Words of Comfort for the Families of Children who Die Tragically.

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Discussion by: Byrneo

I've been wondering about this for a while. What do you say to the family and friends of children who die in tragic circumstances?

The idea of an afterlife, although absurd, offers comfort in such terrible circumstances even though it's false comfort. 
If someone dies in old age, or doing something in their life that they love, the question isn't so difficult.
They lived their life and that made them lucky. They got to experience the wonders of existence.
But in cases of tragedy, especially involving the very young, this just doesn't cut it. 
 
I don't mean to ask about the merits/demerits of the comfort that is found in false belief. 
Rather, how do we humanists best offer comfort during tragedy? 

52 COMMENTS

  1. There are many things we can do. One, which is often overlooked, is to simply offer help with practical matters. Anyone who’s ever lost a loved one knows how overwhelming such a situation can be. You literally don’t know what to do first. Just taking that off their hands can be hugely helpful.

    Beyond that, it would depend on who the grieving person is, how close you are and so on. Showing genuine kindness and warmth when offering your condolences is always good advice. But make no mistake, words won’t just magically make them feel better.

    For someone closer to you, simply listening to them, holding their hand, giving them a shoulder to cry on might be helpful. Saying something positive and authentic about the deceased person might (but not always) be a good idea. But make sure you don’t push your help on them. Be prepared to give them the space they need – keep in mind it’s about them, not about you.

    You may also want to familiarize yourself with the psychology of grief and its different stages, so you can identify them in a person. There is no universal formula for helping a grieving parent (or person in general). But the better prepared you are, the better you understand what they’re going through at least in theory, the more likely you are to say or do something helpful.

    • In reply to #2 by blue_book:

      Sorry but who says the idea of an afterlife is absurd? You? Well us afterlifers are truly sorry to be so stretching your credulities!

      What evidence do you have of an afterlife?

      • In reply to #11 by canadian_right:

        In reply to #2 by blue_book:

        Sorry but who says the idea of an afterlife is absurd? You? Well us afterlifers are truly sorry to be so stretching your credulities!

        What evidence do you have of an afterlife?

        Thanks both of you for this timely reminder to keep philosophical discourse out of the presence of the bereaved. Apart from that, what everybody else said.

    • In reply to #2 by blue_book:

      Sorry but who says the idea of an afterlife is absurd? You? Well us afterlifers are truly sorry to be so stretching your credulities!

      That’s actually an issue. Try as we might, there is no means by which we have been able to detect the presence of a soul through side-channel attacks, there is not a single indicator that a part of us escapes the end of life. Most likely, one vanishes with his or her memories and thoughts much like data is lost by a computer, as it powers down.

      The promise of an afterlife may be a comforting one for those who can muster the trust in it, but the lack of evidence indicates that, if ours is a material world, the chances of your self-identity remaining intact is remote at best. If it does exist, it is so delicate that local meteorological energies would have catastrophic effect on them. Whatever electromagnetic matrix that once defined you could be eradicated by a local lightning bolt, a poorly timed CME, or maybe even the network of florescent lights that illuminate the hospital in which you die.

      So much like we hope against the many worlds they for sake of Schrodinger’s Cat, we also hope that souls aren’t a material component of this universe that is too fleeting to detect.

      Philosophically speaking, there’s also the simulation proposition. We cannot disprove (or even determine the chances) that we are all assets of a grand experiment. We’d more likely be parts of the program (or in old-timey speak dreams of the dreamer) than we would be brains in jars playing the greatest MMORPG ever. In that case, yeah, when we die, we keep calm and respawn. But then still lies the conundrum that none of us remember anything from our past lives.

      If we don’t learn from our pasts, what does it matter whether new lives are made of old the way new bodies are made of old stars?

    • In reply to #2 by blue_book:

      Sorry but who says the idea of an afterlife is absurd? You? Well us afterlifers are truly sorry to be so stretching your credulities!

      If the child is in a better place, with Jesus, why is everyone so sad?

      • And where exactly would that place be?
        In reply to #30 by Nitya:

        In reply to #2 by blue_book:

        Sorry but who says the idea of an afterlife is absurd? You? Well us afterlifers are truly sorry to be so stretching your credulities!

        If the child is in a better place, with Jesus, why is everyone so sad?

