@GrannyPantiesRock: I have very similar beliefs to you and for very similar reasons. I too struggle with this same issue, and even almost “wished” I believed because it seems like it might be easier. Like you, I will not allow myself to believe for that reason though.
The thing that has really helped me (and maybe really the only thing) is to focus on honoring them. I’m not talking memorials or mentions, while those can be nice. Meaning, remembering the things I loved about them, the ways they lived their lives that I admired about them, the things they valued, and what kinds of things they would have wanted me to do and experience in my life in effort to live well, right and to the fullest.
I think as an agnostic or athiest, it’s easy to feel like death is an end and a finality and nothing else, and in a religious world that looks to what happens post-death to validate and give meaning to what happens pre-death, it can be especially hard to cope with the end of life. So, we have to really live life to the fullest and work extra hard to give our best every day.
When our loved ones die, yes, they are gone and their bodies are in the ground. They are not “with” you. But, in addition to the memories, the ways they added to your life, the values they instilled, the love they gave you and the ways they inspired you all still remain. I believe that the best way to go on is to become even MORE open to their good influence and make sure that through your life, you are continuing the best of theirs.
For example, my grandmother, one of the most loving and giving people I have ever known, would buy about 200 birthday cards every January. She kept a special planner with everyone’s birthday and made sure that no one she cared about ever went a year without a birthday card. Now that she is gone, I do that. My grandfather valued education and hard work so much and was part of the reason my family has enjoyed so much prosperity in our lives. He never missed a report card (a dollar for every A) or let a grandchild go on a trip without giving them a special book about the location or activity to do while on the trip that would help them learn and get something a little more out of the experience. Now, I try to give extra thoughtful, unique and relevant gifts to children when the opportunity arrises, hoping that they too will have their horizons expanded just a bit.
Those are obviously two small and rather trivial (in the scheme of things) examples, but I like to think that I am able to continue to make the world a little better in some of the same ways my loved ones did. It makes me feel like none of their efforts went to waste and that if by some chance they are out there, they feel honored that the values they espoused did in fact make an impact and continue to do so. I also always think about them and what their advice would have been whenever I am making a big decision, and try to live in ways that would have made them proud.
that got really long, but your post resonated with me. hope that helps 🙂