Coping with the death of a parent

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Flamenca's picture
Coping with the death of a parent

A brain tumor killed my dad last December, after months of agonizing deterioration, and now I feel strong enough to share with you some aspects of my experience.

My mother decided that we would not tell him the truth, so he had a reason to fight until the end. We respected her wishes, but my opinion is that we should have the right to know we are going to end this amazing, and only, life of ours, and be given the chance to finish unsolved issues, or spend our last moments however we please.

I do not know if it has something to do with my atheist view, but I was the only one in my closest family with the feet on the ground during the whole process, and when the day came, I had the clearest mind to make the arrangements that an event like this requires, which I found kind of surprising, given that I do not think there is an afterlife and I am pretty sure that we lost him forever. I found this kind of intriguing. Should not it be the opposite? I have no holy text to turn to and empty words of consolation like “he will be on a better place” do not work for me, but even so, I seemed to be the most balanced one.

And related to this last idea, something that @Apost and me commented on sometimes… Why is that my religious relatives, RCC ones especially, were so devastated about the idea of him dying? Should not they be thrilled thinking that he will be with their god? Should not it serve as a consolation believing that one day they will be in a paradise forever, once he left, at last, this vale of tears? After all, a last minute repentance guarantees your ticket to heaven.

One positive occurrence is that, despite the fact that each one of us (parents and siblings) profess a different religious belief, or in my case, lack of it, we managed to make a deal with the funeral and about the remainings so that we all ended more or less content. It is very important in these moments to stay together and reach agreements.

In the past, in this forum, some people posted about the death of a parent, and I remember writing that I did not know what to say to those who just lost someone very dear to them. Once a fellow atheist scolded us because, they say, it was about time we heathens learnt how to do it. This person was right, but even now, I don’t have a magic formula for people in this situation. All I can say, from my experience, is that, both at the funeral, or the days after his death, all I wanted was a hug and a “I’m sorry”, when I ran into someone who knew him and I hated when people asked me about the specifics of his last moments, that morbid curiosity we humans suffer from.

I would really appreciate your insight on these matters, especially if you have experienced the death of a very loved one, regardless if you are an atheist or a believer.



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comoke1024's picture
I'm very sorry to hear about

I'm very sorry to hear about your father. And I am glad you are doing well enough to share your experience.

I'm an atheist myself, but I think a lot of Christians would be upset at their own loss. They may take comfort in believing that a loved one is in a better place, but they are probably worrying more about how they will have to continue their life without someone who is important to them. I know when I lost my grandfather, I was devastated thinking that I would never see him again and thinking about all the lost opportunities to talk to him.

If I could, I would offer you a hug, but all I can offer through the forum is to sincerely say that I am sorry for your loss and that I am glad you are doing better.

terraphon's picture


First, allow me to express my condolences. While I know that condolences don't mean much, you have mine, regardless.

Second, I will say that I don't think it was right for your family to keep this information from your father. I agree with you, wholeheartedly, that he had a right to know so that he could finish any unfinished business he had, while he still could. It's a shame that others made such a poor decision on his behalf.

And lastly, I want to try to address the question of the feelings but I will do so without many words because I am not an expert in the human psyche or how we deal with grief. All I can offer is a hypothesis for which there is no evidence I can present:

I suppose it is possible that your atheist beliefs preclude the "hope" that many have. That hope that they will meet their loved one again "on the other side". I feel like that hope is harmful because it stops us from really being able to deal with those feelings rationally...It drags it out and amplifies it.

Without that hope, the situation is what it is. Your father's life has ended. He isn't suffering anymore. You will miss him. That's where it ends and there is no need for some of the "stages of grief" like bargaining. A sad thing happened and you have accepted that at face value, processed it and moved on.

It's also entirely possible that you have just had to "harden up" to deal with the details and will get hit with it all, later. I think if that is the case, though, the blow will be lessened by the erosion of time.

Again, a hypothesis for which I have no evidence and for that fact, I apologize. It's what makes sense to me, though, having been in your situation as well.

