Atheism at the Bedside of the Dying

When I took my canine buddy Ranger the Valiant Warrior for that last trip to the vet, the doctor asked me to leave the room while he gave him the shot. I looked at him like he was crazy, told him flatly, “I’m not leaving.” I also asked him to give Ranger a shot of painkiller before the real killer. As Ranger died, I was there talking to him, stroking him, holding him, “You were the best, buddy! I’ll never forget you! I love you, handsome beast!”

When Tito the Mighty Hunter died, I was right there again. “I love you, T-Buddy. I was so lucky to meet you, to have you in my life. Thank you, thank you, thank you, for being my friend. You will always be a part of me.”

When my Cowboy Dad was in the hospital dying, I was there holding his hand, applying a cool cloth to his forehead, talking to him, for four days. “I love you, Old Man. I always will. Thank you for all you did for me, all these years. You were the best thing that ever happened to me. The world is a better place for having you in it, and I’m a better man for having you as my mentor and role model.”

In each case, I was talking to someone who died immediately after.

A religious person might argue that this was a silly thing for an atheist to do, in that I believe the person “died dead” in the next few minutes. It would no longer matter what I said or didn’t say, would it?

But, first of all, if they only heard me for one minute, if they understood only some tiny fraction of what I was saying, it was still worth doing. Letting them know, in the final minutes of their lives, they were well and truly loved … I could never consider that wasted effort.

Second, it mattered to ME to make the attempt. This was the last moment I could say what I was feeling and have some hope of it being understood. It was the last moment, the last possibility of communication between the two of us. There being no sort of afterlife, this was even more important.

Third, the act is a reinforcement of a broader cultural practice, something I would like to see more of us doing. It’s a way of saying “This is the way we do it. This it the kind of people we are. We tell our loved ones we love them, in all the ways we can, and to their last moments of life, because we know there will be no other chance at it.”

  • Smarter than Your Average Bear

    You owe it to those you love and those that have given you so much through their love of you. It matters not if there is, or is not, some kind of afterlife. While they still live they are capable of love,pain, and hurt, right up to that last millisecond of life.

  • Mary Eliizabeth

    I don’t know what sort of veterinarian would ask a pet parent (or owner if you prefer) to leave the room. That is something I have never experienced in 18 years of working in the field. I’ve always given people the choice and have always been given the choice when I’ve had to make the terrible decision. To simply expect one not to be present is disgusting and appalling. I would never go back to that vet simply based on that act. Sorry for your losses, human and furred.

    • Hank Fox

      He was young, and I think he may have just been uncomfortable with the moment. We got through it okay in the end.

      This reminds me of a sort of horrifyingly comical story I witnessed several years before. I was in another vet clinic with a friend, and watched a vet come out into the waiting room to check a pet rat a little boy and his mother had brought in. They’d been in before, I gathered, and there was some treatment the rat was undergoing to see if it got better from whatever it had. He felt around on the rat for a minute or so, then shook his head and told the boy it looked like the rat had gotten worse. The boy and his mother conferred with glum looks, then the mother said “I guess we’ll have to let him go, Chad.”

      At that moment, someone opened a door from the back of the vet clinic and signaled to the veterinarian that he was needed by his partner. He called back in a loud voice “Tell him I’ll be with him as soon as I kill this rat.”

  • freespeechfan

    Being with the dying at the end is the last gift you give to them, whether human or not. Don’t you want your last sight to be of those who love you? As for being an atheist, I know the dead are simply transformed energy. Energy merely changes form, it doesn’t disappear. This is enough.

    • Joshua Barrett

      transformed from living cells into worm food? When you die you don’t suddenly “change” nothing is suddenly released in some form of energy. Sorry.

  • whitecanopy

    to me, this is not a religious matter. It’s a human matter…no matter what our beliefs are….this is a compassionate moment…

  • jumbybird

    It’s certainly better than praying to imaginary gods for imaginary relief and imaginary afterlife and performing idiotic last rites.

  • “The FOOL says in his heart, There is no God……..” Ps 14:1, Ps 53:1
    I pity all of you.

    • Darrell L. Garlock

      your an ass

      • No, I am a Child of the living God, before whom you will one day kneel.

    • Hank Fox

      David, stuff like this doesn’t even bother most of us anymore. The atheist cat is out of the religious bag, and nothing can put it back.

      Once you get religion out of your head, you realize how little you need it — not at all, actually — and you’re able to see it for what it really is: brainwashing.

