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Grieving as an atheist: a surprising dilemma - ZIONICA.com
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Grieving as an atheist: a surprising dilemma

When you can no longer say 'I'm praying for you' or 'the person is in a better place' to someone who is grieving, what's left to say?

I can't remember the exact moment I became an atheist. There was no epiphany moment. I simply moved away from religion gradually until the binds fell apart completely (those binds being agnosticism, which got tossed once I realized I was simply prolonging the inevitable). But since I became an atheist, I wouldn't say it made any drastic changes in my life – until my best friend called me one day to tell me her mother passed away.

Although we live in different parts of the country (me in New York, she in Oklahoma), we still call each other weekly. But on that particular day the usual familiarity of speaking over the phone was eclipsed by the suddenness of tragedy. I couldn't give a sympathetic hug or offer a shoulder to cry on. All I could offer were my condolences … which were what exactly?

"I'm sorry for your loss" felt too impersonal. That's what you say to acquaintances, not best friends. "I'm here for you", I told her, which still didn't feel like enough.

I felt like I should have been saying the usual things: "God is with her now", "She's now in heaven" or "You're in my prayers". These phrases sound better because these are the phrases we're used to saying. "She's in a better place" provides a sense of hope and optimism. "You're in my prayers" shows caring and understanding. But that day, as I stood there on the phone struggling to think of the right things to say, I realized I couldn't say those phrases anymore. I couldn't tell her I was praying for her because I wasn't. I couldn't tell her I thought her mother was in "a better place" because to me that place was a hollow grave.

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  • mallen11

    How sad for those who don't believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. As believers, we have the confidence that we will see our loved ones again in heaven.
    John 5:24 Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears MY word, and believes Him who sent ME, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.
    Phil 1:16For me to live, Christ; to die gain.
    Rom 14:7-8 For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.
    2 Corinthians 5:6–8 Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord— for we walk by faith, not by sight—we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.
    Philippians 1:23 But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better;
    1 Thessalonians 4:13 [Those Who Died in Christ] But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope.

  • Grtgrandpa

    Does life really end at the grave, or is there something more? Since the dawn of time men have asked the four big questions: 1. Where did I come from? 2. Who am I? 3. What am I doing here? 4; Where am I going? The Apostle Paul answers these questions In "The Acts" of the Apostles in Chapter 17, where Paul was in Athens in the midst of Mars hill speaking to the philosophers and told them the answers to these four big questions In Acts 17: 26, 27, 28, 31: Q1. Ans. "God has made from one blood all nations for to dwell on all the face of the earth (we all come from Adam)." Q2. Ans. (28) "We are also His (God's) offspring (we are God's children made in His image and likeness)." Q3. Ans. "They should seek the Lord (we are here to find God, and worship Him)." Q4. Ans. (31) "He (God) hath appointed a day, in the which he (Jesus) will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained, whereof he has given assurance to all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead ( we are going into eternal spiritual life, either to paradise, or into the hot house prepared for the Devil and the unbelievers)."

  • farmrbrnboy

    There really is no dilemma here. Respond according to the belief of the person being consoled. If they believe in the after life, then "She is in a better place" is appropriate. If they are atheist, then "She is no longer in pain or is suffering" is appropriate. After all, we cannot prove or disprove God. The truth is within us. Our opinions have no place when trying to console a friend or family member.

    • Taquoshi

      I have found that simply saying to someone who is an atheist or non-believer, "You're in my thoughts during this difficult time." is sufficient.

      I have often told people to let me know if there is anything that I can
      do to help. Some have taken me up on that offer, most recently, a widow
      who needed computer support in filing a number of forms.

      When my aunt died last November, my uncle was frantic because he couldn't find some of the legal forms needed to process some of the insurance claims. Fortunately, I'm a genealogist and I know how to track down the forms. When I called my cousin to say that I'd gotten copies of the documents that were needed, my uncle happened to be there. He got on the phone and thanked me profusely. That meant more to him than all the flower arrangments in the world.