        • In reply to #31 by spacedebris:

          And where exactly would that place be?
          In reply to #30 by Nitya:

          In reply to #2 by blue_book:

          Sorry but who says the idea of an afterlife is absurd? You? Well us afterlifers are truly sorry to be so stretching your credulities!

          If the child is in a better place, with Jesus, why is everyone so sad…

          It’s not up to me to provide examples of absurd notions of an afterlife, I’m simply pointing out the disconnect between the glib platitudes and the genuine expression of grief.
          I’m afraid that comments such as having gone to a better place, set my teeth on edge, even though they were probably well intentioned. Even “sorry for your loss” has become such a cliché that it rankles.

          In the event of the death of someone close to me I much prefer sincere attempts at empathy and offers of support. Fortunately I’ve never experienced the loss of a child. I can’t imagine anything worse. I doubt whether I’d ever fully recover from such a tragedy. Imagining the child playfully carrying on life without me, wouldn’t help at all, and phony comments would be even less likely to help.

        • In reply to #31 by spacedebris:

          And where exactly would that place be?
          In reply to #30 by Nitya:

          In reply to #2 by blue_book:

          Sorry but who says the idea of an afterlife is absurd? You? Well us afterlifers are truly sorry to be so stretching your credulities!

          There is an idea of an “afterlife.” Some people call it “the living.” Quite absurd.

    • In reply to #2 by blue_book:

      Sorry but who says the idea of an afterlife is absurd? You? Well us afterlifers are truly sorry to be so stretching your credulities!

      As there is no evidence whatsoever to support this claim, it will just have to remain absurd unless some is presented!

      Perhaps you could explain the details of how many of Earth’s organisms participate in this supposed afterlife, and if it is a supposed property of humans, when during human evolution it started? ( At LUCA? early Chordates? Fish? Amphibians? Reptiles? Mammals? Primates? Homo species?)

      Got evidence?

      @6 Largely unimportant until you come up against existential questions like eternity.

      Eternity probably does not exist in our universe, but deep time does. Those who depend on citing magic as explanations will probably have some difficulty with the physics of time, space, matter and energy. -
      none of which have much to do with expressing empathy for fellow humans who have suffered losses here on Earth.

    • In reply to #3 by Turan:

      ‘double-m’. Good advice – about the best one can do.’blue-book’. Not much of a stretch.

      Largely unimportant until you come up against existential questions like eternity.

  2. I don’t know if there is a way to comfort through words anyone that has lost a child.
    But when it does come to that moment all I seem to have to offer are my own tears.
    Sometimes sharing grief is a comfort in itself.

  3. I agree with degeus. I don’t think there is really anything you can say to easy the pain of losing a child, words fail us at a moments like that. I think all you can really do is just try to be there for the parents in any way you can.

  4. double-m offers good advice about familiarizing oneself with the psychology of grief. The stages outlined (acceptance, denial, anger, bargaining, guilt, etc.) in most coping resources are facts. While the way grieving people experience the stages may differ (many times and in many different orders), it’s an amazingly accurate realty that all of us will likely go through some day.

    I have a side business where, over the years, I have interacted with hundreds, maybe thousands now, of people on the worst day of their lives. Some I know and some people I have just met for the first time. Grief (either from unexpected tragedy or not) is like being lost. For the moments you are with the person, be their sign post, their street light, because everything else in their life that day is feeling alien. I think providing comfort to a lost person means helping them get from point A to point B (all the little things double-m mentioned) while facing the grief by talking and recognizing expressions of emotion rather than trying to distract oneself from it. Don’t worry about points C, D, or Z that first day which are really about helping them integrate the entire death experience into the present day.

    I’d like to also mention that it’s important for us, the would-be consoling friends/family, to not be afraid of being near the grief-stricken. And also, don’t be afraid of saying the wrong thing if your intentions are to help; grieving people, while perhaps in a fog, aren’t necessarily devoid of perception and can be very forgiving of any social faux pas. Follow their lead and when they don’t lead, stand with them. Talk as you normally would. If you would normally say, “this fucking sucks,” then say that. Sometimes, like crookedshoes mentioned, there are no words. Say that.

    Anyway, this is all my opinion. I hope there is something in there that you can draw upon to form your own method of consoling.

    Mike

  5. Simply and sincerely say you are sorry for their loss. If they are religious, they will get plenty of prayers and bible verses from others. All we can do is say we are sorry and we are here if they need anything.

