Events like the tsunami in Japan always bring out the religious and they say they are "praying" for those in Japan.
I don't believe prayer changes the events of the world.

I just know it makes people feel good and makes them feel like they are contributing something positive to the world.

I don't really know what to say when a person has experienced a death in the family except to say I'm sorry for their loss.
I'm not going to say some bs like, "Your loved one is in a better place" and all the other things theists say to someone who has lost a family member.

It feels weird to say, "You're in my thoughts" because honestly, what is that helping?

What have been your experiences in dealing with deal coming from an atheist's perspective?

What things have you said to believers that were genuine and helped them feel a bit better?

Sometimes I give a tiny crap what people think of me and I don't want them to think I don't care about their misfortune(s).

 

I had a few people in high school see me as "negative" because I gave my true opinion as to what happens to humans when they die. We just cease to live and eventually our bod rots away. No heaven, ho hell...we're just dead and rotting. Some of us are cremated.

Tags: comfort, death, sympathy

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Even though being in my thoughts won't help any, I still tell people that they are when something bad happens. It's not so much that they are hoping my thoughts will help, but the fact that it shows a sign that you care. Of course I'll offer my condolences and sympathies as well. It's also good to offer them someone to talk too as well. In some cases, what they may need most is simply a friend to talk with. When it comes to death, I always like to say that the person led a life well lived (where applicable) and to take heart in the fact that said person is no longer dealing with the suffering that likely surrounded the conclusion of their life. They may take 'not suffering anymore' in a way other than the literal sense I was using it in, but it still helps them feel better without me spewing some mutterings to a nonexistent deity.

 

Cheers!

If I am sending a message in print and am really in no position to offer tangible assistance I often write, "Sending you my love and emotional support." Or "wishing you comfort and peace during this difficult time." Those seem to fit the bill. And are more conceptually honest than prayer.
I find it to be an awkward situation too, and I thank you for your suggestions for written messages.
The religious generally offer prayers because they are lazy. It's a hell of a lot easier to sit in a climate controlled room and close their eyes than it is to get off their asses and DO something to make the situation better. I think we all find ourselves wishing that prayer was the answer because it keeps us insulated from the awkwardness and helplessness of watching another human suffer.
If you wish there was something you could do to help, then find out what it is and how you can contribute.
In a time of need, when one person is reaching out to another, there is a great way to find out how you can be of assistance.
Ask.
Offer.
Make yourself available.


"Call me if you want to talk. I'm here for you."
"Here's a pie I baked for you. This isn't a time for you to be worried about cooking"
"I'm donating five dollars to a reputable organization that is helping with relief efforts. It's all I can afford right now, but I hope it helps."
"Let me make a cup of tea and we'll chat."
"Is there anything I can do for you? Can I come over and help you with laundry or something?"
"Why don't I watch the kids tonight. You deserve a break."

Unfortunately there is one thing that all these phrases have in common.
You have to DO something.
Personally, I HATE it when people cry. It makes me really uncomfortable.
Making a casserole, a pie or doing laundry for a friend does take time out of your own day.
Sometimes the pie goes uneaten and the tea gets cold, but at least you have offered help in any way you can...
And the people you care about will know it.
There are more than calories to food. It's a way of saying "I'll help share your burdens."
Sometimes a glass of Scotch is more helpful than tea. Then again, the drink is usually just a prop. It's the conversation and the reinforcement of support that is the real message.

For people who are completely unable to function due to grief, just taking over some of their basic chores is the most practical means of offering support, such as Misty has described.  I typically put a big pot of soup or stew in their refrigerator, do their dishes, and return in a few days to freeze left over portions for them.

 

For those who are far away, the best I can typically do is an e-mail of condolences, with the typical lines already mentioned.  Usually, when the person is sufficiently stable and up to coherent conversation again, I turn into a bit of an atheist vulture if they are the religious type.  When they express sadness at their 'loss', I often ask them why they are sad if they believe is that they will see that person again in heaven.  I rarely take it much further than that, but it is usually enough to make them question just how sure they are about their religious beliefs.

I simply say that I'm sorry for their loss, and that they're in my thoughts. I know it's not actually helping, but niether is prayer and what can you do that can actually help? Bring them back to life? My honest opinion about what happens when someone dies, is still significantly better than that of lots of highly religious people who will simply tell you that your loved one is being tortured in hell.

In most cases, the profession of prayer is rarely taken as something that will effect any actual, positive change. It is simply a good will gesture that those in religious societies are conditioned to dole out as a canned condolence or accept with thoughtless graciousness.

Telling someone that you are sorry for their misfortune and that they are in your thoughts is the secular equivalent. We may not feel that it is as meaningful because of the conditioning for the other.

Hard times don't come with easy words. And nor should they. I struggle with what to say to those who have suffered loss and misfortune, but I appreciate that struggle. It means that I have most likely given much more thought to someone's plight than others who offer up religious platitudes. At the least, I can recognize that my discomfort over what words to say is overshadowed by the real problems faced by my intended audience.

In sum, offering sincere sympathy should never be from a generic script and simply because it isn't easy to find the right words does not mean that you are doing it wrong.

Praying hands are idle hands.

Religious people like the self delution of helping by praying instead of coming to terms with the fact that there is unfortunately nothing most can do directly.

When someone I know suffers a death of someone close, I usually just offer my sympathy and ask if they need anything. This both lets them know that I empathize with what they are going through and gives them an opening to tell me if there is anything I can do to help.
When I used to belong to a religion and heard of tragedies that I couldn't be of much help, I would offer my prayers... Now that I'm an atheist I do nothing, which is essentially the same thing.
I know, I have a hard time with that too.   People will ask for prayers sometimes and I don't know what to say except that I am not a believer but I can't begin to imagine the pain you're going through and if there's anything I can do to help, to call.   I tell them I'm thinking of them.   It does all sound kind of lame compared to "you're in my prayers", which I think is a load of crap anyway because people probably forget them the minute they walk away anyway.

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