Grief is one of the hardest and most profound emotions humans ever experience. At times, it feels like you are losing your mind and that you will never experience normalcy again….
Humanism provides an excellent framework for coping with grief. It is rational, compassionate and responsible. We accept our grief in the present with the goal of finding a way to live our lives fully despite our loss.
(Intro to “The Humanist Approach to Grief and Grieving – a Rational and Compassionate Approach to Bereavement,” by Jennifer Hancock)
* * *
When someone we love dies, it can intensely undermine our sense of stability and safety. Our lives have been changed forever, generally by forces we had no control over – and it can feel as if nothing’s in our control. It can feel like the ground under our feet, which we once thought was stable, has suddenly gone soft…
This feeling can be especially strong if the person who died was someone we were exceptionally close with and who had a large presence in our everyday lives, like a spouse or a partner or a child….And it can be especially strong if the death was unexpected, like an accident, a sudden illness, or death by violence.
Typically, religion teaches us to cope with these feelings by denying them. It tells us that, no matter how insecure we may feel, in reality we’re completely safe. The people who have died aren’t really dead – we’ll see them again. Their death hasn’t actually changed our lives permanently. In fact, the next time we see them it’ll be in a blissful place of perfect safety. 
The opposite is true for nonreligious and non-spiritual views of death. Nonbelievers don’t deny this experience of instability. So instead we can try to accept it, and find ways to live with it.
The reality is that safety isn’t an either/or thing. We’re never either entirely safe or entirely unsafe. The ground under our feet is never either totally solid or totally soft. Stability and safety are relative: they’re on a spectrum. We’re more safe, or less safe.
Coping with grief and moving on with it doesn’t mean that the ground feels entirely solid again. It means that the ground feels more solid…. We still understand that things can come out of left field – terrible things, and wonderful ones.
( “Secular Grief, and the Loss of Stability and Safety,” The Humanist)
* * *
Department Of Time And Tea
Question: (posed to a British atheist) How do you offer condolences to grieving friends and family?
Answer: By listening. Taking time to talk rather than giving a simple pat phrase.
I offer time and tea.
(Atheists and Grieving, The Guardian, 9-26-13)
As previewed in last week’s blog and in light of the recent tragedy of the death of a dear friends’ daughter, moiself is sharing a few quotes and insights about how we who are religion-free  – whether we identify as Atheists, Freethinkers, Brights, Humanists, Skeptics, etc. – view death and grieving.
First off, I should disavow usage of the royal “we,” as there is no dogma/scriptures to which those who hold a naturalistic world view must subscribe. That said, we have much in common with religious believers in that all human beings grieve their losses, with pain proportional to the magnitude of those losses. 
No one is immune from grief and suffering. The comfort we who are religion-free take in our natural (as opposed to supernatural) worldview is compelling because it requires neither denial of reality nor self-delusion. The comforts of a Humanistic approach to life are grounded in gratitude and wonder at life itself, and of the awareness that life’s cherished moments are made all the more valuable by their impermanence.
(Religious) believers and non-believers have many things in common, and much of what we find comforting during grief is the same – but much of is it seriously different, and even contradictory.
Religious beliefs about death are only comforting if you don’t think about them very carefully — which ultimately makes it not very comforting…. A philosophy that accepts reality is inherently more comforting than a philosophy based on wishful thinking – since it doesn’t involve cognitive dissonance and the unease of self-deception.
I think there are ways to look at death, ways to experience the death of other people and to contemplate our own, that allow us to feel the value of life without denying the finality of death. I can’t make myself believe in things I don’t actually believe — Heaven, or reincarnation, or a greater divine plan for our lives — simply because (we have been told that) believing those things would make death easier to accept. And I don’t think I have to, or that anyone has to. I think there are ways to think about death that are comforting, that give peace and solace, that allow our lives to have meaning and even give us more of that meaning — and that have nothing whatsoever to do with any kind of god, or any kind of afterlife.