      The thing is, you can free yourself from that brainwashing. From this side of the line, it’s definitely worth doing. Think of it less as “losing your religion” and more as winning your freedom from a mental prison.

      None of us are going to kneel, not now, not later. We’re just going to die, and that’s going to be it. Devoting a lot of your time and energy and life to beliefs about an afterlife is sort of like buying a ticket to an amusement park that doesn’t really exist. You pay for it, but you never get to ride the rides.

      Probably best to try to live — as your own best self, rather than someone’s servant or puppet — while you’re alive.

      • Hank Fox

        Speaking of which …

      • How then do you explain the thousands of people all over the world who have died, seen Heaven & Hell, then returned to tell about all that they saw? Check this out. http://www.chick.com Once there, please read:
        “Back from the Dead” then explain that to me!

        • Hank Fox

          I would explain that by saying: None of that stuff happened. It was all made up. I would also explain it by saying “thousands” is probably a huge exaggeration, and the bit about “seeing Heaven & Hell” … that’s just plain nonsense. Even fairly credentialed theologians doubt there’s any such thing as a literal Hell.

          Also: Nobody “comes back from the dead.” For instance, if your heart stops but doctors get it beating again, you aren’t dead.

          • Did you even read it? Fact is, you & all like you are spiritually blinded by your own sin & by satan. That account was NOT made up, it is 100% true. I hope & pray that you will come to know the real truth before it’s too late. Jesus died for you!

          • There are a great number of potential possibilities for the dying to see heaven or hell and be pulled back, but I’m not going to bother explaining those right now. However I do have a question for you David.

            If God is incredibly powerful, why must he wait for a specific opportunity before he can show someone Heaven? Why can’t God just show me Heaven right now? What limitation prevents God from showing everyone who doesn’t believe in him that he exists? He’s all-powerful, it should be a no-brainer.
            If God doesn’t show everyone he exists, he’s condemning us to Hell. It’s not the fault of the atheist or our sin or Satan that prevents the atheist from belief, it’s God’s inability to provide evidence for his own existence.

          • Almighty Gad has no limitations, He can do ANYTHING. But in His holy word, He states that we are saved through FAITH. He could show you Heaven or Hell or both, but you are expected to take His existence by faith. And by faith call on Him for forgiveness. If you do, YOU WILL KNOW THAT HE IS REAL! At the moment of salvation (spiritual rebirth) you will know without doubt that you have been transformed/made new. Lastly, God never condemns anyone to Hell. Everyone in Hell is there because they condemned their self by unbelief & because of their unbelief, unrepentance.

          • Yes, but unless God shows himself to those who do not believe in him, then he is complicit in their condemnation. If God truly does want us to come to Heaven with him, why does he not just straight out say “I exist!”
            Then those who choose not to believe in him are doing so out of actual malice, rather than the mere lack of evidence for his presence.

          • He has already given us proof of His existence. He gave us His Holy Word, the Holy Bible. Additionally, He left His Kingdom of Heaven to come & live among us over 2,000 years ago. His name? JESUS. So all who refuse to repent because they are unwilling to believe the Scriptures, a few seconds after their physical death, will find themselves in the torments of Hell. And they will remain there for all Eternity without end. Totally alone, in total darkness, in infinite pain……….forever.

          • Hank Fox

            David, first, you’re just wrong about that. No such place exists, or can exist. The Bible was written by people, and though they might have been well-educated for their times, they were fearfully ignorant of any aspect of the real world. As has been said, the average 5th grader today knows things about the world that would strike people of earlier ages with gasping awe. (“The stars are suns like ours? Disease is spread by organisms too tiny to see? The continents MOVE??” —Note that none of those things was known by the authors of the Bible, or its god.

            Second, those of us outside the Christian religion see such descriptions of Hell, such beliefs, as extremely disturbing.

            If a god DID exist, and created such a torture chamber, he would be an infinite sadist unworthy of sitting in the same room with, much less worshiping.

            I might add that your careful, almost loving description of your god’s torture chamber is disturbing all on its own. To think that you and other Christians find the existence of this place a delightful possibility, such that you would cheer on the punishment in that place of people with whom you disagree, that’s scarily sociopathic.

            It’s long past time the lot of us outgrew such beliefs, and moved on with living on Planet Earth.

          • You’re putting words in my mouth & making assumptions. I could never view Hell as delightful. I would never cheer on the Eternal punishment of anyone. And I do not wish any harm on anyone just because we may disagree. Please don’t presume to know my feelings or motives! Truth is, I care. So much so that I spend my time trying to get through to all unbelievers so they don’t end up in torment. Finally, God is spelled with a CAPITAL “G”.