  6. “Not only do we live among the stars, the stars live within us.” “We are all made of stardust” “We are in the universe and the universe is in us” – Lovely science quotes such as these may offer a comforting thought of continuity.

    • In reply to #14 by hawksy:
      “Not only do we live among the stars, the stars live within us.” “We are all made of stardust” “We are in the universe and >the universe is in us” – Lovely science quotes such as these may offer a comforting thought of continuity.

      No offense, but if I had lost a child and someone came with these “comforting” sentences to me, I’d probably punch them :P

      I don’t think ANY words can make a parent feel better for the death of his child, so you might as well not try to “help” this way, just be there, and time will do its job.

      • After more thought, save your fist and I’ll head butt the wall. At a heavy time like that it would sound un- natural, weird even. I’ll keep thinking, quietly this time.In reply to #19 by JoxerTheMighty:

        In reply to #14 by hawksy:
        “Not only do we live among the stars, the stars live within us.” “We are all made of stardust” “We are in the universe and >the universe is in us” – Lovely science quotes such as these may offer a comforting thought of continuity.

        No offense, but if I had lost a child…

      • In reply to #19 by JoxerTheMighty:

        In reply to #14 by hawksy:
        “Not only do we live among the stars, the stars live within us.” “We are all made of stardust” “We are in the universe and >the universe is in us” – Lovely science quotes such as these may offer a comforting thought of continuity.

        No offense, but if I had lost a child…

        Yes me too. It would rank second only to being told I needed to find closure. Personally I found nothing at all comforting to know that after my or my loved one’s deaths our atoms go onto be part of something. Nobody gives a shit about atoms its the person that has been lost we care for.

        Michael

    • In reply to #14 by hawksy:

      “Not only do we live among the stars, the stars live within us.” “We are all made of stardust” “We are in the universe and the universe is in us” – Lovely science quotes such as these may offer a comforting thought of continuity.

      I agree with other posters that sentiments such are these are unlikely to offer much relief to someone in acute grief who is suffering the loss of a much loved child, rather than just a collection of atoms. But leaving aside the unsuitability of this as an expression of sympathy, I was interested at your suggestion that we might find comfort in the thought of continuity, because of course that is precisely what the theistic concept of an immortal soul offers.

      Because if continuity is important (although I’m not sure that it necessarily is to most atheists) surely it is more comforting to believe that a person’s existence continues intact and in its entirity, rather than to offer the possibilty that their atoms will be scattered and may or may not at some future time be randomly reconstituted into something else (which in the first instance is more likely to be an insect or a plant rather than a person). The grief that we suffer arises from the loss of a person rather than a bunch of atoms. But how do we define person without belief in some spiritual aspect that goes beyond the purely material? (Incidentally, I’m not suggesting entering a philosophical discussion with someone bereaved, but I do think it is a legitimate topic of debate).

      On another point, how would an atheist respond if the bereaved parent was a believer and came out with a comment like “she’s in a better place now” or some such.

  7. May I offer this exchange, which I found strangely comforting:

    Friend of the bereaved: “I cannot imagine what you’re going through right now”

    Bereaved: “I hope you never find out”.

  8. I think assurances of an afterlife for lost loved ones are not only based on false pretenses, but it also cheapens the tragedy of the loss.

    When we lose children, it hurts. Of course we freak out, and as events following the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre demonstrated, we get quite crazy about our kids dying even when they aren’t ours. This is part of our instinctive framework to protect and care for our children.

    (This instinct is so strong that we have difficulty killing kids in fiction except in ambiguous droves, such as in the destruction of Alderann. But the slaying of a child on screen, or making it clear that a specific child died, that’s one of the indicators that this is serious, and pushes villains into complete-monster territory. The death of Cedric Diggory was used for exactly that kind of plot-beat.)

    I think in the contemporary era, I’d point out to grieving parents that it is right and proper for us to be freaked out about it, and that any pressure that they might get from friends, family, media or the pubic to get over it is total bullshit. One doesn’t ever get over losing a kid until they’re good and ready. Anecdotally, I’ve never personally met someone who lost a child and wasn’t still sore about it.

    From a naturalist perspective, this freak-out we go through when children die is a reminder to us that this is a thing we really want to not happen. This emotion will drive us to develop newer policies and technologies that will reduce the mortality of our children, under threat of having to experience it again and again.

  9. There is no knowledge about life that will provide any difference to our grieving. If you don’t know that by now, then you’re not really taking atheism seriously.

