Fail, fail, fail, fail, succeed

Grieving For Atheists, Part 2

The First Law of Thermodynamics: Also known as the Law of Conservation of Energy, states that energy can neither be created nor destroyed; energy can only be transferred or changed from one form to another. In other words, energy cannot be created or destroyed.”

Before I became a nurse, I vividly remember my wife (who was a pediatric ICU nurse at the time) telling me of her experiences being present when babies and children died. She said if you put your hands over the child at the moment of death, you could actually feel the energy pass through you as it left the body. Fast forward a couple of decades later and I find myself working as a nurse in a busy inner city ER. In this environment, people die right under your hands on an unnaturally frequent basis. Experiencing death up close becomes your norm. I can remember at some point when I was new having a patient in cardiac arrest who died while I’m doing CPR (technically speaking, if you’re doing CPR, the patient is already dead – let’s say deadish – you are simply attempting to resuscitate them). Sometimes, because of good CPR circulating code meds, you’ll get them back and then lose them again. In this case, after multiple attempts to save the patient, the doc asks the team if anyone has any suggestions before calling the time of death (standard protocol), then proceeds to do so. It was really busy and I had other patients to take care of who probably had no idea what just transpired in the trauma room. I helped the techs do some basic post-mortem care, we zipped him up in a body bag, and I called the morgue. Then I just moved on to my other patients as if this was the most normal thing in the world, but I remember thinking “this is not normal.”

Here’s the thing: when you are around death a lot, you get a vivid sense that when someone dies, whatever energy inhabited their body has gone. Now, if they have been weakened over time by prolonged illness, that energy is not strong and powerful as it would in a child, but it is still there. And once it leaves the body, there is no mistaking this phenomenon. The question is: where does it go?

If it is a law of physics that energy can neither be created nor destroyed, but only changed from one form to another, and my experience tells me that who we are is some form of energy, then what exactly does this mean?

Where does this energy go? And where was it before we were born? And how do I process this as an atheist? I’ll explore these ideas further in tomorrows post “Grieving For Atheists, Part 3.”