We, as social animals, do not typically enjoy saying goodbye. I have never met anyone who was excited to say goodbye to someone they love. What makes this inevitable event more bearable is the fact that we will be able to see them again. What happens though, when this promise of reunion is taken away? A religious person never truly experiences the feeling of losing someone with no hope of ever seeing them again, but for an atheist, losing someone to death is a very final thing.
Since embracing my atheism, letting go of the delusion that my deceased loved ones are: “watching over me” or are “up in heaven talking to Jesus” has been the biggest struggle. It is a reality, however, that I was ok to accept in theory. Recently though, my willingness to accept a harsh reality over a kinder lie has been put to the test.
On May 13th, 2015, my dad died due to lung cancer. He had only been diagnosed about 3 months earlier, so it happened pretty quickly. My relationship with my father was not your typical father-daughter relationship, I was raised by my grandparents and did not even know who my father was until I was 13. At that time, we began writing letters. I still have every letter that he ever sent me. When we were able, we spent quite a bit of time together. Being around him when he was sober, was a very enjoyable experience. For a while though, I did not see him, he was addicted to drugs and alcohol and I refused to bear witness to him stumbling all over himself. After he was diagnosed, I had a choice to make. I could have stayed away and then losing him would have been much easier. It still would have hurt, but not near as severely as it does now. I decided that I wanted to reestablish our relationship. I wanted to use the time that was left to get a better understanding of who exactly my father was underneath the drugs and addiction. Some (including myself) may think that is was a stupid thing to do. In a way, it was setting myself up for a fall. I felt that it was the right thing for me to do though.
The next couple of months were spent taking many fishing trips, talking about old stories and staying up all night. He was very weak, but fishing had always been his favorite thing to do, so that is what we did. There were several times that my brother and I did not really want to go fishing, but we took him anyway. We wanted his last days on earth to be as enjoyable as possible.
Going through this without the idea that my dad was just going to go from this world to another was very difficult. I could not keep from thinking that in a very short amount of time, there would just be no more life left in his fragile body. He would not be able to go fishing or feel the wind on his face or enjoy his favorite dessert (pineapple upside down cake.) It broke my heart every time these kind of thoughts crossed my mind.
My dad was a very different kind of person. He also was a very strong believer in God. He thoroughly believed that he was going to be healed. He thought that God was going to pull through for him. It made me extremely sad to think that he was waiting for something that was not going to happen. It was like when a child is told that they are going to Disneyland only to have their parents tell them they were just joking. It also infuriated me every time that my grandmother would say “All that matters is whether or not his heart is right with God.” How could she think that that was all that mattered? If that is all that matters, doesn’t that make our lives meaningless? This is something that I just cannot accept. All of these people around him were just waiting for him to die so that he could go to heaven and be with God. I wanted him to hang around as long as possible, because the thought of him simply not existing was too painful to consider. I know that was selfish of me because he was in pain, but I just could not cope with any other outcome at the moment.
I live two and a half hours away from my family. I go to school and I also work, so I was not able to stay with my dad all of the time. One Wednesday, I was going to drive to see him after I got off of work. When I was about an hour away, my brother called to tell me that my dad had died. I was absolutely devastated. One of my biggest fears during this time was that I would not be there for him in his last moments, and now this fear had come true. He was gone and I would not have the chance to say goodbye.
I was able to go to the funeral home and see him. Normally, I would not have wanted to, but they had decided to have an open casket funeral and I did not want the first time I saw him to be in front of a group of people. Walking into the sanctuary to see him was one of the loneliest feelings I have ever felt. He was gone. I remember feeling the connection that we shared when he and I would sit alone in his room and talk, that link was now gone.
Next came all of the people telling me that he was in a better place and they were praying for me. I understand that they honestly believe that praying for me will help, so all I could say was thank you. I felt like a hypocrite, thanking them for their meaningless words. I was the one in pain and yet I was expected to thank them.
Coping with this loss has not been easy. I just have to remind myself that death is necessary or life would not be as meaningful. Death has to happen. It is what we do before then that counts. Also, he is out of pain. I did not want to see him go, but I would not want him to lie there in pain, unable to do the things he loved. These are a few of the things that I have to tell myself to make losing him more bearable.
I know that the rest of my family are in extreme pain also, but I cannot help but feel that I lost him more. They believe they will see him again; so, do they honestly feel that they have lost him?
For me, he is gone in all ways aside from a few. He lives on in memories. I have heard many people tell of their favorite memories with him. He was a very memorable person. He had a very strong sense of justice and this showed in a lot of the stories I was told about him. He also lives on in my brothers and me. We all favor him, at least in part. We each hold a piece of him and I hope that I will be able to see him live on through my children someday. My father was by no means a perfect man, but he was a man who found happiness in his life; and isn’t that what we all strive for? If I am able to accomplish that one simple thing, I will consider my life a successful one.