Death Perspectives: Funeral Director and Atheist
Today I’d like to start a series of irregular guest posts called “Death Perspectives”, where people from different religious and non-religious perspectives share how they understand death as informed by their religion. And I’m happy that my first guest post is from a fellow funeral director, Heather Hernandez.
After you read her post, ask her questions about how her perspective informs her views of dying, death and funerals. She’s very eloquent and can help you understand how an Atheist views death.
It is a quiet moment, the one during a funeral service or a rosary or a mass. Someone – priest, preacher, family member – has asked us to bow our heads in prayer. I interlace my fingers, hands clasped in front of me. As I listen to the silence of people around me as they focus on their commune with God, I take the moment for a deep breath and a concentrated effort for the purity of blank meditation. My eyes are open, and I scan the room from the back corner. I’m not communicating with anyone but my own inner monologue. I hear the echo of “amen” as the prayer concludes, but not from my own throat.
I am an atheist.
I am a funeral director.
It is a unique thing to be a person without faith working in an industry where faith is often a driving force for what we do. Our funeral rites and rituals have a basis in religion more often than not, and I interact with people from all walks of religion on a daily basis. I appreciate that my families have beliefs to give them solace, faith to warm their hearts and dull the sharp sting of grief to an ache.
I am not usually an evangelical atheist. I would never dream of stepping outside of my role as a funeral director to criticize someone else’s rituals or step on their hopes of an afterlife. Lately, I only feel the need to speak up about my beliefs because non-believers are often painted in a negative light, as amoral and non-contributive to society and our communities. I look at myself and I don’t see that.
I am a military wife supporting a husband about to deploy to Afghanistan.
I am an animal-lover who stopped four lanes of traffic to rescue two terrified stray dogs.
I am a volunteer at my local library, teaching adults how to read.
The way that I choose to live is directly affected by my atheism. It’s hard for me to look at my husband, my parents, my sisters and my best friends and realize that in my reality there is no afterlife. There’s no light at the end of the tunnel or Heaven where we meet up and spend the rest of eternity in each others’ company.
What I do get is the realization that the here and now is all I get. I have to enjoy every single second that I get here, every breath I take, every opportunity to reach out and hold my husband’s hand or call my parents and tell them I love them. I don’t believe that I get a do-over or forgiveness to wipe the slate clean, and I am therefore my own harshest critic. I want to be remembered as someone who always did the right thing the right way, who served others and loved as hard as she could.
I am an atheist, but sometimes, even though I’m not thanking God, I take that quick moment of silence during the Lord’s Prayer to reflect and appreciate how grateful I am for the time I do have and all the wonderful ways I can spend it.
Heather Hernandez is a mid-20s graduate of mortuary college, navigating the complexities of death care as a first generation funeral director. When she’s not running services, she’s also a wife, a dog-lover, and an amateur taxidermist. You can read her blog at http://mortuaryreport.com/ or check out her taxidermied mice and other artwork at http://www.etsy.com/shop/mortuaryreport.