 09, 2012 @ 01:25:25

    You’re a religious studies major, that’s outstanding, I hope you enjoy your classes. You said, “Reading the Bible academically is what changed my world view.” Can you explain in more detail what you mean by “academically”? And thanks so much for trying to make time to see the video, I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.

    Take good care. 🙂


    • heathenflower
      Oct 09, 2012 @ 04:26:26

      I am currently taking Hebrew Scriptures and a History class of the Ancient Middle East. I am enjoying both of the classes and both of them point to the fact that the Torah or the beginning of the Old Testament as Christians call it was heavily influenced by previous polytheistic religions and was itself a polytheistic religion in the beginning. These are the types of things that I learn academically that make it difficult for me to take the bible seriously as anything more than a beautiful piece of literature. It has borrowed too many things from too many older civilizations and then claimed them as their own.


      • jasontrivium
        Oct 10, 2012 @ 00:42:47

        Congratulations again on such an excellent major in college. Regardless of what you believe, that must be so interesting to study.

        You said, “I am enjoying both of the classes and both of them point to the fact that the Torah or the beginning of the Old Testament as Christians call it was heavily influenced by previous polytheistic religions and was itself a polytheistic religion in the beginning.”

        In response to this I would like you to consider for yourself how seriously you “questioned everything” your textbooks claimed regarding this subject. Did you just absorb what the textbook said, or did you get on Google and search for the Christian responses to those claims? Did you just accept these allegations as “fact” and tell yourself you were “questioning the Bible,” all the while, never questioning these secular sources?

        1 Peter 5:8 warns us, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” According to the Bible, there is an enemy of your soul in the world. Jesus says regarding him in John 8:44, “…When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it.”

        So are you “questioning everything”? Or are you uncritically accepting what your secular textbooks claim?

        Can you give me some specific claims regarding the alleged polytheistic influence on the Torah? What evidence is being claimed by these secular textbooks for such allegations?

        It’s nice talking with you by the way, I hope you have a wonderful week and continue to enjoy your classes. 🙂

  5. Lizzy
    Oct 09, 2012 @ 04:29:16

    @Jason, I apologize for some harsh and angry words. I tend to have a knee jerk reaction to christians trying to convert. I don’t think that was your intent. I actually did not watch the vid, because i knew it might bring some anger. So thank you for your condolences. Liz


    • jasontrivium
      Oct 09, 2012 @ 23:47:49

      Hi Lizzy, I’m sorry if it appeared that my conversion attempt was aimed at you. I actually didn’t know if you would even be reading this blog post. I was directing my comments towards Heather, since she seemed to be the one who made the post.

      I’m sorry for your loss, I certainly wouldn’t want to “jump in” after something traumatic happened and get into a theological discussion with you.

      I hope that you are able to find happiness in your life and overcome this struggle you’ve gone through.


  6. Lizzy
    Oct 09, 2012 @ 04:33:48

    heather, thank you for your constant insight. I will be more diligent, and compassionate.


    • heathenflower
      Oct 09, 2012 @ 04:45:17

      Thank you for your apology to Jason, and thank you for staying open minded. I know you are going something really terrible right now, and it makes you more sensitive to everything.
      I hope people continue to shower you with love and support and I hope eventually you can get past the anger of losing someone you loved so much. Know that you are loved, and please stay in touch.


