Grief Beyond Belief: A Faith-Free Support Network Launches on Facebook

Grief beyond belief logo
How can atheists and other non-believers deal with the reality of grief in our lives?

And how can we help one another deal with that reality?

We talk a lot in the atheist movement about making atheism a safe place to land for people who are leaving religion. We talk a lot about how religion is, for many people, the only game in town when it comes to community and support in a time of loss and grief — and how, if we’re going to make atheism a viable alternative to religion, we need to build community and support networks to replace it. We talk a lot about the commonly-held belief that religion is necessary to give comfort and solace in the face of death and grief — and how the atheist community needs to not only make godless philosophies of death more widely known and understood, but provide one another with practical, on-the-ground support in the face of death’s reality.

Some of us are even doing something about it.

My friend Rebecca Hensler is one of them. She has just started Grief Beyond Belief, a faith-free online support network for non-religious people grieving the death of a loved one.

Her announcement about the network is below. She explains it better than I can, so I’m just going to let her have the floor. Please spread the word about it. This is something many people in the atheist/ agnostic/ humanist/ skeptic/ freethinker/ non-religious world are very much in need of — or will be in need of at some point in our lives — and we should let people know that it’s available.


In response to the clear need for grief support among non-religious people, Grief Beyond Belief launches today on Facebook. The Grief Beyond Belief page offers an online support network for people grieving the death of a child, parent, partner, or other loved one — without belief in a higher power or an afterlife. Atheists, agnostics, humanists and anyone else living without religious beliefs are invited to join and participate on the page. Bereaved people in the process of questioning or letting go of previously held religious beliefs are also welcome to be part of the community and seek support.

In many ways, Grief Beyond Belief resembles other online grief support networks and forums. However, religious grief support — including prayer, faith in god, and belief in an afterlife — is not welcome in posts or comments. In this way Grief Beyond Belief offers a safe space for atheists and other non-religious people to share and process the death of a loved one. Recognizing that the death of a loved one sometimes leads to reevaluation of religious beliefs, every effort will be made to make the page accessible to people who are still struggling with these issues. However, the page is not intended as a venue for debate, but as a space for shared compassion and support. While religious believers may participate on the page, they are required to follow these guidelines.

Once a participant has “liked” Grief Beyond Belief, she or he will periodically receive a thought, question, quote or link in her or his News Feed addressing various aspects of grief, often focusing on grieving a death without faith. Participants are also invited to post memories, photos, thoughts, feelings or questions they would like to share, on which other members can comment. In addition, the page serves as a central location on the web where members can link to writing about grief and loss that is coming from an non-religious perspective. Bloggers are strongly encouraged to post links to blog entries on this topic on the Grief Beyond Belief wall.

Grief Beyond Belief’s founder, Rebecca Hensler, discovered the need for such a group when seeking support for her own grief after the death of her three-month-old son. “I quickly found a network of parents who were also grieving the deaths of their children at The Compassionate Friends (a 42-year-old parental grief support group). But I often felt alienated by assurances from other members that my son was in heaven or by offers to pray for me, comforts that were kindly meant but that I do not believe and cannot accept. It wasn’t until an atheist member reached out to me in friendship that I understood what I had been missing.” Hensler soon discovered that she was not the only non-believer who felt a need for safe space to grieve without faith or belief in an afterlife. “I have been particularly moved by the experiences of non-believers who are attempting to heal from loss while surrounded by religious people pressuring them to join or rejoin their religions; at its worst that kind of so-called ‘help’ can verge on abuse.”

The need for faith-free space to share grief and healing has been addressed frequently on atheist blogs, such as Friendly Atheist. (Hemant Mehta. “Are There Resources for Atheist Widows?”, Friendly Atheist, June 2, 2011.) While a Facebook page may only meet a small portion of that need, Grief Beyond Belief serves to open the door to grieving non-believers seeking community and compassion.

Contact: Rebecca Hensler, [email protected]

Join Grief Beyond Belief by going to the Facebook page and clicking the “like” button.

Grief Beyond Belief: A Faith-Free Support Network Launches on Facebook

9 thoughts on “Grief Beyond Belief: A Faith-Free Support Network Launches on Facebook

  1. 1

    athiesm is and will be a viable alternative to all religions, because reason, rationality and logic will always be waiting for people when they let go of magical thinking and delusion
    athiesm is not a replacement for religion, it is the rejection of religion.
    where we turn to to be comforted in time of need will remain the same – to other people who are sharing the loss
    it has never made sense to me, that if religion is real to beleivers, that they grieve at all – if they really beleive that their loved one is in a good afterlife with their particular diety – then death should be a time to rejoice
    greif is appropriate to atheists, because we know that the person is gone and they aren’t waiting for us to be re-united at some point, that life isn’t a dress rehearsal for the afterlife
    the only thing that gets us beyond the pain and loss is time, it hurts, we adjust and we continue on with life
    it might seem cold, but better cold compassion than the false comfort that religion provides
    we will all experience loss and each one is unique and will leave different traces on our memory and emotion
    it helps to reach out to share the loss with others who have also experienced loss –
    the challenge for athiests is that it’s often difficult to express loss and greif when family and friends bring religion into the equation, and causes a sort of grief isolation to the athiest – because they are not experiencing the loss the same way that the beleivers are
    but saying that there’s no rhyme or reason to a death is no different than saying god’s will – except for there being no reason, at least there’s not an invisible boogeyman to blame for it’s mysterious will
    seriously, it makes me wonder how adults can ever convince children that god isn’t just an evil boogeyman waiting to get everyone.

