Friday, December 4, 2009

Talking About Death

Humanist Homeschool Mom has a post referring to her article, "Mommy, what happens after I die?" It prompted me to compile some of my favorite bits & pieces about a naturalistic approach to death.

First, the quote I commented with: ""I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it," traditionally attributed to Mark Twain.

Then there's this lovely bit by Aaron Freeman, which can be heard at

You want a physicist to speak at your funeral. You want the physicist to talk to your grieving family about the conservation of energy, so they will understand that your energy has not died. You want the physicist to remind your sobbing mother about the first law of thermodynamics; that no energy gets created in the universe, and none is destroyed. You want your mother to know that all your energy, every vibration, every Btu of heat, every wave of every particle that was her beloved child remains with her in this world. You want the physicist to tell your weeping father that amid energies of the cosmos, you gave as good as you got.

And at one point you'd hope that the physicist would step down from the pulpit and walk to your brokenhearted spouse there in the pew and tell him that all the photons that ever bounced off your face, all the particles whose paths were interrupted by your smile, by the touch of your hair, hundreds of trillions of particles, have raced off like children, their ways forever changed by you. And as your widow rocks in the arms of a loving family, may the physicist let her know that all the photons that bounced from you were gathered in the particle detectors that are her eyes, that those photons created within her constellations of electromagnetically charged neurons whose energy will go on forever.

And the physicist will remind the congregation of how much of all our energy is given off as heat. There may be a few fanning themselves with their programs as he says it. And he will tell them that the warmth that flowed through you in life is still here, still part of all that we are, even as we who mourn continue the heat of our own lives.

And you'll want the physicist to explain to those who loved you that they need not have faith; indeed, they should not have faith. Let them know that they can measure, that scientists have measured precisely the conservation of energy and found it accurate, verifiable and consistent across space and time. You can hope your family will examine the evidence and satisfy themselves that the science is sound and that they'll be comforted to know your energy's still around. According to the law of the conservation of energy, not a bit of you is gone; you're just less orderly. Amen.

Finally, there's a nice scene in the movie Houseboat, with Cary Grant and Sophia Loren, that expresses the same kind of sentiment. The widower explains to his grieving son that nothing is ever really destroyed or gone, only changed in form.


Anonymous said...

Long ago post, but I just found your blog. Actually, I think I would like a physicist deliver my eulogy. It'd make a whole lot more sense than some theist spouting "better place" woo....

What I really want is for my friends to have one hell of a f***ing good time throwing a wake with lots of Irish whiskey before they dump me into a hole in the ground and plant a tree on top of my ashes!

Christy said...

I like the way you think!