But just because naturalists do not believe in a life after death does not mean that they don't care what happens after they die. I am deeply concerned, for instance, about whether my family members will be happy and successful after I am gone, whether my friends will continue the traditions we have established, and whether the world will be a better place because of my actions. I hope that what I do in this life will make a long-term difference in the world, though I will never know whether this ambition is fulfilled. In fact, a strong case can be made that naturalists tend to care more about these things than do religious people, since naturalists are committed to an ethic that emphasizes the causal effects of our actions in the here and now, as opposed to a mythological hope for a better life in a supernatural realm. A core belief of naturalism is that this life is the only one we will ever experience, and therefore any hope for the betterment of our lives and the lives of others must come in this lifetime.
It's my firm conclusion that human meaning comes from humans, not from a supernatural source. After we die, our hopes for an afterlife reside in the social networks that we influenced while we were alive. If we influence people in a positive way—even if our social web is only as big as a nuclear family—others will want to emulate us and pass on our ideas, manners, or lifestyle to future generations. This is more than enough motivation for me to do good things in my life and teach my children to do the same.
I died as mineral and became a plant,
I died as plant and rose to animal,
I died as animal and I became man.
Why should I fear? When was I less by dying?
I have accumulated a wealth of knowledge in innumerable spheres and enjoyed it as an always ready instrument for exercising the mind and penetrating further and further. Best of all, mine has been a life of loving and being loved. What a tragedy that all this will disappear with the used-up body!
Many people—including, presumably, most of those reading this book—believe that death is probably the final end of all personal experience and do not expect to continue their existence in some other life or other world. In this view, it is precisely the fact that our lives are limited that makes them precious. How we choose to use our time is all the more important when we know that we won’t have the opportunity to do everything. The fact that we can lose the ones we love makes it urgent for us to resolve our quarrels, forgive our injuries, be as thoughtful and kind as we can, and be sure to let those we love know about it. If we were immortal, it would not matter if we chose to spend our time being bored, cranky, or spiteful; as it is, we don’t have time to waste our lives with such unproductive and unpleasant attitudes.
In a discussion on my blog regarding teaching kids about death, one of my readers commented that he uses a book called Lifetimes, by Bryan Mellonie. He explained that the book describes the lifetimes of various living things and focuses on the life that happens in between birth and death.
He explained, “I tell my kids that they do continue, not only in the life matter and lineage cycle, but as part of the world/universe per se. ‘The world produced life and us along with it. We are not separate from it. Like a drop of water taken from the ocean and returned, when we die we return to the world. There is no place else to go. Whatever we are has always been and will always be a part of it.’”
My reader then explained the results. “If you ask either of them what happens when they die, they will tell you, ‘We go back to the world.’”
Another reader gave this idea. “One thing that helped with my kids was the concept of the circle of life. I asked them to think about what would happen if no one died but we kept having babies. They figured out pretty quickly that this was not a good option. Then I told them that one of the most wonderful things ever in my life was having them, and they agreed that having babies was something they wanted to do one day. The only other option, then, was to have death occur in order to make room for new babies.”
I love these ideas of using positive concepts when talking about death in general.
Our children need to see us deal with death. I do not hide them from it (unless it is particularly gruesome) when they hear about someone dying. We discuss how sad it is, and then I focus the conversation on that person’s life before he died.
We can talk with our children about the sadness that we feel when a person leaves us. We can talk about the love we had for that person, about the joy she gave us, the fact that she made us laugh or made us think. And we can talk about the joy our loved one had while she was here.
I depart as air, I shake my white locks at the runaway sun,
I effuse my flesh in eddies, and drift it in lacy jags.
I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,
If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.
The Greeks are wrong to recognize coming into being and perishing; for nothing comes into being nor perishes, but is rather compounded or dissolved from things that are. So they would be right to call coming into being composition and perishing dissolution.
Equally vain is the suggestion that the spirit is immortal because it is shielded by life-preserving powers: or because it is unassailed by forces hostile to its survival; or because such forces, if they threaten, are somehow repelled before we are conscious of the threat. <Common sense makes it obvious that this cannot be the case:> apart from the spirit's participation in the ailments of the body, it has maladies enough of its own.  The prospect of the future torments it with fear and wearies it with worry, and past misdeeds leave the sting of remorse. Lastly, it may fall a prey to the mind's own specific afflictions, madness and amnesia, and plunge into the black waters of oblivion.
From all this it follows that death is nothing to us and no concern of ours, since the nature of the mind is now held to be mortal. In days of old, we felt no disquiet when the hosts of Carthage  poured in to battle on every side - when the whole earth, dizzied by the convulsive shock of war, reeled sickeningly under the high ethereal vault, and between realm and realm the empire of mankind by land and sea trembled in the balance. So, when we shall be no more - when the union of body and spirit that engenders us  has been disrupted - to us, who shall then be nothing, nothing by any hazard will happen any more at all. Nothing will have power to stir our senses, not though earth be fused with sea and sea with sky.
If any feeling remains in mind or spirit after it has been torn from our body, that is nothing to us, who are brought into being by the wedlock of body and spirit, conjoined and coalesced. Or even if the matter that composes us should be reassembled by time after our death and brought back into its present state - if the light of life were given to us anew  - even that contingency would still be no concern of ours once the chain of our identity had been snapped. We who are now are not concerned with ourselves in any previous existence: the sufferings of those selves do not touch us. When you look at the immeasurable extent of time gone by and the multiform movements of matter, you will readily credit that these same atoms that compose us now must many a time before have entered into the selfsame combinations as now.  But our mind cannot recall this to remembrance. For between then and now is interposed a break in life, and all the atomic motions have been wandering far astray from sentience.
I like to remember the distinguished Swedish oceanographer, Otto Pettersson, who died a few years ago at the age of ninety-three, in full possession of his keen mental powers. His son has related in a recent book how intensely his father enjoyed every new experience, every new discovery concerning the world about him.
"He was an incurable romantic," the son wrote, "intensely in love with life and with the mysteries of the universe." When he realized he had not much longer to enjoy the earthly scene, Otto Pettersson said to his son: "What will sustain me in my last moments is an infinite curiosity as to what is to follow."
The lasting pleasures of contact with the natural world are not reserved for such scientists but are available to anyone who will place himself under the influence of earth, sea and sky and their amazing life.
Let us again look at the laws of thermodynamics. It is true that at first sight they read like the notice at the gait of Dante's Hell; but in fact, tough as they are and although like income tax they cannot without penalyt be evaded, they can with forethought be avoided. The Second Law states unequivocally that the entropy of an open system must increase. Since we are all open systems, this means that all of us are doomed to die.