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Telling Non-Christian Mother That Dead Child is in Heaven is Not Helpful

baby's birth

Excerpt from Alternet article by Priscilla Blossom titled My Child Is Not in Heaven: Your Religion Only Makes My Grief Harder:

When I tell people about the death of my infant daughter, they often respond that she is in heaven. They tell me that she is an angel now. They tell me that she’s with God. But as an atheist, these words have never brought me any comfort.

My daughter was born three years ago. I went into pre-term labor at 22 weeks gestation, and try as they might, the doctors could not keep her here with us. Her short life, just eight hours long, has marked my life and my husband’s life deeply. Margaret Hope (or Maggie, as we refer to her) continues to exist with us in her own way, but this persistence has absolutely nothing to do with god or Jesus or angels or any other specific afterworld. This is what works for us as parents. It’s what works for about two percent of the U.S. population who currently identify as atheists, and for about 20 percent who are agnostic or unaffiliated with any particular set of beliefs.

Being an atheist in a believer’s world can be difficult at times, especially when some of the more fervently religious are close family or friends. It’s even more daunting when faced with grief and death. Christians believe that when we die, we either go to heaven or hell. Many, of course, believe babies go to heaven because they are, well, babies. When our daughter died, my husband requested to have our baby baptized, fearing in some way for her soul, a remnant of his Catholic upbringing. There was no time for a traditional baptism while she was alive but her NICU doctor performed the rite for her while we held her in our arms for the first time, our tiny, frail, lifeless daughter whose eyes never even got a chance to see. It felt bizarre to me, but I allowed it because my husband was suffering and it seemed to bring him some comfort. Later, as reality hit harder, he would lose all faith as I had done…

…Those around us did their best to offer words of comfort, but after a while, I became tired and even resentful of the comments about my daughter needing to go be with Jesus. Worse still, I isolated myself so I wouldn’t need to hear their “comforting” words because all they did was make me feel worse. Like so many other non-believers, I cannot wrap my head around the idea that there is some supreme being that allows these sorts of things to happen, commands them to happen. Being a bereaved parent is hard enough, but being one when you don’t believe in god is something else altogether…

…Agnostics and atheists understand why people have faith. We understand it brings them comfort. At times, I wish I could believe that my daughter is watching over me right now while enjoying a beautiful and eternal afterlife. But that’s just not what I believe. Instead, I imagine her in all sorts of places. Maybe her energy shot out into the stars. Perhaps some molecule of her is dancing around on Jupiter. Other times, I think about much of her remaining in my heart, as science tells us part of every child’s DNA remains forever with her mother, a fact that does bring me great peace.

Maggie’s physical remains are in a plastic, white box, swaddled in her hospital baby blanket, and placed inside my bedroom closet, still waiting for the day I am willing to part with them. I really don’t know what happened to her soul, if such things even exist. And while it may comfort you to say to me that my daughter is in heaven, it does absolutely nothing for me or for the countless others who don’t subscribe to your brand of faith — and that is okay.

You can read the entire article here. Priscilla Blossom’s blog can be found here.



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    Life takes a natural course, from birth to death. When that natural course is cut off, injured, destroyed, there is utter misery. There may be no greater suffering than the death of one’s child. Pure misery. May this dear person find solace in carrying on…

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    Pricilla’s grief is raw and genuine. No one should have to bury their child, and it’s devastating. To have someone declare that her daughter is in heaven now, or an angel, is to deny the legitimacy of her grief. People who cut short the sorrow of another by declaring some religious “comfort”, are actually denying one the natural and healthy grief and processing.

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    I can respect others beliefs when it helps them deal with grief as long as this belief isn’t pushed onto others. Yes, the religious I suppose have the “advantage” when it comes to loss, but it can always go both ways. Remember, the other side of heaven is hell. Some could argue the child ends up in hell since she didn’t accept Christ as Lord and Saviour. But, how is this even remotely fair and just? It’s as fair as a very good person (but lost soul) going to hell because they happened to grow up in a Muslim nation and only knew or heard of Islam. It’s sad, but at one point I believed that anyone not saved NO MATTRR WHAT GOOD they have done to better the human race could end up in hell anyway.

