Consoling Non-Religious Mourners

By: Matthew Funeral Home
Monday, May 15, 2023

After the death of a loved one, it is common to say platitudes to the family like “they're in a better place” and “I’m praying for you.” But what if the family member of the loved one is non-religious? It may seem awkward or even disrespectful to say these things to a secular person, even if you believe them. This article will discuss some other ways to communicate your condolences and communicate with atheist and non-religious people in mourning. 

“I’ll Pray for Them/You”

For many religious people, offering prayers for the deceased or their surviving family can be comforting. However, some non-religious people can take this as demeaning to their beliefs. While some secular individuals will see the kindness behind the words, it could be taken in the wrong way. To some non-religious individuals, “I’ll pray for you” are just empty words. Phrases such as “I’m thinking of you,” “I’m here for you,” and “Let me know if you need anything” can be taken much more positively.

“They’re in a Better Place”

It is perfectly acceptable to personally believe in the afterlife yourself, but this can be uncomfortable for secular individuals. Atheists do not believe in an afterlife. To them, their loved one is lost forever. While it can be comforting to assume they are in a better place, they don’t think as such. While the sentiment may be appreciated, it is often not welcome. This phrase generally serves as a reminder of just the opposite. 

Don’t Use This as an Opportunity to Convert

Many Atheists have religious family members. It is not uncommon for their beliefs to be a point of conflict in the family. It is not OK to use their grief as an avenue to begin communication about why they don’t ascribe to a religion. Unless they come to you with questions pertaining to your beliefs in this regard, it is best to avoid bringing your personal beliefs or feelings into things. 

Open Communication

Being open and honest with the mourner is alright. Ask if there is anything you could do to help them. Be there for them, if possible. For many non-religious people, having someone around for care and support is a lot more helpful than prayers or preaching. 

Leaving a Legacy

While they may not believe in the afterlife, most Atheists do care about doing the right thing, and leaving a good legacy. A person’s actions leave an impact on those around them. Consider sharing favorite (and positive) memories of the deceased, or talk about some of their accomplishments. You may also want to make a donation in the deceased's name, preferably to a charity close to their heart. 

The author of this post is not a professional therapist or counselor. For assistance in finding a grief counselor that is right for you, there are a number of resources out there. For our Grief Resource center, written by Dr. Bill Webster, click here
For almost 50 years, Matthew Funeral Home has been serving the Staten Island community. We can help with almost every aspect of your loved one’s memorial service. Our family is here to serve yours, every step of the way.

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