I saw a question posed on twitter: “How do you cope with death without God?” and I think I have something to say on the matter. I have gone to over a dozen funerals in my lifetime, and I seem to deal with death well enough. I have experienced one death since I started to think more about God, and I don’t even think God has anything to do with how I cope now, except that I have greater faith that everything is ok. I don’t think you need God for that.
I think one key to processing death, is to give myself permission to feel my feelings, and to recognize my relationship with the deceased person for what it was. This usually means having a good long cry about it. Sometimes the cry has been immediate. One time, I cried for an hour as soon as I found out. Other times it has taken me a week or until the memorial service to actually feel sad in an emotional rather than a rational way. This has little to do with God, and it is a way to cope.
I think one of the most important concepts I have learned in my life is that there are fates worse than death. If you have seen someone dying of something terminal in the hospital, you know this. I believe that all the suffering to be had is here on Earth. Whether or not there is an afterlife (I still don’t believe in heaven or hell) death must be the absence of all earthly suffering. My parents once told me when someone dies, we are sad not for them, but for ourselves.
I guess another slightly related thought is that the death is a part of life. It is inevitable, and has a purpose in our little ecosystem we call Earth. That’s not terribly comforting, but it can help put things in perspective.
I also believe that when people die they aren’t completely gone from our lives. I have had very vivid dreams of them. I like to do things that would make them happy. I tell stories about them. I keep small mementoes that remind me of them. I pray to them as much as I pray to anyone else, and I ask them to give me their strength or whatever I think they could help me with.
Most of the deaths I have experienced have been the end to a long time of suffering, or after a long and fulfilling life, and those deaths are much easier to process from a logical point of view, though it has no effect on how it is emotionally (my emotional attachment to that person dictates that).
The really difficult ones are young people, or anyone who was taken in some sort of way that could have been prevented. I have known two people my own age who died. I have not known any children, though I hear of it every once in a while. I guess those are the ones where religion and faith come in. It’s not logical. It’s not fair. It’s not ok. How do we get past that? I don’t know. I think that if I ever had to deal with that God would be at the forefront of how I dealt with it. I get a much better sense of comfort from wallowing in God’s love, than I do from thinking about how the life cycle of the earth works.