What to Say to Atheists at a Funeral When You're Religious

22 March 2017
 Categories: , Blog

If you're religious, it can be very difficult to know what to say when attending a funeral with atheists and agnostics. There's a stark difference between what the two groups believe about death, and saying the wrong thing could upset the atheistic friends and family of the deceased. Comments like "he's with God now," for example, may feel well-intentioned on your part, but they're not appropriate to say to someone who does not believe in God. If you're getting ready to attend a funeral alongside atheists, here are 3 things you can talk about.

Talk About Their Loved One

Everyone grieves differently. Some people prefer to dismiss everything that's happening, while others choose to let natural bereavement take its course. However, there are few people who won't want to hear positive stories and memories about the deceased. Atheists believe in only one life -- the present one on Earth. As a result, many atheists want to feel that their loved one's one shot at life was well-lived and that they brought joy and positivity to people while they were alive. For atheists, people live on in memories of their actions, not in heaven. If you have any stories about times the deceased brought you happiness, comfort, support, or anything else that's positive, share that memory. It may not bring immediate consolation, but it's nice for people to have a range of experiences to comfort them once the initial stage of grief is over.

Offer Them Support

Verbal sentiment is great, but many people benefit from physical support too when they're grieving. Feelings of deep sorrow and depression after a loved one has passed on can make it difficult for people to get on with their daily life. Consider offering support to those at the funeral who are having a good time. This could include anything from funeral cleanup to helping with meals and cleaning to offering to meet up with them every week and listen to how they feel.

Make sure those you're offering help to know that it's no trouble for you to assist them; many people feel bad 'imposing' on others who are also grieving. Remember to keep your offer of help on the table for as long as they need it. You may find that some atheists grieve for longer than the religious people you know because of the way they perceive death.

Express Your Sorrow

Sometimes the best thing to say is the easiest: "I'm sorry". For those who don't believe their loved one is moving on to a better place, funerals can be a time of deep upset and regret. Sympathising by expressing your sorrow may seem simple, but it's often all that's needed to comfort those who are grieving. Many people expect to hear to words "I'm sorry" at a funeral, but this isn't a bad thing. A sense of familiarity and ritual can help to console atheists and theists alike.