When You Just Can’t Let Go

Many people have a hard time dealing with death. I know I do. Many people have left my life far too soon. My parents, my best friend and three children are the ones that hurt the most. Both of my parents died when I was in my twenties. My best friend died right before my wedding when he was to be my best man. I lost my first daughter who was born prematurely and two other children to miscarriage. Dealing with loss is horrible. But not letting go can make things so much worse.

My friend and my dad died a year apart between 1998 and 1999. That was a very hard time for me, losing the two men in my life who meant the most to me. I had a hard time believing they were really gone and even to this day I feel as if I missed opportunities to really get to know them. My dad died when he was just a dad to me and nothing more. I was barely 21 when I lost him so I hadn’t really reached the point where I was interested in knowing who he was before he was my dad. Now I feel like I never really knew him as a person. I took him for granted and it hurts. My mother died alone in her home 8 years after that and that makes me sad. I wasn’t there for her at the end of her life.

When my wife and I found out were pregnant for the first time, we were so excited. We had just found out in February of 2004 that we were having a daughter. We couldn’t have been happier. It wasn’t to be. March 1, 2004 was the day she died. My wife’s water broke when she was only 5 months along with my daughter, Tiffany Diane. She was stillborn when she came into this world. We had been trying for years to have a baby and our first child was gone as soon as we started making plans for her in our life. We never had the chance to get to know her. After she was born, the doctor handed her to us and we were able to hold her. She was perfect and absolutely beautiful. It’s the hardest thing I’ve been through in my life. I could have held her forever, but that would just not be healthy. We eventually had to let her go and move on. It’s been almost 15 years and it still hurts. I would look at her photos every few years, just to remember her face and grieve some more. I haven’t looked in years and I am not sure I could look again as it is just too painful. It just reminds me of what could have been and not what is.

Religion is a lot like a death in the family. For anyone who is really committed to religion, letting go can be the hardest thing to deal with. I think that is the reason people hang on to religion even after realizing they no longer believe. It’s too painful. It’s the idea of going on without it that is too unbearable. It’s like holding on to your child after they have passed on. You know it’s too late, but you just can’t come to terms with the reality that they are gone. You don’t want to believe it and you don’t want to go home without them in your arms. I have been through both situations and losing my faith is the only thing that comes close to the pain I felt when I had to let my daughter go. I knew my faith had passed on but I still held on to it and didn’t want to think of a future without it. I held my faith in my arms for years, not wanting to accept that it had died.

There are many Christians out there who are living a lie. They put on an act for the audience and can be quite convincing. They know they no longer believe (or have real serious doubts) but facing the reality of not having religion in their lives is too much to bear. So they keep holding on to their faith, knowing it’s already gone, but clinging to it because it is something they love and still feel they need. Going through the motions of the religious life is a better way to live for some than the alternative. Admitting you were wrong and changing your life accordingly is not something everybody handles well.

I loved my daughter from the moment we saw the positive pregnancy test. I still do. I never got to know her but I still love her dearly and miss her every day. But I could no longer live in the past and dwell on what could have been. I now have 4 beautiful children here with me. I have to live for them and not look back. Looking back just brings sadness and pain. I need to be here for those who are here with me. I had religion for most of my life, but it died a long time ago. I just couldn’t admit it and face the facts. I just kept cradling it in my arms and hoping for a miracle to bring it back. But again, I cannot live in the past. I have a family who needs me here and a life worth living without the fantasy that I was raised in.

Many of my loved ones are gone. My father, my mother, my best friend, my three children…and my faith. I learned a lot from all of them and I have good and bad memories from them as well. I am who I am because I had them in my life. If I had not been in religion, I wouldn’t have the empathy for those trapped in it now. If I hadn’t gotten out, I would still look at atheists the wrong way. I needed to have it and lose it to get to where I am now. It is definitely like a death when you lose something as important as religion, but you can recover from it. You grieve and then you move on. That’s all you can do. Lay it to rest and live your life to the fullest.

19 thoughts on “When You Just Can’t Let Go

  1. I wish our Western Christological civilization embraced life AND death as two firm equal inseparable components, a fluid Yin-Yang and necessary part of living life and dying to allow more life to start in our place… very much like the Native American Indians embraced both and other indigenous people did as well. It should be a part of every day/week life, in my personal opinion.

    That said, I do want you to know Ben how much I feel ya, I can truly emphasize (a little bit) and any death, especially as many as you’ve had to deal with sooner in your life… is a huge reality check and it doesn’t always go smoothly, HAH… to say the least right? :/

    I do have certain thoughts/tendancies about death, its purpose/meaning, etc, but it kind of surprises our WP circle of friends… so I’ll leave that alone for now. I wish I could give you a long, impactful meaningful hug… to let you know… I’m there with you and can relate. ❤

    Liked by 3 people

  2. The photo of the urn. My urn (a banana leaf box with ashes, composted soil and seeds) with my dog who died suddenly 6 months ago is still on the bookshelf. I don’t think I’ll ever be ready to take him on his last walk up into the hills.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The urn with my daughter is something that bothers me but somehow gives me comfort. I know it’s not really holding a person, but just a body. It doesn’t hold her potential, her hopes, her dreams or a soul. It’s just a reminder of what could have been but never was. Still, I can’t let it go. That’s my girl, my firstborn. People have strange traditions and holding on to ashes of those who have passed is certainly one of them. In another room, we have my wife’s parent’s ashes as well as one of her childhood dogs. We don’t want them in the house but haven’t taken them to where her parents wanted them to be spread either. My wife wants no part in the ritual of reaching in and everyone takes a handful of ashes to throw into the wind. Death is hard enough without having to deal with things like that.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Have you ever seen/read Hank Fox’s, Red Neck, Blue Collar, Atheist: Simple Thoughts About Reason, Gods and Faith ? It came to my attention a few years ago, and the introduction really resonated. It’s also bang-on-target for this post here and your thoughts. I was going to link to the Amazon reader page, but I just saw that the Intro is up on Patheos, so I’ll link to that. Really well worth a read. It begins, “My dog died…”


