How Do I Comfort A Grieving Atheist (aka My Husband)?

My husband's grandma passed away early this morning. She died peacefully while unconscious at the hospital. My husband and his mother decided to not have her revived on account of her age and the overwhelming health problems that had been plaguing her for several years now. Also, they were honoring a wish of hers.

My husband is absolutely torn apart. His grandma lived with him and his mom for most of his childhood. My husband also happens to be an Atheist. 

I've tried all day to say things that might comfort him, but it seems to be doing more harm than help. He seems to resent the fact that I have beliefs that make death seem like nothing more than a graduation. He thinks that I don't know how he feels.

I do know how he feels, but it's not the way that feel. I see death as opportunity for family to come together to celebrate the deceased and all that they did for us. I watched the sweet old woman die and it didn't phase me--I was happy that she was finally at peace. 

But my husband doesn't see things this way. The way he sees it just that when you die, that's it... No afterlife, no reincarnation, no haunting and no Heaven. I don't know how to be a good wife who can comfort him while he's so distraught. I can cook for him, I can heal infected cuts, I heal rashes and coughs and colds and I can do other little things that wives do make their husbands happy and satisfied. When he lost his job, I made him feel better about that, but this is one where I need a little help. 

I can tell he thinks that I'm cold or that I'm trying to force my spiritual beliefs on him. It's true that I'm a 'mind over matter' person, I haven't once implied that he needs to 'deal with it' or 'get on with things'. 

I asked him if he wants me to give him some space for a few days or if there was someone in particular that he wanted to hang out with for a few days, but he didn't seem interested in any of those suggestions.

What do I do here? 

Ugh... Thoughts and insight please...

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Do you know what he believes??  This may be the first time he has had his spiritual "World View" seriously tested.  Instead of talking about how you feel or what you believe or anything at all to do with any religion or structured belief ask him what he thinks happens, how he feels and what he would want to happen.  Remind him that his grandmother was a good person and get him to talk about her life and his experiences with her.  Do not mention religion or spirituality, let him bring that up on his own.  When he does just ask him what he would want for her.

One of the pioneers in psychology Carl Gustave Jung did some experiments with cats.  He put them in an environment before they could ope their eyes as kittens where they had no contact with other cats.  These cats grew up without any contact with any other living being.  Yet, in their sleep they desplayed behavior of playing with other cats or predatory behavior.

Jung accredited it to "Collective Unconsciousness", or a universal consciousness we are all tapped into.  Another explanation is; memories from past lives.  If we have past lives, then we can expect future lives.

So; this might help him.  Just think, in the young boy or girl he sees about ten years from now, may be his Grandmother.  

I had the privilege of seeing both my parents die, I was with them right up to the end and at least for my Dad, something really wonderful happened.

Perhaps just being available in such a way that when he is ready you can be there to share in how he experiences the loss and assist in the healing process ? I believe that it is very difficult to see a loved one in pain, and I think it is completely natural to want to say and do things that will make them whole again. The process of death can be a complicated thing for the living as the grief involved, how we are going to deal with the loss, and now having to face the huge change in our lives; especially if it has taken years to reach this point. Can create a huge emotional toll.  

When my sister died, her husband was an an Atheist, it was very hard for him. He kept saying that's it, it's over, I will never see her again. I felt horrible for him. 

He was working his way threw his second bottle of scotch when I simply asked him about the day he met my sister. I was so young, I didn't remember him joining the family, he was just always there and he laughed at that and started talking. Telling me all his memories of her. Some where in the middle of the night I asked when you talk about her, do you see her in your mind and he stopped and said yes. Then told me he could still hear her, smell her, and started to cry again. I simply said, so I guess it isn't over and you will see her again, every time you think of her. Every time you do something she taught you, every time you look at your children, she will be there huh. He smiled at me and gave me a hug, very odd for him. He is a very don't touch me kind of person. He stopped drinking and went to sleep. He was in a much better frame of mind the next day and whenever he was in a group of people and they would start with I am so sorry for you lost, I would bring up a time they were all together and the memories started. I stayed with him for a week after everyone left, to help get her things in order and he thanked me repeatedly for showing him, she wasn't gone, as long as he remembered her.

Thats a very good question. Atheists don't believe in an after life of any sort, but I think Kix has it on the money.I lost both my parents in the past four years and although I believe in an after life, much in the way of comfort I feel is through my memories, photos, and my dreams(i personally believe they are really visiting me ) 

Sometimes you don't have to say anything. Just be there for him and let him come to you. Sit with him on the couch, hold his hand, give him an extra long hug, rub his back, etc. Sometimes, simply just being there is enough for some people. There are times when I've been upset, and the only thing I've wanted is to just sit by my husband on the couch and lay my head on his shoulder.

Very sorry for his loss........HUG him a lot!!

Thanks everyone. This has all been very helpful. He is doing much better this morning and is acting more normal. 

I've decided to just leave him alone while he's hiding in the bedroom or when he's laying across the couch in a spell of sorrow. I only talk to him about things if he comes to me. Also, I've decided that I'm going to try keeping him engaged in his normal activities as much as possible. 

I did a little digging and found an Atheist/Agnostic Freethinkers group that has meet-up schedule in our home city. I'm going to try to get him to go so he can meet other people to whom he can relate. 

Hang in there! We are here to talk,too,if you need anyone to chat with......Grieving is a powerful emotion and affects us all different.Take care to you both.

I was an atheist for many years. Of course, every atheist is different. But, when someone close to me died ... there was nothing WORSE than having a believer tell me about an afterlife or some other post death belief of theirs. Now is definitely not the time to share your beliefs or ideas of where his grandmother's soul may be (or whatever other version there is). 

Personally, I wouldn't mention anything about spirit, afterlife, soul, continuing on after physical death, etc. I would just be there for him as secular support, so to speak. Just allow him to process the grief in his own way. He's going to be devastated for awhile, and this is normal. It's OK, even good, to go through the grief. I would just try to make things easier for him around the house, cook some favorite meals, etc. If he wants to talk - listen. But, now is just not the time to share what you believe. Again, all atheists are different. But, like I said, when I was an atheist, and lost someone close, hearing other people describe what they thought happened to MY family member drove me nuts. Also, I found it pretty disrespectful that they could not keep their views to themselves even though I JUST lost someone close to me. I needed understanding, not pithy sayings about the afterlife. Not saying the afterlife is pithy ... but, at the time, that is what I thought. 

Another update:

My husband is doing much better. I think being left totally alone for most of the day did him some good. My mom floated me some money and suggested that we get out of the house for lunch. When I asked Mark if he wanted to go out for lunch, he actually was really eager to go. 

At lunch, he was very talkative and it seems like he is feeling a whole lot better about things. He has been acting happy and normal all afternoon. 

But I know this isn't over. I know that the pain will resurface again and again for a while. 

If your husband is an atheist, just give him comfort by your presence and tell him how sorry you are.

If he is truly an atheist, do not offer your own beliefs about her death.  They mean nothing to him and can be offensive.

To an atheist, death is death.

If you feel like you must comment, just say things like, "She's not suffering any more" or "She lived a long happy life" or "You made her so happy while she was here".  Or if he seems open to it, just bring up good memories of him and his grandma.  

Don't prattle on about Summerland or reincarnation, etc., etc. and do be sensitive to his grief.  Don't flip on the TV and watch comedies or bring your friends over to socialized etc., etc.


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