My 83-year-old grandmother is dying. The news came unexpectedly. She hasn’t been ill, she hasn’t been slowing down, she was fairly healthy and active for her age. Last week, she went to visit my uncle down south. While she was there, she took a tumble down the stairs and had a brain haemorrhage. The doctors have said that she won’t survive.
There’s nothing that can be done now apart from making her comfortable until she finally slips away. I’m not in a position where I can be there to say goodbye, and I’m not really sure what I would say if I were.
It’s not a pleasant thing to be faced with. No matter what your views on death are, it’s difficult.
Some people believe that death is not the end, and that people will continue on in one form or another. Admittedly, the idea that our loved ones are not truly gone is appealing, and it brings some measure of comfort to those who believe in it. I would dearly love to believe that this isn’t the end for her. I would love to believe that she is going somewhere happy and peaceful and that we’ll meet up again someday. However, I don’t believe in an afterlife and I cannot force myself to believe in one even for the sake of finding solace about my grandmother’s death.
I’ve heard some religious people argue that without the hope of an afterlife, atheists’ lives must feel pointless and joyless. While I can’t say that my current situation is a picnic, and I have had loved ones die before and most likely will again, my life isn’t defined by death.
Life is a mixed bag; we have good times and bad times. We form bonds with people around us, we spend time with them creating new memories, and we try to have as many positive experiences and as few negative experiences as possible. The fact that someday it will come to an end is no reason not to share this time with them and enjoy it now.
The religious will often talk about life having meaning and purpose as though it’s this mysterious gift bestowed upon us by an external being. It isn’t. The meaning and purpose we have in our lives are decided by ourselves. For me, the time I spend with loved ones is a big part of that purpose.
For a while, I’m going to feel pretty shit about the whole thing. In the long-term, I’m going to have a sense of loss and be aware of the empty space in my life that she used to occupy. But I’ll continue to live, I’ll continue to spend time with the people I care about, I’ll continue to have happy times as well as sad, and I’ll try to fill my life in the same way that I did before.
My grandmother’s life is valuable. It’s valuable to her and everyone who loves her. All the time I spent with her is precious and I have many happy memories of it. It was a privilege for me to know her and to have that time with her. As I continue to live my life, I will carry those memories with me. The impact we make on other people’s lives and its continued influence on them is the closest thing we have to an afterlife.