12 Things Not to Say to Grieving Nonbelievers

crying woman

When you talk with people who are grieving, you want to make them feel better. At the very least, you don’t want to make them feel worse. This isn’t always true (as you’ll find out in some of these stories). But in general, in the face of grief, the point of comfort and consolation is to relieve some small part of the grieving person’s pain. And I’ll assume that the last thing you want to do is add to that pain.

The bad news is that, if you’re a religious believer, the chances are excellent you’ve done exactly that.

You almost certainly have non-believers in your life. While many of them aren’t public about it, around five to 10 percent of adults in the United States are non-religious. When they’re grieving — whether it’s a personal death or a public tragedy—they want and need comfort. But the standard ways of dealing with death are often religious. When these are offered to nonbelievers, they typically don’t help, and they often make things worse.

I’ve written before with advice about what nonbelievers what they want to hear when they’re grieving. This is the flip side of that coin. I reached out to members of Grief Beyond Belief (the online support group for grieving nonbelievers), as well as nonbelieving readers of my blog and Facebook page, and asked them to share the things they heard from believers that they wish had never been said.


Thus begins my latest piece for AlterNet, 12 Things Not to Say to Grieving Nonbelievers. Check it out!

12 Things Not to Say to Grieving Nonbelievers

One thought on “12 Things Not to Say to Grieving Nonbelievers

  1. 1

    As a believer, I wouldn’t want to hear most of these things either!
    “It’s all part of God’s plan” – you mean he killed my friend or relative and made me grieve ON PURPOSE? (Stupid plan that hinges on one of my loved ones dying!)
    “S/He’s with God now” – that’s nice for him/her, I guess, but my problem right now and the reason why I’m grieving isn’t that s/he may be, I dunno, in some horrible godless place right now; it’s that s/he’s no longer here where I am. And, by the way, what do you mean “now”? S/He wasn’t with God before? The God who’s supposed to be omnipresent isn’t HERE? That’s… actually giving me negative amounts of comfort. Thanks a lot.
    “S/He’s in Hell” – HELL NO. Not my lovely (mom, dad, friend, whatever).
    “This happened to bring you to God” – WAY TO GO, GOD.
    “No atheists in foxholes” – um, and that applies to my situation how, exactly?
    “Why should any of this bother you?” – I’m grieving, I don’t have much energy left to do other things (such as, I dunno, get dressed in the morning) and you’re usurping part of what precious little mental processing power I have left at the moment by making me listen to trite, pseudo-helpful-but-actually-really-not sayings, and you probably expect me to expend more of the energy I don’t have by smiling and nodding. Hmm. Why do YOU think this bothers me?

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