    Focus on comforting their emotions without feeling awkward, intimacy, togetherness, being agreeable and civil, attend the funeral, even though you’ll feel like treating vestments like a boxing bag!

    In other words, same as usual!

    Since an atheist is bound to have no delusions about an afterlife and cannot provide that easy, comforting, lie to those we care about, then we’d better start building a much stronger repertoire. Providing a new understanding about life to those in the sudden stages of grief is not a very good strategy.

    If you want a reason why we hurt at loss of children then you might find Parental investment theory (a PDF) and Sympathy (on Wikipedia) insightful…. But I doubt it’ll help you with your grief, except that you’ll have to accept that you are having it and it exists.

  10. Some years ago a friend of mine lost a much loved uncle to illness. Not having any words I thought appropriate I just hugged him tightly. Weeks later he told me that hug gave him more comfort than anything said to him at the time. Sometimes simple physical human contact is the right thing.

    • In reply to #24 by SomersetJohn:

      …I just hugged him tightly… Sometimes simple physical human contact is the right thing.

      A family member said “I need a hug” just after their daughter was diagnosed with a grave illness.

      Simple, honest, strong.

  11. As a parent whose son was murdered in 2005, the advice I would give is not to say anything. DO something. Help with arrangements, drive family members to appointments, mow their lawn, bring food, babysit their remaining children, make phone calls. Coordinate with friends to always have somebody checking on the family and available to help. Most grieving parents most need this kind of practical assistance in the early weeks after the death. They don’t need empty platitudes, cards or flowers. They do need your presence and your physical help. They need to have their emotions validated, so try not to say you understand or upstage them by relating your own grief experiences. Sit with them and listen to their outpouring of grief, anger, or blame – however difficult this may be. This is a far more accurate measure of how much you care than is a phone call or card or a “I’m thinking of you”. Don’t assume your beliefs or lack of beliefs about an afterlife are shared. Don’t volunteer these beliefs unless you’re asked – and if you are uncomfortable when the parents ask you things like, “Do you think I’ll ever see (the child) again?” You can simply say you don’t know. Trust me, your actions will be remembered and appreciated far more than any words.

    Later in the grief process, parents may appreciate opportunities to talk about their child, both their life and their death. Try not to be put off by tears or graphic descriptions of the death, but listen and share your memories of their child, if you knew them well. Emphasize the child’s life, not the death. Encourage them if they seem to need to talk. Don’t be overly intrusive, but try to maintain contact. One of the most painful things after my son died was the number of supposedly “good” friends who seemed to disappear. It’s probably because of their own discomfort with death, grief and loss, and the fear that it could happen to them – but it’s still painful. I’ve made many new friends, including other parents who’ve lost children and understand, but I still wish my old friends didn’t cross the street when they see me coming.

    Such a loss changes people in fundamental ways. It changes their relationships with family and friends, which have to be renegotiated around the absence of the child. It changes their outlook on life – some become more pessimistic, some look for ways to make positive changes. Help them make those positive changes when they’re ready.

    Another thing you can do is help them find a non-religious bereaved-parent support group like The Compassionate Friends, which has chapters around the world. TCF also has helpful literature and info on their website for friends, first responders, law enforcement and others who interact with bereaved parents.

    • Good advice here.
      In reply to #25 by Sue Blue:

      As a parent whose son was murdered in 2005, the advice I would give is not to say anything. DO something. Help with arrangements, drive family members to appointments, mow their lawn, bring food, babysit their remaining children, make phone calls. Coordinate with friends to always have somebody c…

  12. Honestly, there is nothing anyone can say to aleviate the horrible pain of losing your own child. I know. I lost my baby girl to asthma 1 month before her 8th birthday. No words can sooth what I still feel.

  13. To be honest, unless you can with some sincerity mouth religious platitudes about going to a better place, there are no words, only practical help and a hug or two.

    I lost my first wife, far too young, to cancer. She was an only child. Both her parents survived her. Her mother was a devout Christian. I tried very hard with both of them but eventually I was just frozen out: damaged goods, contaminated, a bad reminder. I’m not perfect, but I struggle to see what more I could have done.

    • In reply to #29 by Stevehill:

      Both her parents survived her. I tried very hard with both of them but eventually I was just frozen out: damaged goods, contaminated, a bad reminder.