  7. heathenflower
    Oct 11, 2012 @ 19:30:56

    You are correct to assume that I don’t question everything. The sun has come up every day for several thousand years so I do take things like this for granted. I assume they will happen unless I see evidence otherwise.
    You are incorrect to assume that I rejected god and then decided to use the question everything line. I have always been an inquisitive person and I used to harass my mother constantly with questions about god that she was unable to answer. She didn’t have the answers so I kept looking.
    I eventually found my way to college where I got to take a closer look at the texts for myself and make up my own mind about what they meant. I’ve spent a lot time studying the Bible and things just didn’t add up when I gave them critical analysis. I believe that I actually started reading Christian Apologists first like N. T. Wright. They had some very engaging intellectual arguments, but I kept going back to the texts themselves and there were just too many contradictions and not enough evidence.
    In regards to the polytheistic “allegations” as you call them, it can be easy to miss if you don’t speak or read Hebrew. I have only just begun to learn it, but I do know that “god” is given several different names in the Hebrew. El is the generic word for god and is probably the equivalent to how we use the word god in English.
    Elohim is plural and means gods. It’s found all over the Torah. Have you ever noticed that there are two creation stories in Genesis?
    The first creation story the Elohim is doing the creating by speaking everything into existence. On the last day of creation Gen 1.27 So Elohim created humankind in his image, in the image of Elohim he created them male and female he created them.
    In Genesis 2.4 Yahweh is doing the creating, and he makes everything in one day, and makes man before he vegetation which is a direct conflict with the previous story. Yahweh is the personal name for the Israelite god, but that didn’t mean they didn’t believe in other gods. They believed Yahweh was their tribal god. Elohim probably referred to the assembly of gods in heaven. This is consistant with ancient near eastern myths from Babylon. The second creation story also says that the man and woman were created separately from one another, again in direct contradiction to the first story.
    Reading the Bible becomes a problem once you start comparing it to itself.


  8. jasontrivium
    Oct 13, 2012 @ 21:09:10

    Hi Heather, I tried to post my response to your comment here, but it doesn’t seem to be posting. So I posted it at my site here:


    • heathenflower
      Oct 14, 2012 @ 06:30:07

      Hi Jason,
      I was trying to reply to you, but for some reason there was not reply button so that’s why you didn’t get a notification.
      You cite a lot of great resources.
      You should know that I went to the Bible for myself searching for answers. I was tired of everyone else telling me what it was supposed to me mean. That’s when I started studying it for myself, and even took a class in Hebrew because you miss a lot of the story if you can’t read it in it’s original language.
      I read material on both sides. I compared both of them and weighed them very carefully for a very long time. I kept reading the texts for myself, and I kept finding that the evidence kept pointing me to a more fair reading of the Bible as a lovely work of literature but not divinely inspired anymore than Homer’s writing, or the Epic of Gilgamesh.
      If through my academic research I am given evidence to read the Bible or any other sacred book as divine, it’s not something I will take lightly but will carefully consider. It’s not that I’m not open to academia changing it’s mind. That’s the wonderful thing about scholarship, and science alike. We adjust our views according to the evidence we are provided. For now I will continue to study the Bible as literature and to help me better understand the generations that came before us, and I will continue to try to live a good life by being good to others, and to never stop searching for answers.


  9. Rebekah Osorio
    Nov 06, 2012 @ 22:12:44

    Thank you for posting this story and photo. Her psychologist is a smart dude. Grief IS love. I don’t even know Lizzy and yet I am proud of her for coming to Light the Night, and proud of you for facilitating all of this. You guys really did something amazing.

    My eyes had a weather change as I was reading this. I remember my dad and all the new grave stones that are surrounding his over time, and the experiences of love, courage, and pain that each stone represents. It is beautiful and excruciating. My love for my dad is fierce, as is my gratitude that he shared his life with me. And I feel all of that while feeling the empty ache of the part of me that died when he did. I can’t explain what I came to understand when I watched the life traveling out of his body, but it changed me. It was sacred, and no matter how much it hurt I knew even THAT was a gift.

    I don’t see divinity as a deity or a religion (fitting All That Is into a personality or form is a contradiction in itself). For me it’s an experience. A personal, transformative one that comes from within and connects to all. No story or scripture necessary.

    I’ve known I needed to buddy up with death for a long time, and I am on my way to learning how. Otherwise, I’ll waste my life running from it. In facing death, we face our own lives and until then we aren’t really living.

    I am enjoying your writing and your honesty.


    • heathenflower
      Nov 06, 2012 @ 23:29:24

      Thank you adding your beautiful but painful experience to this threat. I know that our views and experiences often differ, but your experiences and offerings never cease to inspire me, and I am always grateful to hear about them. Life is a gift that should be cherished. I know that your father understood this and passed this onto his daughters. He left a wonderful legacy with you two.


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