Again, my condolences and hopes for brighter days ahead.

dogalmighty's picture
I do not think that religious

I do not think that religious people believe in life after death completely...that may be the reason why religious people are so distraught during someone's death. In their minds, they realize that there is no way to really know beforehand if death is final...thus causing angst and fear, and the reaction you saw in your family. Just a real way to test for that. I was an atheist, when my parents died...I cried because I missed them, combined with the things I never got to tell them. But, I did realize that was the end, and acted accordingly by resolving all the residue of lives lived well in our world.

comoke1024's picture


I agree about religious after-death beliefs. I think they sort of, kind of believe it, but not nearly to the extent they show in debates or religious discussions. If they did, there would be no fear of death among theists.

fiat124's picture
My parents died 15 years ago.

My parents died 15 years ago. My mother and father were not bad parents. They were not so good either. I never resented them or judged them for their inadequate skills as parent.. I don't think I loved them and didn't dislike them. They were OK. They died in their 80.s. I cried when my cat bobo and then punkin died. I cry when I watch a sad film.. I cry about the human condition. Poverty or babies starving in Africa. . I am the opposite of Donald Trump and the republican party. I have empathy I cry all the time. I don't mean all the time like I go around crying. I am just sensitive and things make me sad. I am only trying to mention all these things I-because not grieving your parents does not make you a bad person. It is Ok to not hate your parents and still care about them. I am just saying

David Killens's picture
I wish to express my sincere

I wish to express my sincere condolences Flamenca. The loss of someone that important and close to you is very painful.

My mother passed away this last August, and my dearest and closest friend a week before Christmas.

You touched on a few interesting points, the first I will label "lack of respect". Although my mother's mind was sharp as a tack to the very end, the intrusion into my mother's ability (by my siblings) to make decisions for herself was obvious to see. Personally, I believe that theism also includes this "belief" that someone is always looking after you. I was the opposite, I always advocated whatever my mother decided. She was independent through her entire life, I intended that she retain that as long as possible.

I discovered that this time was less painful. The difference was by now I had fully embraced atheism and discarded the fluffy sky fairy crap. Of course, the loss of someone that close is going to be painful. But somehow I navigated the high waves with ease. One thing that I practice is that since we won't be around forever, take the time NOW to show your love and appreciation. Because we atheists know we won't meet again. So although I am very aware of my mistakes and shortcomings, I carried no regret. I tried my best, I never wavered, and all of my decisions and actions were purely for her benefit.

The end of my mother's life was also the end of our relationship. There was no going back, there were no regrets, just an overwhelming sense of loss for someone who meant so much to me.

Because I am an atheist, I was much better equipped to deal with death and this great loss. I was able to get through it without going full zombie, and I was able to let go just as quickly.

CyberLN's picture
Flamenca, this may sound odd.

Flamenca, this may sound odd. I’m so very sorry for your loss but will admit that I’m envious that you get to grieve the loss of your father. It means you had a relationship with him worth such profound emotion. That will never go away. You get to wrap your arms around those memories and moments of him when ever you want and for ever. How lovely is that?
Holding you...

Flamenca's picture
Thank you, y'all, for your

Thank you, y'all, for your thoughtful answers.

@Skeptical Kevin, I accept gladly your virtual hug.

@Terraphon, your hypothesis, though unsupported, makes complete sense to me: "your atheist beliefs preclude the "hope" that many have. That hope that they will meet their loved one again "on the other side". I feel like that hope is harmful because it stops us from really being able to deal with those feelings rationally...It drags it out and amplifies it." It could probably be it. Irrational ideas on believers actually seem to cause the opposite effect on them.

@doG, but if they are pretending to believe, shouldn't they have the same reaction as atheists?

@Fiat, most of us all have mixed feelings with the way we were raised, that's natural. In most cases, parenting is accumulated knowledge so usually parents are better at their task than their parents were to them... At least that's my impression. And I loved and love my dad, despite the fact that he made many mistakes and our relationship wasn't perfect. I agree that not grieving your parents doesn't make you a bad person or an unempathetic one. Each person is entitled to deal with loss in whatever way it works for us, since we are the ones who survive and must keep on living.

@David Killens. I'm very sorry you had to struggle yourself with death recently as well. As usual,it's a pleasure to read your opinion, and I agree with everything you say. I found interesting that you share the feeling of having "navigated the high waves with ease". As I said, usually believers are the ones who think they have the best tools when it comes to grieving, and some of the opinions I'm reading, and particularly yours, are ensuring what I thought, which is precisely the opposite.

@CyberLN, I came back to my childhood home after twenty years of living on my own (although I never lived very far away from them really), so I had the chance to be very close during his last months, what made me get closer to him. We were very similar in many aspects, and I owe to him becoming a skeptic, the interest for Science, my love for reading and writing and the importance of learning another languages. So we could say that thanks to him, I am an Atheist Republican, hehe. I am doing better, but I still dream about him almost every night...