      When your only link to someone is via a loved one you have lost, it is easy – and maybe right – to let that link wither. It’s not a reflection on you, or even what they think of you. They don’t want to think of you, as you put it, a bad reminder.

      There are people I’ve lost contact with for the same reason, not their fault or mine. The ghost of how things might have been stands between us. I just had to let it go. Consider it collateral damage, if you like.

  14. I don’t believe any words are going to cut it, and I don’t see why they should. But immediately afterwards even ordinary things could be a struggle, and any way you can help keep them on tops of things will surely make some difference.

    I don’t know if it is the same with losses, but with unexpected disabilities and chronic illnesses like cancer in your children, the people around you will flock to you when they first hear the news and offer what aid and ears they can while you may not be ready to accept it, but will soon return to life as usual even when you can’t, and will be no more able to deal with the long-term reality of your situation than you can, with the major difference that they don’t have to. It also means that by the time you are willing and able to talk about it, a sympathetic ear may be harder to come by. If it is the same experience with bereavements then the best support you can provide is an assurance of long-term support, to be there when others may not understand the situation so long after the event.

  15. Just say, I am sorry for your loss, you can sympathise with them but not empathise if you do not share their faith, so do not try, it is shallow and insulting. Of course you can empathise if you too have lost a child but that is another empathetic feeling altogether.

  16. first of all, I do not know why anyone would find too much comfort in the idea of afterlife. Why this over-optimistic view suddently? Have Christians not been listening to what they have been told by clergy, Bible, Catechism etc. As an ex-Catholic, I was never too happy about the afterlife, it was probably a prime source of my anxieties about death, because I listened carefully and knew that there was always a great chance you’d end up in hell – which is much much worse than nothingness (i.e. the state where you were before birth – I have not problem with that). So, say, as a Catholic you are not simply bullshitting people, all you could say to a grieving person is: well, I hope he/she was a serious believer and didn’t die in a state of mortal sin. Saying “he is now in a much better place” is most often just presuming what you do not know (even if you believe in the afterlife). I would use similar arguments about reincarnation as well. In general, when people believe in afterlife, why do they automatically assume it is going to better than this life?

  17. I can’t see why the afterlife is so comforting unless one is truly deluded that they have led the life the one true super-being wanted them to lead.
    If one accepts the idea of an afterlife, then there must be some magical place where this can take place which would presuppose a magical being in charge of it. However, if you believe in this being, you have to consider the possibility that this being could have stopped the tragedy that your child suffered so an eternal afterlife with the bastard who let this happen is not so comforting.

    And of course, you’d have to be lucky enough to have been born in the right geographical area to have got the correct instruction on the magical being’s real requirements for a nice time after death because you could be unlucky and have been told a load of crap about sex before marriage or not mutilating your child’s genitals and therefore your loved one is now in an afterlife of eternal fire and torture. Oh,and even if you are one of the lucky few to be part of the group that know the true requirements to this nice place after death, you also have to be lucky enough to have been born at the right time because if you check out the groups belief history, it will surely have “evolved” over time so maybe it wasn’t giving good enough instruction in the past to get the good life afterlife.

    So words of comfort may or may not help what must be an unbearable loss, but the offer of a possible after life doesn’t seem in my view, to be of any great use.

  18. AARON FREEMAN said it best:

    You want a physicist to speak at your funeral. You want the physicist to talk to your grieving family about the conservation of energy, so they will understand that your energy has not died. You want the physicist to remind your sobbing mother about the first law of thermodynamics; that no energy gets created in the universe, and none is destroyed. You want your mother to know that all your energy, every vibration, every Btu of heat, every wave of every particle that was her beloved child remains with her in this world. You want the physicist to tell your weeping father that amid energies of the cosmos, you gave as good as you got.

    And at one point you’d hope that the physicist would step down from the pulpit and walk to your brokenhearted spouse there in the pew and tell him that all the photons that ever bounced off your face, all the particles whose paths were interrupted by your smile, by the touch of your hair, hundreds of trillions of particles, have raced off like children, their ways forever changed by you. And as your widow rocks in the arms of a loving family, may the physicist let her know that all the photons that bounced from you were gathered in the particle detectors that are her eyes, that those photons created within her constellations of electromagnetically charged neurons whose energy will go on forever.

    And the physicist will remind the congregation of how much of all our energy is given off as heat. There may be a few fanning themselves with their programs as he says it. And he will tell them that the warmth that flowed through you in life is still here, still part of all that we are, even as we who mourn continue the heat of our own lives.

