The Funeral of a Friend

Michelle would have hated that I called it a funeral. She wanted this to be a celebration of her life. So that’s where we’ll be Sunday night. At her celebration.

It’s not like this was unexpected. Michelle fought back stage 4 cancer once. The second time the disease won. If you’re one for one and you still die, does that mean you’re tied? It reminds me of when I was a teenager in the 80’s. We had MAD back then. Mutually Assured Destruction. Yep. Cold War Era.

How do people like Hitchins, Dawkins and Meyers handle death when it hits close to home like this? This is my first death as an atheist. It doesn’t make me long for an afterlife. I’m not seeking shelter in dogma. If anything I am grieving for a young woman who won’t get to have her mother at her wedding or ask about what to do with a colicky baby or let her mother bounce her grandchild on her knee. Her youngest daughter is only 18. What do you do with something like that?

I’ve told her repeatedly that if she needs anything at all, I’m here for her. I guess that’s all I can do.

Some of the best advice I’ve ever seen on coping with the death of a loved one was from, of all places, a web comic called Venus Envy by Erin Lindsey (http://www.venusenvycomic.com/). Zoe just had her first experience with death when her dog Bergamot (Bergie to his friends) was hit by a car. It devastated her.

As he walked her home, her friend Larsen told her “It’s okay to be sad. But they’re not really gone. The most important parts of them stay with you. The best of what they were will stay with you if you care enough. Just think about them a little each day. What they did for you. What you did for them. One day you’ll realize you’re not deliberately taking that time to think about them. That’s when they’re a part of you forever.”

I love that advice because it doesn’t rely on something mystical. Simply take time to remember them. That’s how people truly live on after death. In our memories and with our love and stories.

Death Of An Atheist

Here’s a little bonus entry for you. I was driving home this morning after a lovely bit of *facepalm* brought to you by hubby Ken. He left this morning for his new job in Atlanta and he left his backpack with his laptop sitting in the living room. So I drove part way to meet him.

I’ve gotten to the point in my life where I don’t drive with the radio on. It’s too distracting. Driving is the time that I get to myself to ponder the things that randomly pop into my head.

This morning, for instance, I was pondering the proper protocol for an atheist’s funeral.

No, no one close to me has died. I just think on the odd topic now and again.

It occurred to me that you can’t simply give the grieving family the usual “s/he’s in a better place” platitudes. Atheists don’t believe in any divine being nor an afterlife. It’s literally One Life To Live: The Home Game.

That leaves the awkward (as if funerals weren’t awkward enough) comments like “S/he had a helluva run, eh?” or the overdone, oft used “I’m sorry for your loss”. How many times can the family hear that second one without getting sick of it?

I’m a rather odd bird. When things like this come up I am reminded of John Cleese giving the eulogy of Graham Chapman. John walked out, sat on the coffin and proceeded to deliver this speech: (http://www.geocities.com/fang_club/chapman_memorial.html) “He is an ex-Chapman.”, he concludes.

James “The Amazing” Randi, said in an interview in SF Magazine recently that he doesn’t want a big memorial. He just wants to be cremated and his ashes blown in Uri Gellar’s eyes.

My hero.

Even when I was a True Believer I felt that we don’t mourn for the person who is gone. We mourn for ourselves because we will miss the one who died. Mourning is an act of self-indulgence. We cry and our heart breaks because we know that we will never see that person again and our life is  a little more diminished for not having that person in it.

So I ponder how to deal with the death of an atheist. What are the right things to say? Seriously, the whole ‘dirt nap’ saying doesn’t play well with others at a funeral. Neither does the Kevorkian plug-n-play euphemism.

I would love to be able to say something comforting that doesn’t sound like a platitude that might make the griever smile even just a little bit. And “I’m sorry to hear about his/her demotion to plant fertilizer” is just NOT gonna cut it.

Okay, okay, I know this post has degraded into really dark humor. All kidding aside, I wonder, is it appropriate to bring up fond memories you have of the deceased? Does that help or hurt? One would think it would help, but I really don’t know.  It’s obvious that even at my age my experiences with death are pretty theoretical.