FWIW, you and your friends have my sympathies, DF. I have an eight year-old nephew; just the thought of losing him is a stab in the gut.
When I was a believer, the fantasy of an afterlife was comforting. Now almost seven years an atheist, I see how that fantasy cheapens the sacrifices and accomplishments my late relatives and friends made. The universe does not care about life, let alone human life, but we can make the choice to care.
Some theists who post here seem to think atheists are / should be nihilists, uncaring about anything but our own immediate desires. If we aren't, they accuse us of being hypocrites since according to them, altruism can only come from fear of a deity's judgment. To me, it seems the reverse: the knowledge you can be forgiven virtually any crime and be admitted to an eternal paradise is a license to run amuck during your mortal lifetime.
Human suffering, human compassion, human failing, human achievement, human hate, human love... Human, human, human, all the way from birth to death and no one to pick up the pieces and try to make them fit but ourselves.