( “Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing To Do With God,” Greta Christina)
* * *
At this point I  am firmly convinced that a Humanist approach is the best way to deal with grief. Here is why.
1) It is natural. We don’t deny death…. Why is this beneficial? Because when you don’t deny death…you have to deal with it. Grief is so painful that most people will do just about anything to avoid it. But avoiding grief isn’t the same as dealing with grief. A Humanist chooses to deal with grief directly.
2) We have no one to get mad at…. When you have a naturalist approach, you don’t have someone, like a god, who you can blame for causing it. Why is not having someone to get mad at beneficial? Because, displaced anger is very common with grief and it is again a way to avoid grief. It doesn’t help us come to terms with it. It just funnels our grief into an irrational anger.
3) Grief is a natural human response to overwhelming loss or sadness…. We don’t have to be afraid of it, we just have to allow ourselves to experience it. Why is this better? Because again, people spend so much time trying to avoid grief that they never just allow themselves to experience it and deal with it and move on. Instead, they stay in a sort of grief limbo – too afraid to just experience the emotions so that they can get on with life.
4) Our focus in on the here and now…. There is a tendency among people who believe in an afterlife to put their hopes and dreams into thinking about that after life. After all, when living gets tough, it just seems easier to give up and hope for a better life. The natural approach is better because focusing on and hoping for an afterlife means you are giving up on this one. You aren’t going to try to heal, you are just going to suffer and wait until you die so you can be happy then.
5) We are focused on living. Yeah, we are sad. Possibly overwhelmingly sad…. But again, (we take) a long view of what was happening…. Accepting grief is a necessary first step, but it is only the first step. Then you have to deal with it and learn how to cope with it. Belief in an afterlife hinders that process.
* * *
I don’t believe in life after death; I believe in life before death. I believe that the way we live in the here and now has immense and ultimate value, and that the one provable, demonstrable “afterlife” all of us (no matter our religious or world views) will have is in the way our lives have touched others. We will live on in the legacies we leave to this world – the after-effects of our actions and relationships is what causes our friends and family to remember and honor us long after we are gone.
Three years ago, when MH’s father died from complications of Parkinson’s disease, a friend wondered aloud about how MH’s and my children, Belle and K, were handling this loss. It must be tough for them, she mused, seeing as how this was their first grandparent to die.
“Ah, well, actually…” My stammering reply was interrupted by my friend, who, wide-eyed with shock and embarrassment, sputtered what was to be the first in a series of apologies for her inexcusable (in her view) faux pas, of somehow temporarily forgetting that my beloved father had died seven years earlier:
“It’s just that, the way you always talk about him, it’s as if he’s still here.”
I never held her lapse of memory against her, because it was the impetus for one of the most kind, and ultimately profound, things anyone has ever said to me.
* * *
May we always remember to love ’em while we’ve got ’em;
May the way we talk about our loved ones keep them “still here;”
May we all offer one another time and tea;
…and may the hijinks ensue.
Thanks for stopping by. Au Vendredi!
* * *
 There are exceptions—e.g., many Buddhist teachings focus on the inherent impermanence of existence.
 As is my friend’s family, as well as MH and I and our (young adult) children.
 And despite the claims of religious folk who say they find comfort in the thought of an afterlife, I’ve never met a religious believer who was eager to get there, no matter how much they say they believe in/hope for, say, “the better life with Jesus” which supposedly awaits them. They comfort friends and family with platitudes (“god took your mother home; she’s in a better place…”) even as they fight tooth and nail to keep themselves from that “better” place. From what I have seen and read and heard, when it comes down to it, the “faithful” have little faith in their death/after life beliefs, because if they did, they’d gladly die rather than rushing to medical science to keep them from their alleged god/afterlife. If you really believe that you and your loved ones will have everlasting bliss in heaven together, what are you doing so desperately hanging around on this life on earth? Why are you relying on science to keep you alive (and to prolong the deaths of people you don’t even know and who don’t hold your views, as when religious believers try to stop families who want to remove brain dead relatives from life support) when you get sick?
 The author of the article experienced the death of her child.