(edited to fix typos)

Randomhero1982's picture
That's bloody awful, I'm so

That's bloody awful, I'm so sorry for your loss Flamenca!

I'm not sure what I could possibly add or say really... i suppose i can share that i experienced similar 2 years ago with my father in law.
He had aggressive metastatic cancers of the lungs, brain and spine... he only lasted 3 months.

It was inspiring though because he never once accepted his fate, nor did he ever discuss his impending death.
It did make arranging things tricky, but as an observer it was remarkable how he never quit.

I suppose it added to my personal view of I know death is inevitable and there is nothing I can do about it, so I accepted it a very long time ago.

I battled depression for some time once I accepted the inevitable but came out of it with a lust for life and for the past 10 years or so Ive tried to make every minute count.

Flamenca's picture
@Randomhero, hello, there. I

@Randomhero, hello, there. I love your new picture. Thank you. For what you say, your father in-law knew he was most likely going to die, but he didn't give up, which is great, that's why I found disturbing about my mom's choice. It should have been up to my dad whether he wanted to fight or not.

At certain times, I have also lost interest in living, because sometimes life hits hard. But I think being an atheist encourages the will to survive, given how conscious we are that this is it.

Randomhero1982's picture
@Flamenca, You are very

@Flamenca, You are very welcome and I'm glad you like my profile picture... I try to change them now and then, whilst keeping some underhand humour..

Yes, I completely see your point... its bizarre and morally wrong in my opinion to not give a person the full facts nor a choice in the matter.

My father in law literally addressed the situation one when he had roughly a week to live after his daughter nagged him and he literally said, "look I don't care, do what you want".

That was it, and I know it made things difficult but I was really proud of the fighting spirit he displayed.

Hopefully in time you will learn to adapt, after all it's what evolved species do best... you'll never forget him and you never should.
But at least you know hes kinda still about... after all, your 50% him lol.

I completely agree in regards to atheism helping, a theist is more likely to look forward to heaven/paradise... but not believing in that garbage makes me have a profound love for this life.

I just focus genuinely one making people laugh, especially my kids.

Flamenca's picture
@Random, in fact I can say

@Random, in fact I can say that laughter helped a lot, and still does. In my family, sense of humor is an important part of who we are, and even my dad was still making jokes a couple of weeks before he died. This may seem inappropriate, but some of the closest family spent most of the night at the funeral home, with my dad's corpse there, and we were sharing funny memories and laughing non-stop. I That's the better way of alleviate stress in a terrible situation like this and it does make life much better in any situation.

Cognostic's picture
Flamenca: It's great to see

Flamenca: It's great to see you back and I hope you find some of the support and answers you need from friends on the site.

Like you, I would prefer knowing that I was going to die. I am perfectly okay with it and knowing would allow me to finish anything I thought might need finishing - getting things in order, saying things that needed saying, etc... So, on this we are in agreement and like you, I think it may have something to do with my Atheism and simple acceptance of death as a natural part of life.

The grief experienced by the religious has always been a mystery to me. Hasn't the loved one gone on to a better place? I always liked the funerals in New Orleans. I heard that they dance and celebrate in a party like atmosphere. (I don't know this to be true.) I think there are a couple of reasons death has such an emotional impact. 1. In modern society we are sheltered from the reality of death. We no longer live on farms where we butcher animals or witness their deaths. Our medical facilities are amazing and we no longer experience deaths from the flu or simple childhood diseases. Finally, death is removed from out families because we have nursing homes and hospitals where people die in institutionalized settings. Being removed from the reality of death makes its appearance more shocking. 2. When people die, part of the living dies with them. The physical relationship also dies. The physical relation passes into a memory. (A loving and important memory, but a memory none the less.) That physical, interactive relationship is over. A wife is no longer a wife, children no longer have daddies. This is a traumatic life change whether or not you are Atheist IMO. Something about the living is changed by the death of a loved one.

" It is very important in these moments to stay together and reach agreements." I could not agree more. Support systems, religious or not, are essential to helping us overcome the grief process (DABDA - Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. "Kubler Ross" ) It's excellent that you found support.