          • Zahnweh

            David, we’re all entitled to our opinion and beliefs. Death is something that ties us all together along with the fact that we’re all human and alive to begin with. Compassion is something that can be understood, it’s something we can share even when we don’t agree on it’s origin.

            Regardless of what an individual believes in, the knowledge that we’re not alone and have people to come to even when we’re at our most darkest moment is what gives us strength. We all must contend with the effects of Death and loss.

            Regardless of opinion and belief, death claims all things and change is a fact we must all deal with. The way we cope with it is different, but if you lost someone, I would offer my sincere apologies for your loss. We may have a difference on how the dead pass on, but that shouldn’t mean that we don’t empathize about the pain of loss.

            I may not believe in God, I still acknowledge that there is so much more to this world than what we can ever hope to understand. There is so much still to be discovered and known, both outside and inside of ourselves. Our brains work, the deepest parts of the ocean, and the greatest expanses of space.

            Every day, we learn just a touch more, and every day our perspective of reality is altered by a new experience, or a change of the old. It always hurts to lose someone you love, I just hope that instead of bashing us for having a different opinion than yours, you can sympathize for our losses, and respect our views along with us respecting yours.

            Trying to look down on another group for their opinions does nothing more than generate hatred and anger from the difference in our views. Don’t focus on that which divides us, but look at the parts that bring us together. When you start doing that, you’ll be surprised in what you find and maybe we can all get along despite the views we each have.

          • David A. Bess

            Where do you get the idea that I’m “trying to look down” on you? As I stated in my last reply, I CARE about you & all like you who need spiritual awakening. I DON’T want any of you to miss the glories of Heaven & Eternal Life. That is the purpose of my trying to reason with you. Here is one of the best websites I know of which can explain these truths better than I can. You can select from many topics & it requires only 3 – 4 minutes to read each title. Please go to: http://www.chick.com

          • Zahnweh

            Truth is subjective though. Not to mention, you’re so concerned about our opinion not being the same as your own. This isn’t reasoning, oblivion has no pain to it, and in the end… it’s just nothing more than a never-waking sleep. Arguing between people of opposing ideals and interests is about as fruitful as hitting your face against a brick wall. Just as much as I can change your views with my words, you gotta accept the fact that you’re not going to achieve anything better either. To see our ideals as something that needs changing is to look down on someone for simply having a different view from your own.

        • The mind can do wild and crazy things when it sees it’s end is imminent, go google up the research on neuroscience and near-death experiences. I tend to doubt that anybody with such an experience was truly, and completely dead, but then suppose your brain died for a few minutes after such a “final” experience, and then you came back through medical intervention. Being dead, how would you be able to measure the time which had passed, or even know that your experience ever ended before you opened your eyes?

          Neuroscience is very interesting, but it’s no proof of any god, nor of a magical amusement park in the sky.

        • Donna Rowe

          The heart stopped beating, but you don’t come back from brain death. Their brains were very much alive and functioning while they were clinically dead. What they are relating are the dreams they experienced, not actual events.

    • The fool thinks he can hurt an atheist with his bible porn.

      The fool thinks he can change an atheist with bible porn.

      The fool thinks there’s so much as a shred of authenticity or truth to his bible, but of course there is none.

      That fat pile of donkey-droppings remains in print only because vapid, moronic, and obnoxious jerks remain in existence. It’s their “ammunition”, which they feel so smug about throwing at those who think better than they, giving them an excuse to think they’ve scored points, but thinking doesn’t make it so. Against weaker minds, it’s a tool by which lowlifes prey on them. For these reasons, the only appropriate category for that bible is porn!

  • Zahnweh

    I lost my dearest cat a few days ago… the trauma of it was hard, almost unbearable. She was my oldest friend (due to a combination of moving constantly, and already suffering anxiety as was) and my best friend. She didn’t pass well, she suffered from pancreatitis that caused her to lose most of her weight, and ultimately she passed from it. I remember trying to get her into the carrier when I realized that she needed help, she didn’t make her usual sounds, she didn’t cry or resist, she just… seemed like she was already dying. I didn’t want to believe it, I couldn’t. I raced her over, I remember the smell of the vet, and I hoped they could save her.

    The words I heard, they were meant to tell me that she was in a very dire condition, that she was probably not going to make it, and even if she did… she would be basically forced to keep on living. They still tried to save her, but it was late, I had to leave for home, so they allowed me to say goodnight to her before I went home. I was told they expected it to be ten minutes, but it took almost half an hour. That should have clued me in to the depth of it’s severity.

