Death. Just the word makes most people’s skin crawl.
It seems so…final. So much more so as an atheist. Religious people have an afterlife to look forward to after their death. An atheist knows, or is at least fairly certain, that there is no pearly gates, St. Peter or 72 virgins waiting for them on the other side of life.
Death has been on my mind a lot lately and not because I am wanting to die; set your mind at ease with that. My uncle, Galen, died a week ago and it has hit me fairly hard. I didn’t see it coming until we went to visit him in the hospice. That is when it hit me. Hard. I knew that it was coming eventually; he did have spinal cancer and was the spry young age of 87 after all. I just wasn’t expecting it this fast. I had so little time to converse with him; learn from him; get to know him. It doesn’t seem fair somehow. And yes this is entirely selfish but I think that he enjoyed our conversations as much as I did. He had a brilliant mind to go along with his artistic and creative abilities that is unrivaled in my eyes.
The only artwork that we have in the house is from his hand. They are among my most cherished items.
About 3 years ago I was hospitalized for 9 days and Galen and Priscilla came to visit me. I was surprised to find out that they were coming; I had not had much interaction with either of them for most of my life. It was around Easter and although I abhor religious holidays I do enjoy chocolate. They brought me a giant chocolate bunny and we sat and talked for a while. I had only vague memories of Galen being very religious and was fairly certain that I was going to hear some preaching. I didn’t. We just talked. There was no religious talk whatsoever. It really was a pleasant surprise and great visit. I found out later that my memories of his religious beliefs were just that, memories. He was no longer involved with the church and after many conversations and input from others I discovered that we had more in common than ever. We both hated organized religions and doubted the existence of a god in any form.
I am much more militant about my atheist beliefs than he was but there were a lot of points that we could agree on and in the past 3 years we have had some great talks. He even handed a folded paper to me at a family get together that was a couples of pages of his musings and beliefs on religion. I still have it. It meant so much to me that he would take the time to write out his thoughts and give them to me. I read it right then and there and tried to return it to him but he would have none of it. It was mine to keep he said. We talked briefly about what he had written but as is the case of so many family get togethers there was too much going on and too many people wanting to talk to one or the other of us. I had wanted to follow up with him and talk some more but it never happened. Just a short time later he was hospitalized and I only saw him one more time. He was not conscious and so we never got to finish our conversation.
There was a nice memorial service at their house in New Durham the Sunday following his death and I had the opportunity to share some of my thoughts and memories with the assembled family. It was rough but it was nice to see so many people who loved him and had been touched by him. Although I had far too short a time to get to know him, I love him. I miss him. Although I did not see him on a regular basis I miss the knowledge that this wonderful man is in the world and I could look forward to getting to talk to him again.
Holly told me that if anyone I knew was going to come back and tell me “Aww man Hippy, were we ever wrong! There is an afterlife!”, it would be Galen. I have not received any such message or visitation. While not proof that there is no afterlife, I know that if there were any way for him to get a message to me about it, he would.
My biggest comfort is in the quantum theory that there are an infinite number of parallel universes that contain every possibility. I know that in at least one of them, Galen and I are still able to have conversations and who knows, maybe we found each other sooner and had longer to enjoy those conversations.