I think you do have a magic formula. "Time and Acceptance." To me memory is a funny thing as it seems helps us along this path. We remember our relationship. We remember the good times. We remember the smiles. And in doing so, we continue to feel warm and loved. I don't think that never changes.

Welcome Back.... I'll go and read some of the other posts now.

Flamenca's picture
@Cognostic, it is wonderful

@Cognostic, it is wonderful to read you again too. You're right about the funerals in New Orleans. I found out about them in the wonderful HBO series "Treme" and here's a short video of one in real life:, They are awesome.

I love and share your considerations about how death has been erased from our daily lives, and how this impacts on the way we face death, since it strikes us harder thanks to that.

I appreciate the link and yes, I am very lucky to count on the best partner I could ask for and amazing friends who listened to me and supported me during this whole time. And also his death made me improve my relationship with my siblings, and spend much more time with them.

Sky Pilot's picture
As adults of varying ages we

As adults of varying ages we have all seen countless people we have known and loved die. Sometimes their deaths may have been peaceful and expected. Othertimes their deaths might have been violent and unexpected. The how and why could have a lot of influence on how we react to their deaths.

You don't have to be a theist or believe in the Bible to appreciate some biblical advice about coping with death because it is applicable to everyone. Typical examples =

Sirach 30:21-23 (CEB) =

Sirach 41:1-4 (CEB) =

Sirach 38:16-23 (CEB) =

Ecclesiastes 9:5-6 (ERV) =

Ecclesiastes 2:17-19 (ERV) =

As a practical matter I updated my obituary and beneficiaries on my life insurance policies. I have made plans to be cremated. If my wife dies before I do then I will have to update my will and find an executor for my estate. That is a complex problem depending on where you live.

Remember, we are all lucky if we make it through the day and that there is no guarantee that we will see tomorrow. Personally I don't think I'm afraid of dying, I just don't want it to take all day.

As it says in Ecclesiastes 8:15 (VOICE) = And so I heartily recommended that you pursue joy, for the best a person can do under the sun is to enjoy life. Eat, drink, and be happy. If this is your attitude, joy will carry you through the toil every day that God gives you under the sun.

Flamenca's picture
@Diotrephes, the passages you

@Diotrephes, the passages you copied of Eccleasiastes are bizarre, given that we are talking about the Bible. One would say that the teachings belong to a secular point of view, some sort of "Carpe diem", which embraces the idea of enjoying this life, since it's the only one you get.

Sky Pilot's picture


The more secular books of the Bible contain some tibits of advice that could apply to most people in most circumstances. For instance, the best advice you can ever teach children is Proverbs 1:10-19. They don't have to know anything else in the Bible but they should know that.

The book of Sirach chapters 3-42 (CEB) are mostly secular and contain some eternal useful advice on a variety of topics, from money mangement to interpersonal relations. If you've never read it here is the link = The later chapters summarize the main OT biblical characters.

Aposteriori unum's picture
Why not just tell them : "

Why not just tell them : " don't hang out with trouble makers and don't give in to peer pressure "? And skip the bible stuff altogether? I wouldn't want my children reading that book.

Old man shouts at clouds's picture
@ Apost

@ Apost

HeeeeEEEEEEEE's BaaaaaaAAAAACK!!!!!

Welcome home dude! * Collapses into happy snivelling tearful heap*

Aposteriori unum's picture
Old Man, just saying...

Old Man, just saying...

The bible is good for two things: proving Christians wrong when they they say they live by it and rolling cigarettes when you are out of rolling papers.

Sky Pilot's picture
Aposteriori Unum,

Aposteriori Unum,

"Why not just tell them"

Sure, you can tell them but how many parents actually take the time to do that? You can also tell them about all of the other kids who get into serious trouble everyday and show them the jail and prison that that they will end up in for their bad behavior. You can also have them pick out their casket and the plot in the cemetery. But if you do none of that then don't whine when they end up in trouble or dead.

algebe's picture
Hello Flamenca.

Hello Flamenca.

I'm very sorry for your loss. But I think it was good that you spent time at the funeral home reminiscing and laughing. That kind of party is known as a "wake" in English. It's common in Ireland and also in Japan. We need to be more aware of death as a natural process. The religidiots have polluted the experience with solemnity and incense.

My mother died just over a year ago, but her mind died a few years before that. I found it hard to grieve her passing, because my overwhelming emotion was relief. These times are always complicated and confusing, however old we get. The only real consolation is that death is the end of all pain.

