Thus far, June has proven to be a bad month. There has been one death after another. My friends father died last week, a girl I went to school with committed suicide, another friends father died, and now my brother in laws mother died yesterday. Last year this time my best friend’s father died. I am in shock. The only thing I don’t share in common with everyone else I have been into contact with about these deaths is that I don’t believe in a god or a heaven. I feel that I am not being a good friend/family member because I am not "praying for them" or telling them that their loved one is in a better place now. I feel alone in the way I am grieving and wish I didn’t have to avoid talking about the deceased to avoid talk about them being in a "better place." Can anyone give me advice on how to deal?

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Comment by kris feenstra on June 23, 2012 at 11:27pm

Wow.  My sympathies for such a disheartening month.

I think that the grievers you encounter with generally fall into two rough camps: those that don an air of sadness because it is socially expected, and those that are truly sad.

The fist group is the one that is more likely to get aggravated or isolate you for not praying.  I'm not sure there is much you can do about them at a time like this other than ignore them.  Well, I'd have it out with them in a heartbeat if they offended me, but I realize that's not for everyone.

The second group is probably more focused on their emotions and less on judging you.  While the heaven and prayer aspect may not resonante with you, try to keep in mind that their beliefs are their beliefs, your beliefs are your beliefs, and that outside of those beliefs, you all share a very large common ground in your sense of loss and in your affection for the deceased.  Despite talk of heaven and better places, I'd wager most people are far more consumed by their emotions at this time and would not resist having the conversation steered away from religion. Try and focus on that emotional middle ground.  There are plenty of topics in that area where you can meaningfully express your own grief and support others without too much religious conflict.

 suppose the other thing you could keep in mind is that even religious statements typically come from a very human place.  A statement like 'They are in a better place' may very well have little to do with a literal belief in Heaven, and actually have far more to do with the concerns about morality that almost all of us experience at this point in time with or without religion.

Hopefully that is of some use.

Comment by Ed on June 24, 2012 at 12:21am

A positive element can be in reflecting on the good memories that your friend's gained from their loved ones. It seems tragic to dwell on the circumstances surrounding their death instead of being thankful for the time they had together. The Irish have a party in tribute to the deceased which I believe is a healthier approach to the loss of loved ones.

Comment by Karen Lollis on June 24, 2012 at 12:40am

What a tough place to be in. It's always going to be difficult to dance around the "she's in a better place" comments. But maybe you can let those statements alone - at most, agree that the person is no longer in pain (emotional or physical). And turn your comments to sharing something you remember fondly about the person (like @Ed said). Or just admit you don't have a clue what to say, and hold their hand and share tears anyway.

Also,  offer help - and be specific with something you are willing and able to do. Rather than "let me know if I can do anything for you" - say, "I'd like to bring a casserole you can heat for dinner - would Tuesday be good?" 

I'm not sure this will help you deal with the other friends and family members, but I find this quote to be a lovely statement:

"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." -- Aaron Freeman

Comment by Cristynfaye on June 24, 2012 at 12:42am

A couple summers ago this kind of happened to me.  My father in law died, then the mother of a childhood friend died, who was almost like a mother to me.  Then two more friend's parents died.  Just around Thanksgiving, a friend of mine died, too.  I wasn't really close with her, but she was part of a group of friends of mine who are all Christians still.  With all of these deaths, I could pretty much figure out my own grief, but I wanted to also be there for my friends, the ones closest to the people who had passed away.  I don't really know how to offer comfort to them.  Many of them got together for prayer or whatever, and I never felt really like that was something I could do or be a part of.  You can't tell them that their loved one is in a better place.  But you can be there for them, and just love them anyway.  Which I think means more.  Lots of people offer words of encouragement in times like that, but not many people really stick around to help or just to physically be with their grieving friends.  So I guess my advice is to just be there for your friends who have lost loved ones.  They will know that you care for them, and that you grieve with them.  Grieving *with* someone is such a special thing.

Comment by John Kelly on June 24, 2012 at 2:58am

The only thing I can add to what my wife said above is to say that you don't need to be praying for them to let them know that your heart goes out to them and you have been thinking about them.  Praying usually means having your mind and attention on them, so you can do the real thing just as well.  Take care.  Dealing with death is awful.

Comment by archaeopteryx on June 24, 2012 at 10:21am

I would focus more on what the person meant to them, share memories with them, ask them for their own memories, steering the conversation away from where they are now, which we both know, is in the ground.

Comment by James Cox on June 24, 2012 at 12:23pm

Dear Quinn:

Our mother died 2/10/11, at 88. She had lived on land purchased after WWII. She and dad, raised 4 kids, one of which died of cancer in 82', dad died in 97'. Lisa and I (I am the son in law), now are responsible for the land, and are now involved with continued preservation as a protected habitat.

On mom's birthday last year, the family and web of friends spread mom's ashes over the property. My small sample was spread over our garden, which grew good enough tomatoes, which Lisa and I ate later as a sacrament.

It is interesting to think that, mom's water was returned to the atmosphere of the earth months before, and her ashes are now continuing to promote a rich spot of life on the planet. When I walk out into the forest, I notice flowering plants that I do not remember from years before, and given the rains of this year, the jungle is a lush green with hummingbirds darting among the trees.   

I guess the cycle of life continues. ;p)

Comment by Quinn on September 18, 2013 at 10:52pm

Thank you all for your comments and advice..

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