    And you’ll want the physicist to explain to those who loved you that they need not have faith; indeed, they should not have faith. Let them know that they can measure, that scientists have measured precisely the conservation of energy and found it accurate, verifiable and consistent across space and time. You can hope your family will examine the evidence and satisfy themselves that the science is sound and that they’ll be comforted to know your energy’s still around. According to the law of the conservation of energy, not a bit of you is gone; you’re just less orderly. Amen.

    • In reply to #41 by PsycheGal:

      AARON FREEMAN said it best:

      He sounds like a confused twit making up strawman nonsense to me.

      You want a physicist to speak at your funeral.

      No problem with that. Physicists have spoken sympathetically at many funerals of their friends.

      You want the physicist to talk to your grieving family about the conservation of energy, so they will understand that your energy has not died.

      Not really! A lecture on physics would be irrelevant and inappropriate. If a family friend was a physicist, them some empathy and support would be more appropriate.
      If a scientist was to be involved in a professional capacity, a medic or psychologist would be more appropriate, – but inflicting supernatural nonsense on non-believers, is as silly as pretending physicists give science lectures at funerals !

    • In reply to #41 by PsycheGal:

      AARON FREEMAN said it best:

      You want a physicist to speak at your funeral. You want the physicist to talk to your grieving family about the conservation of energy, so they will understand that your energy has not died. You want the physicist to remind your sobbing mother about the first law of ther…

      Sorry but that’s a complete load of irrelevant dingo’s kidneys. If I lift my laptop of this table and hurl it onto the tiled cafe floor breaking it into thousands of pieces energy will be conserved. But I will strangely still be really pissed off.

      We miss the unique patterns the energy made in their brains and ours, not the energy. The patterns are gone and will not return.

      Michael

  19. I can only empathise with Sue Blue. I lost my son to an accidental death when he was 20. Suddenly nothing. He was no more. Numbness, and later anger kept me going. Believe me, all those kind words and little gestures do help. Of course he’s not in a “better place”. He’s dead, and I’ve seen him and identified him. And now he’s in the ground and his atoms are being recycled into other life forms. I vividly remember a few days after his death a guy drove past me, recognised me, and turned his car around and came to shake my hand. Few words were exchanged, a gesture on his part, but one that meant a lot to me. There’s bugger all you can do about a death except get on with life. We celebrated my son’s life as best we could. He wouldn’t have wanted us to be miserable. A lovely lad indeed, but no more. I enjoy having known the guy.

    The pits of despair are just too easy to fall into. They must be resisted, and I’m not saying it’s easy, – it isn’t.

  20. probably going to upset someone with my opinion but here goes…

    the words of comfort available to religious believers are not actually comforting. they’re in a better/happy place is no comfort to a parent who can’t visit or call up. believing in heaven or not, we all agree, we won’t be seeing them again in this life and that’s the pain that needs adressing.

    practical help, as suggested above, is always needed. in any time of grief or similar conditions such as depression, it’s day-to-day stuff that’s so hard to keep on top of but no less important.

    being prepared to listen without talking or giving ones own opinion, again very important, and often lacking in people going through grief.

    physical comfort, we all like a hug (or a scratch under the collar). universal language and utterly agnostic

    patience. accept that there’s no such thing as a simple “getting over it”. hard times come in waves, so accept that someone might seem happy one day, sad the next, angry another

    actual words of comfort are not something I believe are of any use at all. anyone who’s lost someone close will receive them, and thank the person offering them but is unlikely to actually be comforted in any true sense. the look we give says it all (thanks, it’s no help whatsoever but thanks for the fact that the meaning actually exists behind the words which in reality made us both feel a bit uncomfortable). if anything, words of comfot are almost an insult. they’re saying things aren’t as bad as you think they are from someone with no right to think on your behalf.

    If a child is dead, they’re not suffering and they’re not happy. they’re not here. religious words of comfort seem more like trying to change the subject (being the grief of the parents) rather than accept someone is going through a painful situation that they must go through and no one else can do it for them.

    for those of us who are alive, life’s a journey. if you see someone struggleing, don’t tell them it’s ok the road gets smoother up ahead, offer to help with their luggage.

