When Rebecca Hensler’s infant son died in 2009, she received numerous condolences from friends, colleagues and even total strangers she met online.

She knew their intentions were good, but their words weren’t always helpful. And in the rawness of her grief, Hensler found some of them downright hurtful.

Hensler is an atheist, so when people described her three-month-old son Jude as being an angel, or part of God’s plan, or “in a better place” than in his mother’s arms, the pain sometimes overwhelmed her.

“(Atheists) don’t think we are going to get to hold our children again,” Hensler told a group of about 30 members of the East Bay Atheists, a monthly gathering of nontheists, where her descriptions of people’s visions of her son as an angel drew a few gasps.

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