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      2. Just read it. That was a perfect addition to what I wrote and what I feel when it comes to death and religion. It’s nice to know that my feelings aren’t way off base and that others can relate. Thanks for the link.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for such a touching and thoughtful article, Ben. I’d never really thought about it before but giving up religion is indeed a lot like going through a grieving experience. You’re giving up more than a belief, you’re giving up a community that you belong to, and often you end up losing a lot of friends and family members as well when they can’t deal with the fact that you don’t share their beliefs any longer.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Giving up religion, for me, was very tough. It definitely felt like a death of someone very close to me. When someone you love is there every day of your life and then they’re gone, it’s not easy at first. Over time, like a death, the pain lessens and you move on. You have to.

      Liked by 3 people

  4. I’ve had a lot of experience with death and dealing with it is still hard for me. My father died while I was doing CPR on him waiting for the ambulance to get out to the farm. When my wife and I first got married we both worked for a nursing home. Every month we lost one or two people we knew, people who had become friends. It was hard to deal with until you finally accept that death is part of life, a natural process that we all have to go through. You learn how to remember the person, honor their life, give them the respect they deserve, and accept that all things, even the lives of those we love, come to an end. You grieve, but you also remember that your own life is richer for having known them.

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    1. Memories can be beautiful or they can be painful. The memories I have of my parents are mostly positive, happy to memories. The memories of losing children are always sad and painful. I have no good memories of those times. But as I get older and more and more days pass, I realize that death is inevitable and that our time here is precious. I try not to dwell on the past but focus on the here and now. I can remember a lot of good things about those who I have lost and I try my best to take lessons from them and teach my kids about the people they never got to meet so they have some idea of where they came from and also teach them how fragile life is. We need to treasure our time while we still have it.

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  5. I wrote a long post a while back and never published it about death, and being able to move on. My own experiences with death are as a professional…and my mother ten years ago. Does religion help, or make it worse? I have a friend who went missing around 1970. The family is still holding out hope that god will deliver him, or at least they feel they will see him in the next life. It seems to me like religion has helped them drag it out for decades. What are your thoughts? Sorry for your losses Ben.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think that religion does much more harm than good. Many feel that even if the religious view of an afterlife is incorrect, it at least gives people comfort. False hope is better than no hope, some say. I would disagree. Since I’ve been “binge-watching” a lot of The Atheist Experience episodes on YouTube, I just so happened to come across a relevant video. A caller was trying to justify her faith by basically saying she needed it to cope with the death of her sister. As Matt Dillahunty points out to her, religion has done a huge disservice by preventing people from learning the tools necessary to grieve properly. I agree with his assessment:

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Agreed (with trepidation) I have very little experience with personal loss, but it seems that religion just drags out the process. I have attended hundreds of deaths though, and that was always pretty ok, but the aftermath… dealing with families and spouses—that was the hard part. Our western culture is totally unprepared to deal with death, but are always aware of it. There is no spiritual blessing or cursing in it. It just is. As much preaching and preparation goes on in the churches, it hasn’t helped.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. I have pretty much recovered from the deaths I spoke of, but I still fear losing anyone else. I’m still not prepared/equipped to deal with the idea of losing my wife or my kids. I just hope I go first. To know death is final can be such a scary thought, but it’s something we all need to be ready for as it will happen regardless.

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  6. Wonderful post! I have chills; it touched me. I lost my first daughter, my second child, after she was born 16 weeks too early. Mom passed away just over two and a half years ago of a serious of strokes and Dad just this last November, four days before my birthday, from AML which was the probable result of the chemo that helped him beat non-Hodgkins lymphoma years ago.

    But, maybe in a unique way, my recently found atheism has been a boon, compared to my siblings (thoroughly indoctrinated members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Later-day Saints). My realization that my daughter and parents are gone has helped me with moving on, appreciating the time I did have with them (my daughter fought to live for 6 hours). My siblings seem to be in mourning still, maybe in part because their religion teachers that they are not gone but are in a different realm/sphere/whatever. So they don’t let go.

    My own 2 cents. Your mileage may vary.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you Bruce. I am sorry for your losses. I think, like I was just mentioning to Jim in the comment above, I think religion does more harm than good when it comes to dealing with death. I just added a video clip that reflects my views perfectly. When I was a believer, I held out hope that I would one day see all of my loved ones again. I always had a hard time envisioning how I would see my daughter who was born 4 months early or my other two children who died through miscarriage as they were very undeveloped when they died. How would I be able to interact with them in Heaven? I just assumed God had a way to make it work. I used to think of seeing my Dad and watching him be able to walk again as he spent the last 20 years of his life wheelchair-bound. It all sounded nice but it was what I wanted to see, not what reality is.

      I would much rather be prepared for reality than be living a life where my views prevented me from dealing with it. I need to be able to let go instead of holding on. Holding on usually adds to the grief and adds to our inability to face facts. I think we need to focus on the here and now as it’s the only life we have guaranteed. We need to treat people better now and cherish the times we have with those we love.

      Thanks for the comment.

      Liked by 2 people

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