Atheists Too Can Find Peace in Their Beliefs
By Lisa Pahl, LCSW
“There are no atheists in the foxhole.”
I’ve heard this phrase used many times through my work in end-of-life care.
I think for some people who have a strong faith background they may have the viewpoint that when atheists are dying they find their lives devoid of meaning, depressed, without hope. I, personally, have not found this to be true in my years of working in hospice. I’ve had some incredible conversations with hospice patients that identify as atheist. One man in particular stands out to me. He said, “to me there is nothing that brings me more comfort than knowing that when I take my last breath, it’s all over. There’s no more pain, no worries of this world. What a beautiful gift that is.”
Another woman shared, “I have raised my kids to be loving and good humans. I don’t believe we will see each other again, but I will be able to continue to guide them. They will hear my voice in their ear as they are making hard decisions, they will recall memories of our time together that serve as reminders that they are loved.”
Recently, a man shared that a medical professional had told him how sad they thought it was that he was “without faith.”
“I have so much faith; in my family to help me get through the hard days, in the hospice staff to keep me comfortable, in my friends to keep my spirits up, in nature to keep showing me beauty, in human kind to keep on loving each other in spite of our differences. How is this not also faith?”
As healthcare professionals, we have a responsibility to not put our own beliefs upon our patients and family members. We can best support our patients by being curious about their beliefs and values and helping them take comfort in what they hold most true.