I'm afraid that I'm unable to add as much to this conversation as I would like to, except to offer my words of support for Gimpy.
I've never really experienced a fear of death myself. Part of it may come from my never having been raised in religion. I always just thought of death as a natural part of the cycle. I live right now, I'm going to die eventually. My grandmother died two years ago, I've lost other relatives, it sucks, but that's life, move on there's stuff to do. Thus I really don't know what I can throw in except for this.
Something similiar to this came up on another site I frequently visit a few weeks ago. A woman who was religious was having some difficulties because she had two children that she loved, and she found herself deeply depressed as the notion crept into her head that one day her children were going to die. Or that she would die and leave them and all the love that she felt for her children would be gone from the world and would amount to nothing. So she came to over to ask us filthy, heathen atheists (my words, she was actually a very sweet woman) about how we came to cope with such things as loss and the fear of death and dying,etc.
I'll give the link to the whole conversation at the end, but I hope that this one post will help those of you who are feeling lost out. These are not my words, though I truly wish they were.
Here's a way of approaching the universe: You are a tiny speck of insignificant biological material in an immense universe that probably defies your brain's ability of understanding. Yet you are remarkable, in innumerable ways. Every second of every day you are a walking ecosystem of life, housing trillions of microbes that continuously interact with you to keep both you and them alive. Your body is constantly building and rebuilding itself, encoding information on simple strains of molecules at the speed of jet engines, in each and every nucleus-possessing cell in your body. You are a walking, talking, living, breathing orchestra of life, a beautiful display of the potential inherent in our particular universe.
You are the remarkable product of an unbroken, let me say that again, UNBROKEN line of descendants stretching all the way back to the very first interactions of seemingly pointless inanimate molecules. You share a common ancestry with every living thing ever, including the estimated 106 billion humans who have ever lived. You are tied to the trees and the birds and the small phytoplankton that gently ride the crests and dips of the oceans of this world. You are part of the vibrant tapestry of what we refer to as life, a piece of art that stretches back billions upon billions of years. Everything this universe has thrown at you and your ancestors has been roundly defeated - from harsh radiation, to extraterrestrial objects, to volcanic eruptions and more. You are a symbol of utter perseverance, of the sheer will to continue onwards. You are a cry in the dark, the voice of one who will not be quiet.
So now you've realized that there is no inherent meaning to existence. So what? This doesn't mean life has suddenly lost meaning - it means there was no meaning in the first place. So you haven't actually lost anything. Instead, you have gained a wonderful opportunity. Give existence the meaning it is seeking. MAKE a purpose for yourself. Maybe it should be your kids, or maybe it should be giving from the bounty you have (because let us face reality - if you have an internet connection and personal computer, you are in the top 10%, maybe even the top 1%, of humanity). Maybe you should learn a new skill, explore a new facet of creation that you never realized was open to you.
So why do you teach a toddler how to behave? Because maybe that toddler will be the one to find other life, other existence in our so far lonely universe. Or maybe they will be the father, the mother, the close friend, the lover, the supporter of the one who does. Or maybe they will be the person to speak out at just the right moment, the one to stand up and stand out, who will provide the inspiration, or the moment of connection for the person who does. Or maybe that toddler will be the one to protect the life around us from an otherwise inevitable end, from the sucking void of empty existence that we struggle against every second of our being.
Are you just a breeder? Just biology? What an insult to biology! Just?!? I forgive you, because you know not what you say
You are the product of a few basic particles, a few basic forces, yet you are impossibly complex, impossibly intricate. The sheer unlikeliness of your very existence is staggering, and yet here you are. The title of "breeder" is just a single facet of what you are. You can be a teacher, a leader, a thinker, a cook, a scientist, an artist, a musician, a protector, an enlightener, a champion, a peacemaker, a lover, a friend, a companion, a confidant... the list is a vast as the seemingly infinite complexities of neuron interactions in the collection of molecular structures known as cells in your brain.
And let us not end our poetic license there, for if all that is true, than this is also: There is something after death. The part of you that continues to exist in all life around you will never cease to be, not as long as things from this planet continue to live. You will continue on, interminably, from the beginning of life to its end potentially countless aeons from now, if ever. Maybe through some fluke you will be the Eve for humanity in the future, the one woman every human will trace their ancestry back to. Maybe not. But who can tell what the future holds. Rather than collapse under the imagined weight of nothingness, I posit that you should grasp hold of your life, and take it to heights heretofore unseen. Also - Hugs, love, and imaginary hot cocoa!
Here's the link, there are a lot of other very good thoughts on there as well. http://www.reddit.com/r/atheism/comments/dfgq9/honest_inquiry/