    I feel sad for their family and their loss and it is unimaginable that God would allow this to selfishly add another to his kingdom, as some Christians may claim.

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    Gerald Jennings

    Sincerely sorry about your loss…I have a 6-month old grandson who is the center of my life–not trying to “convert” you, but I’m wondering if you have ever fully explored the reasons for belief. People of faith are not delusional fools–some of the greatest minds in human history have been believers. I used to be an agnostic–until I read the works of C. S. Lewis–MERE CHRISTIANITY, THE PROBLEM OF PAIN, THE GREAT DIVORCE and TILL WE HAVE FACES. There is nothing intrinsically more “logical” or “rational” in the cold scientific belief that the universe is an accident, generated by random forces out of nothing, and that consciousness is just a painfully cruel joke than there is in believing in a Supreme Being who loves His creation, for some unaccountable reason including us. Keep searching. Maybe you won’t find Him, but maybe you will. As Lewis has a character say in one of his fiction books (THE SILVER CHAIR) that even if Christianity is false, it is a BIGGER vision of the cosmos than dreary one science alone provides. And God bless you…I think He exists and He believes in you even if you7 don’t believe in Him.

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      I disagree entirely. Calling science ‘dreary’ is unbelievably, well, unimaginative. The idea of a cosmos, presumably based on the Christian bible and creator (unless you are referring to Zeus or Odin perhaps), is so much less awe inspiring than, say, the existence of species via evolution, or the movement of the planets; and what creator would have dreamt up quantum physics?

      Incidentally, as I recall, the Silver Chair, although allegorically Christian, represents Jesus as Aslan the lion, and I’d be surprised if one of the characters refers to Christianity. It’s years since I read it (many times, I might say), and I’d be intrigued to know the character to whom you refer.

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        Gerald Jennings

        That’s your humanist ego speaking–you know, that arrogant part of yourself that is offended by the whole idea of a being unimaginably superior to you who has the right of a creator to judge you.

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        Gerald Jennings

        Puddleglum the Marshwiggle. As for quantum physics, it is an in your face contradiction of the idea that the universe is anything other than a magical, counterintuitive place, maybe a little joke by the Lord to show us not everything fits into our rigid little synthesis of reality, and that in a very essential way, Gandalf is more “real” than Stephen Hawking.
        The main thing I’ve noticed over the years about atheists and agnostics is that most of them have have done a very superficial examination of the reasons to be or not to be believers, if even that. they pride themselves on being deep thinkers (LOL) but in actuality never really make a serious effort to look at the evidence and logic pro and con. That was the point of my original post.

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          Bruce Gerencser

          I think it is likely that you’ve not met many atheists. There are thousands of ex-Christians who read this blog. Some of them were, at one time, college/seminary trained pastors. These people know the Bible inside and out, so it can’t be said of them that they haven’t considered the relevant evidence. The same could be said of the scientists who frequent this blog. We aren’t atheists because we haven’t deeply thought about it. We have, often spending years looking at the claims of Christianity before finally deconverting.

          You have one chance, Gerald. Give us your best argument, that one argument that you think will show us that your God is the true God. one chance, Gerald. Please use it wisely.

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          Yes well, while you’re working out some sort of response to Bruce’s (impossible?) challenge I’ll respond to your point on whether I (and perhaps my views reflect some others here, but I can only speak for me) think things through.

          I certainly need to correct one misapprehension that you seem to be under. I don’t go running around trying to work out new reasons for why not to believe. I spend a great deal of time reading, and otherwise interacting with the world, then quietly reflecting on what I’ve learned. Whilst I don’t specifically try and link it to any sort of religious belief, if the evidence pointed in that direction, one in which some sort of creator was the natural conclusion of the evidence I was assessing, then so be it. If that were where the evidence led then so be it. Unfortunately, well from your point of view anyhow, I haven’t seen any evidence for a creator. That’s it.

          I might also say that some religious views are so silly that they render rational discourse almost impossible; for example, the claims of young earth creationists, that suicide bombers will die and be rewarded with a bunch of virgins, that being gay is a choice…I could go on. People who argue from positions such as these marginalise themselves and are, in reality, pushing more people away from the beliefs they are trying to spread.

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Bruce Gerencser