      As for those who are wondering if I am praying for those whom I tell "I'm praying for you.", the answer is Yes.

      Yesterday morning, I got a call from a long time neighbor that a second cousin had passed away. We knew the end was near, he was 90. And when I think of him, which is frequently, it is with love and affection. Of course, when I think of him, I think of his widow and his children. And yes, at that moment, I breathe a prayer for their comfort.

    • daves

      This was a really good article. The author understands quite well the importance of seemingly trivial phrases.

  • blackhawk132

    If there is NO Heaven, no problem BUT when they find out there IS 'Oh boy Oboy'

  • LouiseCA

    I have stood at the door of the viewing rooms within mortuaries as those who came to pay their respects to my loved ones file out of the room.

    I can tell you that the difference in the countenance of those who believe in Christ and those who do not is simply stark.

    • daves

      Atheists don't look as sad?

  • abbeyconway

    Another reason why atheists comprise the majority of those seeing a shrink. Life has not meaning and death confirms it.

    • daves

      Atheist or Christian, our purpose on this earth is to make it better for others.

      • abbeyconway

        Atheists have no purpose. There is no purpose for a speck of dust run amuck (and where did that speck of dust come from in the first place?). God conferred purpose on humanity. A speck of dust does confer anything.. Hope you are happy with your psychiatrist….

  • WilliamSpires

    An atheist should have no problem responding to a death, just say "that's evolution" survival of the fittest or fastest, since they generally think that everything was a random freak of nature and time. That takes more faith than I have so I'll take the easy way out and believe there is a higher power of whatever name you choose.

  • Annegelinas

    Atheists think that life and death came from the great unknown therefore the answer to the grieving friend would be casa ra sara…whatever will be will be. So very friendly.
    When an atheists has to think about what to say then that person is not an atheist.

  • Jim Schafer

    this shows that there can never be a non-believing atheist.

  • Will Spike

    Having an atheist relative, and an atheist girlfriend, this helps a lot.

  • believeroftheway

    Tiffany White is a hypocrite. Real friends speak the truth of what they think to each other. Ms. White should have told her friend that her mother's death was inconsequential since all life was all irrelevant. She should have continued that mourning was irrational because there is no purpose to life except to live as hedonisticly as possible and only our own selfish pursuit of self pleasure matters. The lie of Satan is that we play GOD and define good and evil ourselves. Individuals who claim to be atheists are deluding themselves because the term means that they know with 100% certainty that there is no GOD. That would mean they have infinite knowledge, ie know everything there is to know about everything, and only GOD HIMSELF has that ability. Even the now unclosested pervert Richard Dawkins has admitted that he does not have infinite knowledge and defines himself as an agnostic.

  • Jim Schafer

    atheism is not a religion nor a true belief, but an attempt to prove the inevitable—that they are running from their own hopes and desires, that they can live their lifestyles, and they're wishing that Jehovah, the God of the Bible, does not exist. because if he did, then the possibility of their actions would be punished.
    But the God of the Bible is the God of grace, and grace is simply the transferring of sin from one to another. In other words, God knew that our condition of sin, which leads to death(death is eternal separation from God and His peace and restful state that His children or those that place faith in Christ's death-for our sin, burial-atonement for our sin; and resurrection-that the atonement was accepted and that we now have the assurance that his sacrifice was accepted and that it is effective for salvation—this is a shortened and compacted form of grace. When one is given faith and places trust and repents from sin, that person can have the assurance that he/she will be provided salvation. and thus can have eternal life.) and death is all eternal; on the other hand, paradise—where Christ is, and we, as believers/children of God-Jahweh)
    The following verses/passages are scripture some helpful verses that will, hopefully, explain .
    (Romans 3:23; 6:23; 5:8; 10:9-13)
    Please note that prayer is merely talking to God, and our relationship with Christ is done in the form of prayer.