What Grief Means to Me as an Atheist, by Dan Marshall

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Guest post by Dan Marshall, excerpted from his original article, posted at IAmDanMarshall.com.

When discussing the different paths which lead to non-belief it’s interesting to see how much variation there can be, and what so many of us have in common. One thing I have in common with many atheists is that I used to be a christian. Another thing I share with a number of people is that I’ve lost loved ones. My story is not unique in several ways, but my own journey has been strongly tied to death and loss–because they are immutable aspects of life–and I assert that my search to find realistic and reasonable ways to cope with loss led me to my current worldview, and that I am a better person for it.

One of the most difficult things with which to come to terms was relinquishing the idea that I (my soul, anyway) would live forever. By extension, I had to let go of the hope of seeing those I’d lost and spending eternity with them in paradise. I struggled with this for some time. These and other thoughts brought me to despair. It was a difficult period because there was still a part of me that desired the ability to believe these things, but there was no part of me able to implement those beliefs in any meaningful way. I no longer believed, and no amount of prayer or soul-seeking could change that. It forced me to come to terms with my thoughts on death and loss, and what it really meant to grieve for a time and then move on without the benefit of consoling myself with the promise of a reunion in an afterlife.

Any memorial service that includes a mustachioed pirate prince is a damn good one.

Any memorial service that includes a mustachioed pirate prince is a damn good one.

Recently a good friend of mine passed away. He had spent the last decade here in Portland, but was originally from South Carolina. His family held a memorial there, which left many of us with no way to mourn the loss of this wonderful person. The night he died I spoke on the phone with people all over the world–Qatar, England, Australia, and other countries–who counted Greg as a friend. As I spoke with those who loved him, I realized they, too, would need to mourn and grieve for their loss.

For me, grieving has always been a social process. I seek out others with whom to share stories and hugs. When my fiancée passed away in 2011, my way of coping was to spend the next day calling her friends and loved ones to let them know what had happened. There were so many who cared for her, and a Facebook message or email just seemed so impersonal, even cruel. It was one of the more difficult things I’ve ever done, but I will never forget the kind words and memories shared that day. I remember wishing at the time that I could do it in person, that I could wrap my arms around them and sob with them, that I could look them in the eyes and tell them that eventually things would be all right.

Courtney reads an unacceptably filthy limerick.

Courtney reads an unacceptably filthy limerick.

I did something similar when Greg died last week. I was on the phone with people I had never met or even seen, laughing and crying as we shared stories of our mutual friend. We were brought together by our shared affection and loss. Many of the friends Greg had were from the internet. He was a member of an organization that finds people who post animal torture videos online and turns them over to the authorities, and many of the people who knew and loved him were met through that group. As I talked to these people, I found myself wishing I could speak to them face to face or that we could all get together in a room and share stories of our friend.

We live in an age of unprecedented connectedness. The virtual world of the internet allows us to meet in real-time with people all over the globe, so we decided to do just that. The organization Free Geek was kind enough to allow the use of its facilities, and we had a virtual memorial there on Saturday, July 27. With a combination of a chat room and live-streaming video (special thanks to Steven Olsen for helping me figure out how to live-stream a Google Hangout), people from all over the world gathered and shared stories of our friend, read dirty limericks (he requested this before he died), listened to Greg’s favorite songs, and generally had a great time.

The chat room on the big screen.

The chat room on the big screen.

We did not need a church and a minister or even a funeral home and an officiant, all we needed was technology and the shared love of a dearly missed friend. I’ve been to a number of funerals and wakes. As far as memorials go, this one was the most fun I’ve ever had. I want something similar when I die, an event that brings people together regardless of their location and is as geeky as possible. While there’s a part of me that wishes I could believe I’ll see my friend again someday, I am moved by how many people thought him an integral part of their lives and honored to be able to put together a memorial that paid tribute to his memory, personality, and life.

Our remembrance and celebration of one another is the closest we will ever get to immortality. The chat transcript and video from Greg Traylor’s memorial were saved and are available at http://greg.overtgeek.com.

Three attended Greg’s memorial service in real life. Four if you count Darren from Free Geek, who would come in when he could.

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Dan Marshall is an author, blogger, and geek living in Portland, OR. He has written two books, a dystopian fiction novel and an updated version of the Jefferson bible written in modern English. For more information, visit IAmDanMarshall.com.

 

About the Author:

Melanie is a freelance editor and writer living in a small town outside Minneapolis with her husband, two kids, dog, and two cats. When not making fun of bad charts or running the Uncensorship Project, she spends her time wrangling commas, making colon jokes, and putting out random dumpster fires. You can find her on Twitter as @MelMall, on Facebook, and on Instagram.

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