I’ve never really been good at dealing with loss. It’s bad enough when it’s my own loss, but I never know how to handle helping people I know through their own loss. Basically every coping mechanism I had for dealing with death is based on my theistic upbringing.
Now, as a nonbeliever, I’m left without those options. I could say “they’re in a better place,” but it would be an empty sentiment since I don’t really believe that. I could say “their pain is over now,” but again, if they don’t exist anymore, I don’t think that’s really much consolation.
This all comes up now because a friend of mine recently lost her husband of many, many years, who I’d never actually met. When I lose someone myself, I know that I can take solace in the memories I have of them. I can remember the time we spent together, the laughter and tears we shared, the good times and the bad. But when it’s someone I only have a vicarious relationship with, I can’t really relate to anything but the raw emotion of loss, and I don’t handle that very well. I react awkwardly and tend to feel uncomfortable.
How do we deal with loss, ours and that of others?
Last night I went out with some friends to see this movie. In case you haven’t heard of it, it’s essentially a vastly amusing thought experiment put together by Ricky Gervais. The premise: Imagine a world where humanity never evolved the ability to deceive. Not only are people incapable of telling a lie, but they can’t even lie by omission – they basically say whatever’s on their mind. There aren’t even white lies, told to save someone’s feelings. The truth is just brutal and honest. And everyone believes everything everyone else says, since they can’t even conceive of the idea of “false.”
Now, introduce Gervais’ character, Mark Bellison, a screenwriter for Lecture Films, a hit movie company that makes… lectures about history, since fiction doesn’t exist. Bellison is basically a loser on his way down to the bottom, when in a moment of desperation he suddenly develops the ability to lie. Astonished at his ability to say “things that aren’t…” – never finishing this phrase, since “true” is meaningless in this world – he attempts to demonstrate his ability to his friends, but they simply accept all the lies he says as true, no matter how ridiculous, because they can’t even begin to detect that they aren’t true.
Eventually, Bellison uses his newfound talent to get rich and famous, after making the first fictional screenplay in the history of mankind (which everyone believes without hesitation). But when his ailing mother is close to death, he rushes to the hospital, and out of the anguish of hearing his mother speak of the eternity of nothingness to come, he invents heaven. He forgets that he’s not alone with his mother, and the hospital staff overhears.