  2. 3

    Thanks for the link to this group, and deepest gratitude to Rebecca Hensler for establishing it. It seems to have already garnered wide support and I can only hope that continues. I think dealing with grief and loss is one of the major worries for most people, and especially for those just coming to terms with their lack of belief.
    A young man on The Thinking Atheist Forum wrote a heartfelt post about his not knowing what he would do if his partner were to die. For myself, my mother died five days before my 13th birthday and was buried on my birthday, so death has been a presence in my life for some time now (I’m nearing 60). I was raised protestant but was always somewhat skeptical, and when a well meaning Aunt told me she had gone to a “seer” and had been told my mother was in heaven picking flowers and wanted me not to worry about her I wanted to scream. I knew she was only trying to help but it did nothing of the sort, nor did the religious condolences of our friends, neighbors and relatives. How nice it would have been to have had a place to turn that didn’t tell lies to ease the pain.
    I’m quite at peace with death now, it is merely the final part of life, as it has been for all those who lived before me and will be for all those who will live after I die. I hope to die content knowing I lived a life of compassion and honesty that was achieved under no duress. That, I hope, will be all the comfort I will need.
    Thanks again to you Greta for making this known and to Rebecca for the tremendous service she is offering.

  3. 4

    I’m so glad this support network has been set up. I remember the first (and, so far, only) time that I lost someone who I loved after becoming an atheist. It seemed like so many details of the grief that I was experiencing were different to that experienced by the religious people who shared my loss. Not that they were lesser or greater, mind. Just different. Instead of struggling with the idea of a just god allowing people to die, I struggled with the reality that we live in a universe where we will all end.
    Having people who get that, without having to explain it, and without worrying that people will get defensive about their own beliefs? It’s so damn important.

  4. 5

    Some years ago I lost a much-loved pet and was deeper in grief than at any other time in my life. I sought techniques to deal with grief and inquired of some of the pet loss support hotlines set up by vet schools and manned by senior students.
    The results:
    1) All the lines were staffed by caring, reasonable people.
    2) All assumed callers needed to vent their feelings.
    3) All assumed sufferers needed validation of their feelings, and assumed they must have run into people who told them it’s just an animal; you can always get another, and snap out of it.
    4) Though some of the vet schools sponsoring the hot lines were in the Deep South, nobody ever mentioned god or anything related or religious.
    5) Nobody offered techniques for handling grief, which is what I was seeking originally.
    Maybe I’m different from most people, but venting or validation is the last thing I needed. The idea of sufferers sitting in a circle each getting their turn to vent their feelings before a respectful audience is to me an exercise in pointlessness.
    If that’s what a grief support group is all about I think its usefulness is limited. Anybody’s attempt to inject prayer or god or belief could easily be met by a peremptory turning aside. I’d just tell them thanks but no thanks; you may mean well but you’re not helping; no more of this religious stuff, please. And that would be the end of it.
    Eliminating religion from grief counseling is the easy part. But nobody seems to know or pass on techniques to deal with grief, i.e. practical ways of meeting the problem.
    For whatever it’s worth, here’s the resolution: time alone allowed my grief eventually to lose its edge as a major locus of pain. Even after 20 years, however, the memory, though manageable, still hurts, far more than any other pain I’ve had in my life. It’s probably comparable to the pain many people talk about feeling when they’ve lost a beloved child.
    The lady setting up the atheistic grief support is limiting it by putting it on Facebook. You would need to have joined Facebook to join the group or post anything, and some people, myself included, would never join Facebook.
    Hence my posting here.
    –Top Squirrel

  5. 6

    Top Squirrel, I’m rather puzzled by your comment. It seems to be along the lines of, “The food is terrible, and the portions are so small!” You seem to be saying, “There isn’t a real need for this, and since it’s on Facebook it isn’t widely available enough.”
    In either case: Perhaps you, personally, wouldn’t see a need for a network like this — but many other people do. It’s not just about “venting”; it’s about empathy, compassion, feeling like you’re not alone. Which can be especially important with some of the scarier, uglier aspects of grief, the ones people don’t like to talk about, the ones that make many people feel like bad people for experiencing.
    As to it being on Facebook: Yes, that limits its reach somewhat. But it made it much easier for the founder of the group to start it. I don’t see the point in bitching about other people doing good, worthwhile work simply because it isn’t exactly perfect according to your standards. Especially if you’re not willing to do the work yourself.

  6. 7

    I joined the group and immediately found some really helpful and caring people. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.
    Also, concerning the death of pets – I took in a cat that a relative had been neglecting (to the point of illness and starvation) and spent 6 wonderful years with, only to have him mysteriously and suddenly drop dead. I still get teary when I see pictures of him. I loved that little guy so much, I wanted him to have a long life, but what he got was a very happy one full of love. I still miss him and it’s been over 2 years.

  7. 8

    I live in Texas. I recently lost my 20 year old little brother in a tragic driving accident – I’ve had a hard time coping with it, but everywhere I’ve turned I’m hit with religious answers, and when I express I don’t believe in God, heaven, or hell, or if I try and explain myself in depth – I just get told I’m going to hell. It’s nice to know there is a movement started for a different kind of support.

  8. 9

    I recently joined GBB, and I must admit, I was so relieved to find a group “for me.” My sister is the founder of another nonprofit group for grieving widows, but it has a religious/spiritual focus, so I never feel quite…right…about being there. Granted, it’s a process that I’m walking through with my sister as much as I can, but sometimes I feel like I’m not grieving like you’re “supposed to.”
    After I liked GBB on Facebook, I reached out to another member via a private message for some advice, and I received a thoughtful, sincere, and helpful response. I feel more comfortable thinking about death (which is my number one fear) now that I know there’s a group like GBB. It makes me feel like it’s okay to not believe that you’re going to live forever, which, in my opinion, is why people find heaven so appealing.
    Overall, Rebecca saw a need for this group, and I’m so thankful that she did!

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