How does an atheist deal with death?

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    Well, I'm not truly atheist, more agnostic, but I don't really believe in the afterlife. I am a new grad starting oncology nursing, because I loved my oncology clinical very much, and the time I spent doing a clinical in hospice I loved as well. My unit isn't palliative care, but a lot of the patients will die. My patients in oncology were the most amazing people I ever met, and I loved working with them and their families too much to give the field up. However, dealing with my patients dying is VERY hard for me, because I'm not sure there's anything after they go (not that it's not hard for everyone). I wouldn't give up my new job for the world, but I'm curious if anyone out there is in my position. Anyone have any suggestions for reading material, or just based on personal experience?
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    I don't know if there is an afterlife of the traditional sort or not, but I do believe that anyone who has lived on this earth has left their influence and lives on in our hearts and memories. You continue to carry them with you throughout your life, and your actions and interactions in turn affect others. In this way, we are all immortal.
    apocatastasis likes this.
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    I have worked in ICU for over 21 years. I have never seen my job as providing a spiritual close to my patients' lives or offering them some hope of after life. I do, however, see it as my job to provide comfort from physical pain, and promote dignity. I interact with them as unique individuals (no impersonal nicknames like grandma or honey) and I identify with their humanity. For those with spiritual needs, I call on the chaplain.
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    I, too, am not a "true believer" and have worked externsively with dying patients (in the NICU). I have always viewed my role as supporting their needs (i.e. family's needs) throughout the experience irrespective of my own personal belief's. It never posed a big problem for me because I never expected that all of my patients would have the same spiritual beliefs that I have. If other resources (such as a chaplain) would be appropriate, I am very quick to call.

    One situation that has caused me to feel a little awkward is when I have been asked to baptise a baby at the time of death. I have done it a couple of times because no one else was available and it was standard practice to do it in emergencies at my hospital in certain emergencies. However, I felt funny about it because I really "didn't believe." I rectified it within myself by saying, "Well, if there is a God, I am sure he understands that I did this with all the best intentions of comforting the family and doing the best I could for this baby and the family." But I try to avoid those situations where my lack of faith my offend the patients -- and I can usually do that by using the chaplains, etc.

    llg
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    Quote from jen42
    Well, I'm not truly atheist, more agnostic, but I don't really believe in the afterlife. I am a new grad starting oncology nursing, because I loved my oncology clinical very much, and the time I spent doing a clinical in hospice I loved as well. My unit isn't palliative care, but a lot of the patients will die. My patients in oncology were the most amazing people I ever met, and I loved working with them and their families too much to give the field up. However, dealing with my patients dying is VERY hard for me, because I'm not sure there's anything after they go (not that it's not hard for everyone). I wouldn't give up my new job for the world, but I'm curious if anyone out there is in my position. Anyone have any suggestions for reading material, or just based on personal experience?
    I am a true believer, and I do believe in a much greater place after this old world is gone. It is definatley nice to have hope in more than this place. I suggest you read the Case for Christ. Excellant read, written by an athiest named Lee Strobel. Im not trying to convert, but I hope you can find the answers to life's difficult questions.
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    Quote from julieftRN
    I am a true believer, and I do believe in a much greater place after this old world is gone. It is definatley nice to have hope in more than this place. I suggest you read the Case for Christ. Excellant read, written by an athiest named Lee Strobel. Im not trying to convert, but I hope you can find the answers to life's difficult questions.
    Lee Strobel is a self described "former spiritual skeptic." This is different from an atheist. My problem with discussions like Mr Strobel's is: it is necessary to first believe in order to be convinced by his stream of thought and presentations of "evidence." The believer does not need to be convinced and the atheist (by definition) cannot be convinced. Strobel interviewed a number of high-caliber Evangelical apologists, many of whom are worthy of consideration in and of themselves. Thus The Case for Christ constitutes a pseudo-anthology of Evangelical scholarship. Strobel did not interview any critics of Christian apologetics, even though he attacks such individuals in his book. Not only are atheists not convinced by Mr Strobel's presentations, the entire world of non-Christians are not convinced.
    Last edit by Nurse Ratched on Jun 29, '04
    apocatastasis likes this.
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    Quote from RedBait
    Lee Strobel is a self described "former spiritual skeptic." This is different from an atheist. My problem with discussions like Mr Strobel's is: it is necessary to first believe in order to be convinced by his stream of thought and presentations of "evidence." The believer does not need to be convinced and the atheist (by definition) cannot be convinced. Strobel interviewed a number of high-caliber Evangelical apologists, many of whom are worthy of consideration in and of themselves. Thus The Case for Christ constitutes a pseudo-anthology of Evangelical scholarship. Strobel did not interview any critics of Christian apologetics, even though he attacks such individuals in his book. Not only are atheists not convinced by Mr Strobel's presentations, the entire world of non-Christians are not convinced.
    I wasnt giving my advice to you, I was giving it to someone else, and yes, he was atheist. I disagree with you that an atheist cannot be convinced. I have seen it happen in my own life. God is all powerful and for you to say that it cant happen is pretty much giving yourself more power than God. Mr Strobel does interview critics, maybe you didnt read that part.
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    Quote from julieftRN
    I wasnt giving my advice to you, I was giving it to someone else, and yes, he was atheist. I disagree with you that an atheist cannot be convinced.
    By the same token, the OP was requesting information from someone in her position...that of a agnostic/atheist that works frequently with terminal patients, which you have indicated that you are not.

    Does the book consists predominantly of someone that works with dying patients that remained atheist/agonostic?????? The OP is finding a way to cope within her mindset, not looking to change her belief system to deal with it. And we as nurses should respect that belief system and work with it, rather than foisting our agenda on her.

    Of course believers of all different Faiths can change...but that was not the answer to the question.

    In answer to the OPs question, while I do believe in G-d, I see death as the end of this earthly existance in transition to something/somewhere else. And that the patients toils and pain are over.
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    Quote from julieftRN
    God is all powerful and for you to say that it cant happen is pretty much giving yourself more power than God.
    Since I don't believe in god I am pretty comfortable with the concept that I have more power than god.
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    Jen,

    I started working in geriatrics when I was 16 and an atheist. I'm still an atheist, just...older now lol. Between that and a couple of years on oncology, I've seen a lot of death. I don't think it bothered me any more or less than a person of faith. It does make you want to live you own life in such a way that, when it's your turn to go, you feel good about what you've done, knowing that that was your only shot at it. In that sense, I found it very beneficial. It probably spurred me to do better things with my life.


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