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Serah Blain

Thank you so much for writing about this. As an open atheist who volunteers in the hospice community, I get calls and emails all the time from nontheists facing death or who are grieving a loss and who need support--and there are so few resources on this for nontheists. That is, fortunately, changing. I've been thrilled to see death being addressed articulately and honestly by more and more writers and speakers in the nontheistic movement...and it makes an immense difference for people facing end-of-life issues to be able to find words that really resonate with the intense reality of dying and grief. So thank you again for this post; it will be deeply meaningful to many, many people.


I come from a large (12 siblings) Catholic family. When my wife died three years ago, I received all kinds of religious expressions of comfort from my family and from hers. I wrote in reply to my sister who is a nun,

I am comforted by the recognition that you care, however you express it. Some others are a bit more aggressive in their expressions, and try to convince me that Ruth is still here loving us as before. This is a kindly meant cruelty, because I am persuaded that this is not the case. To me it is like someone pointing to a child’s mother lying in the coffin and telling the child that the mother is only sleeping.

Just as it is difficult to express oneself in anything by English, when one has grown up with that language, so it is difficult to express oneself in anything but "Catholic" when one has grown up with that language. Difficult, but not impossible.


I think, when you strip away all the rhetoric, that most (not all, though) human beings deal with grief best by being in community with each other. It makes perfect sense that atheists would need a community sensitive to their needs, and its heart breaking that people of religious beliefs do not respect that. I think its a myth that religious people, particularly Christians deal with grief better than atheists, because all too often the church DENIES them true grief. I *DON'T CARE* if your belief systems say you'll see each other again, the loss in the moment is devastating. And all too often, the church judges and damns individuals who are torn to pieces by loss as not having enough faith. This is simply not true. It is one of the great weaknesses of the church - the denial of many human emotions and experiences to enforce incorrect concepts of human behavior. I would much rather see honest grief, be it atheist, Christian or any other take on human existence, rather than the numb stunned expressions and isolation in the faces of those who believe - and yet are denied the humanity of their grief and pain by misinterpreted religious doctrine. My two cents, I guess.

P Smith

I don't want to suggest an atheist-run group isn't needed or wanted, but I think insensitivity is a bigger problem than religion in regard to this. The religious are insensitive to the non-religious, and attempt to impose their filth where it's not wanted.

Here are two similar situation I've heard of in the past:

- I read once in an Ann Landers column of a woman complaining how a catholic priest behaved after her bedridden father died. The priest said during the funeral that the man was "burning in hell" because he didn't attend the church every Sunday (never mind the fact that he couldn't move...). The priest was more worried about attendance and money on the plate than the feelings of the family.

- On a CBC radio documentary about infertility and difficulties in childbirth, I heard how people will say "You can always have another one" as if a new child will "replace" one that died. A woman on the same documentary told of a radio DJ on Mother's Day playing Carole King's "It's Too Late" after she requested a song for women who couldn't have kids. I suspect that's the last song any woman would want to hear after losing a kid or learning that she can't have any.

As for myself, when someone I know is grieving over a friend or family member, I usually tell them:

"The pain is a good thing. It's a sign of how much you liked/loved the person.

In time, your pain can be turned into good memories. If you didn't feel pain now, it would only turn into regret."


Dean Allemang

Your writing is usually insightful and inspirational, but in this piece you really outdid yourself - you hit so many nails square on the head! Especially pertinent for me is the point about how religious thoughts about death are quite disturbing, if you think about them at all carefully. I would go so far as to say that the reason I am an atheist is that every religious thought I have heard about death is too disturbing to embrace - even too disturbing to pretend to embrace.

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My father died at the end of July. Unexpectedly at 59, he simply died in his favorite chair. Reflexively I started making comments on social sites to my family to comfort them with religion. But, I have been a closeted atheist for almost a decade....maybe more. My close friends know but I simply value the bond with my family more than the fights of telling them my belief. But these past two weeks have been particularly hard as a part of me yearns for the early days when believing was 2nd nature, and I did not feel like a lier when I lowered my head for prayers....and yes, more than once I have wanted to scream at people telling me they're just so sure dad is in heaven right now happier than ever.

I feel badly for those in my position, as I really do feel alone. Piles of religious cards, sentiments...coping mechanisms of folks I love who don't actually know me.

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