    I went in, and I saw her in a blanket, tubes and an artificial respirator keeping her barely alive. I barely saw the top of her head… I was crying, shocked, and terrified that my baby was going to die. I couldn’t do much more than pet her a couple of times, I whispered how sorry I was, but I couldn’t stay… I didn’t want to see her like that, I couldn’t bare to see her like that. I went home, and on the way, I wailed… I tried to keep composed, but my heart already was expecting the worst, and I hated myself for it.

    I went home, went to bed, and cried until I fell asleep. I was awakened by the sound of my phone, it was only two hours since I had admitted her. It was to inform me that she died. I couldn’t feel emotion, I couldn’t cry, I felt numb. I told her thanks for what she could do, and hung up. After that, I cried, and cried until my throat was hoarse. I felt so empty, so alone, everything felt unreal, I didn’t want to be there.

    The world that my beloved angel perished, it felt claustrophobic, hot, unbearable to be in, I didn’t want to be here, I didn’t want to be near the things that still held her memories, my memories of her. I hated everything, but I hated myself most of all. I “killed” her by not finding out about her disease sooner, not getting her the help she needed, my laziness, my weakness, it was what killed her. I wanted her to come back, but that never happened.

    I couldn’t handle seeing her body, even cremated, but I couldn’t bear to imagine her being thrown in a dumpster or allowed to rot. So I paid for cremation, and to have her ashes taken care of… I felt weak, but I didn’t want to go back there, I didn’t want to remember that day.

    Death terrified me, even before I had my girl, but this reinforced my fear. The permanence of death, the change that it brings, and just how inevitable it seems to be. As an agnostic, and someone who has trouble believing, I can’t imagine an afterlife, when death was poised for me, I couldn’t imagine any alternatives.

    When it claimed my kitten, I wanted to be wrong, I wanted her to be an exception and find her heaven. It went back to how I was to her in life, I wanted her happy. Everything I wanted was to see her happy, and to know that she was in a beautiful place. I didn’t want to clone her, because that would cheapen her individuality. The part of her I loved, and remembered.

    I wanted her to be in a beautiful world, to believe that she was happy and at peace. Even now, I still wish for her to be happy, that she would never suffer like that ever again. All I have of her is memories, and it’s all I can use to help with my grieving. The pictures, her toys, and any little thing still left of her.

    It’s all I have, and they’re precious to me for that reason.. I took pictures that she had, and I placed them up on the wall to commemorate her, and to make sure that I would never forget her beautiful face. It hurts to see them, but I would be more hurt if I forgot her. She lives in my memories now, and while I struggle with the fact that she is gone, I’m comforted by the joy she filled my life with.

    It feels like memories are the only true thing that the living still have tied with the dead. Memories of their meaning in your life, and that they shared time with you until they left. These memories are the only permanent thing, and the one thing we can share with each other.

    My little girl, the one who I love and cherish so dearly. I’m not alone in my pain either, and I try to keep moving so I don’t allow my anxiety and despair swallow me up.

    • Hank Fox

      Zahnweh, thank you for this very moving comment. You have my deepest sympathy.

  • Hank, I want to say thank you for attacking this difficult subject.

    Perhaps I could have made that final trip to vet with my cat and maybe I could have calmed him that way, but all I could think was how terrified he had been of that cold stainless-steel table. I knew it wouldn’t be long for him to go at home, so I allowed him to expire as comfortably as possible at home. I can’t say I was there when it actually happened, but at least I didn’t subject him to what terrified him so badly. It was my wife who had picked him out, and we both fell in love with the little rascal, but unfortunately she died within the next two years, leaving him behind to keep me company for awhile.

    You were lucky that you could be there for your dad. After my wife suffered a serious stroke brought on by complications of a nasty and uncommon disease, I did all that I could to comfort her. All I wanted to do was be there with that woman who had loved me so sweetly, every moment that I could be there with her was precious. I was there every night of course, but I couldn’t see being there all through the day when she could have remained for months, not days. This didn’t make me feel any better about it when she died two weeks later of another massive stroke while I was at work. After 13 years, I still miss her.

  • Donna Rowe

    No, it’s not sudden, but our physical substance does get recycled. The subatomic particles that make up our atoms, which then make up our molecules, were present at the Big Bang. We are made of star stuff. We cease to exist, but our star stuff goes on.