I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the “nones” — the one in five Americans who answer “none of the above” when asked about religion on surveys — and how this growing segment of America’s population approaches the end of life.

Most nones have some kind of belief in God, spirituality or a higher power without attributing it to a specific religion, but unlike followers of many religions, they don’t always have a concrete belief in the afterlife. And among the nones, the increasing number of atheists by definition don’t believe in a spiritual existence after death.

But of all of the deaths the nation has experienced in the last year — including but not limited to the horrific shootings in Aurora, Colo. and Newtown, Conn. — the public conversation about suffering and mourning has often been couched in the language of faith.

In “The Blessings of Atheism,” a New York Times opinion piece that ran this weekend, atheist author Susan Jacoby took issue with the “endless talk about faith in God as the only consolation for those devastated” by murders, such as in Newtown. “Some of those grieving parents surely believe, as I do, that this is our one and only life,” she wrote.