HomeOpinion & AnalysisGrieving without God

Grieving without God


Miriam T Majome
MY mother passed away on January 26 2021. She was one of the victims of the second wave of COVID-19. We buried her on January 28 the day before her 79th birthday.

She lived a long productive life in which she always toiled hard because she knew no other way to live.

Even when it wasn’t necessary to work hard she did it anyway out of habit. Years after retirement in 2008, she continued to toil hard on the family farm they bought on the outskirts of Harare in the early 1980s.

She had worked as a nurse and midwife after graduating in the late 1960s from Harare Hospital nursing school (now renamed Sally Mugabe Hospital). Throughout her life, she was always a planter and a provider yet never expecting to harvest or be provided for.

She fell ill while planting sugar beans and even in the throes of illness and distress, she was still planning to buy more bean seed to finish the patch she had left unfinished.

My sister went to fetch her from the farm and she tested positive for COVID-19. She never returned home. She died almost two weeks later at Wilkins Hospital in the ward she had once worked and managed in the 90s.

I am a square peg in a round hole — an oddity for this generation and environment. I am a black Zimbabwean woman who does not believe in the existence of God. I do not say there is no God because I cannot know for sure that there is no God.

No one can know that for sure like no one can know for sure that God exists. That is why they are called beliefs, and beliefs no matter how strongly and passionately held will never turn into facts. There could be evidence for God’s existence and some may have seen it but I have not seen it and, therefore, I cannot believe. I speak only for myself.

There are many things in life that I do not understand and cannot explain but life does not have an obligation to make sense to me and I do not have to understand everything, so I am not pressured to know everything.

God is usually used almost automatically as the place holder answer for questions that cannot be explained yet. However those are just claims and claims just like Bible verses and beliefs are not evidence for the existence of God.

Non-believers are not Satanists because they do not believe in the existence of all supernatural deities of which Satan is just but one of many supernatural characters that people believe in.

The belief that Satan exists is also just another belief and claim which is not backed by any real evidence.

I also do not believe in any of the numerous African models of religion because they are just claims and beliefs too.

Religious beliefs are not stupid or wrong. They are just attempts to try and explain the deep mysteries and questions of life.

Non-believers are not bad, lost, wrong, abnormal or evil people simply because they do not believe in supernatural beings.

But how do people like me, who do not believe in the answers offered by religion about death, cope with it and find comfort and healing when the answers are not satisfying?

How do non-believers grieve and find comfort on their own terms when Christianity is now the default religion applied in all significant ceremonies for black people in this country. In other words, how do we grieve without God when nobody knows how to do non-Christian funerals anymore?

I believe that death is final. I could be wrong of course as I do not have all the answers but I believe this based on the evidence or lack of evidence and I have read and researched widely in this area.

There are many claims of an afterlife, yet no evidence for it. From the evidence, this earthly life seems to be all the life there is.

The emotional and physical emptiness left by my mother’s departure will never be filled. I loved her dearly and always will but would I like to see her again?

Maybe but I would just rather that she had not died instead of her dying to wake up so she can live forever this time. But she died and even if I want to see her and believe it I will never see her again.

Her death was the end of her life forever. As hard as it is, I accept that death is the end and that this is all there is  I do not need to make up stories about seeing her again just to make myself feel better.

I can only cherish the memories I carry of her and our love  and treasure the time we had together. That is what comforts and heals me.

The memories comfort me, the promises do not.  If we did not use the time that we know we actually have to live well and love each other and to be kind, it will be impossible to find healing after someone we should have loved and treated well has died.

For some, the anguish of regret may make them want to have another life to do it all over and make amends but there is no such second chance that is known.

It can only be imagined and hoped for and believed in strongly. We must use the one chance we have at life to live it and love well.

Death is hard and frightening, so it is understandable that people need comforting promises of living without dying.

Christians believe that death is not the end but actually the beginning of life and somehow this makes sense to those who believe in it.

Being a non-believer has helped me face and accept the finality and pain of death. Not believing in imaginary future worlds and imaginary friends and enemies is teaching me to gracefully accept the cold truths and disappointments about life without needing to sugarcoat them or perform mental gymnastics to deny life’s heartbreaks and the finality of death.

I am more partial to uncomfortable painful truths than sweet fuzzy comforting lies. I wish I could have believed all the feel-good comforting things the priest at my mother’s memorial service said about meeting her again in heaven.

It would have been easy — too easy to just believe in order to feel good. However, I cannot handle the intellectual dishonesty that comes with knowingly choosing to believe in things whose truth is doubtful just to make myself feel better.

Life was simpler when I was younger and more trusting. I faithfully believed all the things I was told to believe in Sunday School.

I believed in a literal heaven where people go to be rewarded and hell where bad people go to suffer and pay eternally for their sins.

All I needed to satisfy me were a few selected Bible verses and I was fine. However, the older I got and allowed myself to think deeply about things and ask questions without fear, my beliefs raised more questions than they could answer.

Life’s real problems just do not fit perfectly into the ready-made answers given by religion. Life is random and unpredictable. Good does not always overcome evil.

Nobody has the answers. Priests, pastors and other religious authority figures do not know any more about life than anyone else and are also just trying to figure it out.

Most of them only have impressive oratory skills. The more I thought about life and death, the more the religious stories and beliefs about heaven and hell sounded more and more like made up and refined stories to try and explain difficult questions about the fear of death and the unknown.

There is nothing wrong with comforting people and making them feel hopeful if that is enough and meaningful for them. Religious people mean well.

When my mother died, many people said they would pray for me. Some probably did although I don’t know exactly what they were praying for but I was glad to make them feel happy that they had comforted me.

At some stage, I just decided to distinguish my beliefs from what I wanted to be true from what is actually true. I just had to accept that bad and painful things happen in life.

Parents, siblings, children, friends  and lovers die and we too will die. If we cannot remember living before we were conceived and born, we surely can also imagine not living after we die.

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