Okay, so none of these are terribly original, and are similar to suggestions for anyone feeling depressed, but that just goes to justify their value. They really do work. Not all of them, not all the time. But when you need a little something to bump you out of your misery for a short while, they’re worth trying. Remember, it’s okay to NOT feel awful all the time. Everything in moderation, including grief.
Also, it’s possible that none of these will make you feel better if you’re in a deep funk. But that’s okay, too, because they’re healthy, harmless activities, and some of them will help you, or the world, in ways that aren’t immediately apparent, but still matter.
1. Watch some Tim Minchin videos. They don’t have to be Tim Minchin videos, of course, but he’s an extremely funny songwriter/atheist, so that’s a good place to start. George Carlin would also be good. Jake Johannsen is one of my favorites. I really Like Daniel Tosh, but other people find him exceptionally offensive, although those people generally have no sense of humor. Daniel Tosh can make me laugh when I feel half-human, so he gets my vote. Kathy Griffin helped pull me out of a bad funk a few years back, but you have to be into celebrity gossip. Read The Oatmeal. Really, any form of comedy that you enjoy will work. You have to laugh. Laughter is one of those amazing therapeutic tricks that we’re so lucky to have in our toolbox.
But maybe you’re not in the mood to laugh. Fair enough. Pick something else.
2. Talk to other atheists. Do they have to be atheists? Of course not, but it helps if they are. Because atheists don’t think they, or you, will see a loved one again eventually, they’re the only ones who truly understand the depth of your grief. Also, the death of a loved one tends to bring the whole believer/non-believer issue to the forefront, and you may be irritated by well wishers saying it was “God’s plan” or “I’m praying for you” or “You’re not going to see your grandmother in Heaven because you’re going to Hell, dear. And could you please pass the ham?”
There are some resources for grieving atheists. The Grief Beyond Belief Facebook group is wonderful, but if you google, you’ll find a few others. It doesn’t matter that they’re strangers. Grieving atheists have a lot in common. You’ll see.
3. Exercise. “Ugh, but I don’t want to! It’s the last thing I want to do right now!” Shut up and do it. That’s your brain talking, and your brain isn’t helping you right now, so go use your body. Endorphins are powerful happy drugs. If they can’t make you feel happy, then can usually make you feel less lousy. Plus, really beating the shit out of your body can feel good, too. If you push yourself until you feel awful and then push a little farther, you’ll be surprised by the release you may feel. And, unlike cutting, you’re not leaving yourself open to infection or funny looks from psychology majors. Listening to music while exercising may help motivate you. Really angry stuff. Now’s the time to get pissed off and use it. Between the music and the motion, your brain will have a harder time dwelling.
4. Go outside. Yes, at 4 am. Middle of winter, fine. In a downpour, sure. It doesn’t matter. Go feel the elements. Go feel all those powerful forces that keep the earth moving and grooving. You are witnessing the life cycle anyway, so go see it happening all around you. Leaves changing. Trees budding. Squirrels at work. Tides rolling in. Winds and clouds and dew and drops of rain. You are a part of all of this. You, unlike most people, are in it and aware of it, like no other time in your life. There’s a comfort in that, in being equally involved in the majesty of nature, no bigger or smaller than the rest. The wind blew before you were here, and will continue to blow after you are gone. But not today’s wind. That’s unique. That is yours for now. Go appreciate it. If believers take comfort in their dream of being reunited eventually, you can take comfort by being completely in the Now. Sad, but willing to see things as they are, and able to see the beauty in reality.
5. Do something for someone else. Any kind of volunteer work will do, but it doesn’t have to be that organized. Donate canned goods to a shelter. Give money or a sack lunch to a homeless person. Pay for the person behind you in line at Starbucks. Offer to walk someone’s dog. Smile at someone, even if you have no reason. Give a compliment to someone who isn’t expecting it. You don’t have to be happy to be useful. It might make you feel good to do these things, but it doesn’t matter, because it will benefit someone else either way. You will know that you contributed. You will know that you, even wounded, have value.
Got it? Good. And if you’re feeling really ambitious, you can cover all the bases by running in a charitable cross-country marathon with Matthew Inman (author of The Oatmeal) and a few good grieving atheists. That would probably make you feel super-duper double happy.