    • In reply to #45 by SaganTheCat:

      probably going to upset someone with my opinion but here goes…

      the words of comfort available to religious believers are not actually comforting. they’re in a better/happy place is no comfort to a parent who can’t visit or call up. believing in heaven or not, we all agree, we won’t be seeing them…

      I agree with this. I’ve not lost a child but I have seen young and teenage children in my family lose parents and a young man in his twenties suddenly and, to date, a month afterwards, inexplicably die. Perhaps because I am firmly atheist but funeral service promises of heaven etc seem not just promises but to somehow diminish the mourners, as if they don’t need to be so upset, maybe should not be so grief stricken. If they have real faith they would be strong, knowing their lived one us with Jesus, etc.
      So to be very controversial, and I do not wish tomoffend, but I worry that telling the bereaved their loved one is not really dead at all might give short term relief, but at the cost of encouraging a loss of contact not so much with the outside reality of death, though it does do that, but the inner snd much more crucial world on ones own feelings. When I lost my brother and father in quick succession just a few moths after the birth of my third and moderately handicapped don (my aged father died on the night of my brothers funeral) I came to think the only rule I should set myself was that there were no rules as to how I should feel

      At that time I still went to church snd I have to say I had very good support, slng the lines of many here, ie being there, listening but not telling.

  21. Most of the time just shutting up and listening is the very best thing to do.

    If a young person dies, I might look at it like this:
    We are the ones suffering from loss. The dead person feels nothing. They are basically back the way they were before they were born. Let’s us not kid ourselves. We are weeping for our loss. People who die young are forever young. They never age in our memories. They are like a rose that never fades.

    If an old person dies, I might look at it like this:
    Life is like a giant roller coaster. Very few people when they stagger off the end are eager for another go round.
    Like a day at the circus, they have had enough.
    Old people look at dying quite differently than young people do. Don’t project your feelings onto them. Ask them before they die how they feel about dying. You will find they are usually not freaked out by it at all.

  22. When someone I know is bereaved I don’t mention my lack of belief in an afterlife. Regardless of the age of the person who had passed I just say (what most would say) I’m sorry for your loss and if there is anything I can do to help just let me know. I don’t come out with the cliches but I don’t ‘correct’ someone if they’re taking comfort in believing in an afterlife. I just listen respectfully. It is a tricky one though, especially if this person knows you aren’t a believer.

  23. Great question. I am a former devout evangelical Christian who is now agnostic.It took me many years to come to the conclusion that there was no truth to it. When I was in graduate school, I had an atheist fried I would drinking with. At the time I was a liberal Christian who no longer denied evolution, but he was a militant atheist. I asked him a question one night WRT the following hypothetical situation:

    Let’s say you’re in a hospital room with an elderly woman who will likely die within the hour.She knows she is dying and has death anxiety. She is religious and believes strongly in her god (the particular religion is irrelevant). She asks you to pray with her to her god. What would you do?

    He told me he wouldn’t pray to a god he didn’t believe and would tell her it is stupid to believe in any god at all. I asked him why and he told me he was not a hypocrite, to which I replied ‘that might make you a good atheist, but it also makes you a lousy human being,

    Unfortunately, despite all the advances made in science over the years, it is still not in a position to answer the kinds of questions that religion tries to do, which is the reason why most people are still believers in on sense or another. If was talking to a parent during a time of tragedy, I would say something like: I might not know if there is a god or not but I will say a prayer for you tonight.’

    Does that make me a hypocrite? Absolutely! But I don’t mind being one for the right reasons.

    • In reply to #51 by jack.oscratch:

      Great question. I am a former devout evangelical Christian who is now agnostic.It took me many years to come to the conclusion that there was no truth to it. When I was in graduate school, I had an atheist fried I would drinking with. At the time I was a liberal Christian who no longer denied evolut…

      I encountered such a situation a couple of years ago. A young person with a very strong belief, was suffering from a potentially fatal condition. She would grasp me by the arm and ask me to pray for her. It was very difficult for me, but naturally I said that I would.

      Fortunately her health improved ( due to modern, western medicine, I might add) and she has no more need for my prayers. This was a very, very difficult situation to be in. I really felt as if I were betraying myself and all that I stood for. I really wish that she had waited for me to volunteer my services in this regard.

  24. Death is as natural as life it’self. Whether it is a child, young adult or old person, it will happen to all of us soon. Word’s of comfort you ask! All I can say is “they are not suffering and they do not know they have died”.

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