Flamenca's picture
Algebe! It's nice reading you

Algebe! It's nice reading you. I didn't know that idea of the "wake" and I would recommend it to anyone. Laughter was kind of liberating.

I felt kind of a relief as well, although it was a much shorter period of that you had to deal with your mother, because the tumor prevented him from doing for months what he liked the most: reading, writing and talking.

Thank you for your kindness.

Old man shouts at clouds's picture
Hi Flamenca

Hi Flamenca

First we all miss you. Second have a huge virtual hugggggggggggggg. I wish I had words to comfort you, but another hug will have to suffice...*HUGGGGGG*

Take care, loving wishes.

Tin-Man's picture
Hey there, Flame. Good to see

Hey there, Flame. Good to see you out here again. When my Mom died a couple of years ago, I noticed all the "religious" kin folks in my family were pretty much beside themselves. Being the oldest of three, it pretty much came to me to make the final decision to take my Mom off of life support due to the circumstances of her death. Yes, my Dad was there, but too grief stricken to make any decisions. Therefore, it was left up to me to give the doctor the final "okay" for stopping life support. As it was, my Mom was in pretty much constant pain for many of her final years due to various medical conditions. And when she finally died, I had the peace of mind in knowing that she was no longer in pain. I am totally at ease with knowing I will never see her again. And it is because of her that I am the man I am today, despite her religious faith/beliefs. Therefore, for me, the best way for me to honor her is to continue to be the man she always wanted me to be, even though I do not need that Christian faith to be that man. And in my own personal opinion, that actually makes me a better person than she could have imagined. Oddly enough, I do not know yet that I have actually truly mourned her death. Yes, I do miss her at times. However, she is always with me in some shape or form, and I try to hold true to the good things she taught me in life. Therefore, in some strange way, she is still alive in me, and - as a result - I really have no reason to mourn. Rather odd, I know, but that is the way I see it. Glad to hear you are doing well. You know we are always here if you need us..... *Big Hug*...

Flamenca's picture
@Old Man and @Tin-Man, I love

@Old Man and @Tin-Man, I love you, guys.

@Tin-Man, a situation like that must be terrible. Even when you know you are making the right choice, I wouldn't want to be in your shoes back then.

"Therefore, for me, the best way for me to honor her is to continue to be the man she always wanted me to be, even though I do not need that Christian faith to be that man. And in my own personal opinion, that actually makes me a better person than she could have imagined."

I also think that one can be even a better person without faith. For what I know about you, in and out of the forum, I am sure she would be more than proud to have a son like you.

And yes, my father will always be part of me and he will be alive as long as those who loved him are still alive.

I am doing better than expected. Thank you for sharing your experience.

David Killens's picture
" I hated when people asked

" I hated when people asked me about the specifics of his last moments, that morbid curiosity we humans suffer from."

One of my personal sayings is "people like to feel good about feeling bad". I can relate a tale of suffering and drama (puppy down a well) and any listeners will hang onto every word that comes out of my mouth.

At times this can appear to be distressing, but it is part of our survival mechanism built into us. As animals, we MUST have a heightened awareness and knowledge of any potential threats. You discuss medically how one dies, they want to know because their do not want the same thing happening to them.

Prey animals must use all resources to survive, and that includes knowledge and communication.

Flamenca's picture
@David Killens, that's a very

@David Killens, that's a very interesting idea and it makes evolutionary sense: We enjoy bad news to heighten awareness of potential threats...

Fallen's picture
@Flamenca - Sorry to hear

@Flamenca - Sorry to hear about what happened, my condolences.

What I find interesting is how you were the more grounded one in all of this. I think it highlights the fact that Christian religion is based on a fear of dying; whether they admit it or not. The underlying fear of death amplifies the willingness to accept blindly things that are not falsifiable. The fear makes people look for coincidences to justify their belief - to see patterns where there are none. In fact, I would go as far as saying that God is not 'love' but a manifestation of fear.

All the best to you.

Flamenca's picture
I appreciate your post,

I appreciate your post, @Fallen. I was the more grounded... and I am the youngest of the family.

And you are completely right: not just Christianity, but most religions appeal to our innate fear of dying and they use it to blackmail people: If you don't show true remorse for the actions that are considered immoral and submit to our particular deity (which means accepting the rules the ones on top of the hierarchy of that specific cult dictate), you will suffer for eternity. What a very tricky way of loving us.


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