How to comfort an atheist friend who has lost a family member?


#1

Hello all,

I have a good friend who is an atheist. She recently lost her uncle suddenly of an apparent heart attack. He was Catholic and had a rosary and Mass of Christian Burial this morning. She is very, very upset. I have prayed for him and told her so. She thanked me. But I feel even more at a loss on how to comfort her than I usually do when stuff like this happens. It's not like I can comfort her and tell her that he's in a better place or anything (not that that ever helps.) My heart breaks for her because I know how hard losing someone is even when I know that I will get to see them again someday (if I'm in a state of Grace of course). I honestly can't imagine what it must feel like to believe people just... die. Any thoughts?


#2

Just be a friend. Atheists are not aliens. If the topic of grief comes up, what's wrong with telling her honestly what you think? No matter what, your concern will be evident. There's nothing you can do to make it better other than witness with your presence. I don't think you even need to say anything unless she wants to talk about it--and then--just be who you are.


#3

I agree with the advice above. Be a good friend, tell her how sorry you are for her loss, and if the subject comes up, you can tell her your belief.


#4

[quote="pkdsquared, post:1, topic:240426"]
Hello all,

I have a good friend who is an atheist. She recently lost her uncle suddenly of an apparent heart attack. He was Catholic and had a rosary and Mass of Christian Burial this morning. She is very, very upset. I have prayed for him and told her so. She thanked me. But I feel even more at a loss on how to comfort her than I usually do when stuff like this happens. It's not like I can comfort her and tell her that he's in a better place or anything (not that that ever helps.) My heart breaks for her because I know how hard losing someone is even when I know that I will get to see them again someday (if I'm in a state of Grace of course). I honestly can't imagine what it must feel like to believe people just... die. Any thoughts?

[/quote]

Just be there for her. And pray for her and her uncle. She might ask questions about your beliefs. She might not. If she wants to cry, just let her. Listen when she talks. Put your arms around her. You don't have to say or do anything. Just be her friend.


#5

Well, as a Catholic, when my Grandmother died, the things that were most meaningful to me were that:
a) death sucks
and
b) I enjoyed hearing about and talking about my Grandmother.

It's true that death sucks. In the beginning, we were not created to die. Death came about as a result of original sin. It suddenly hit me when my grandmother died (as the first person I was somewhat close to who died) that it wasn't just this "part of life" that I could think about somewhat romantically, but it really really stinks. Sure, there is a glorious reward for some who die, and that is a consolation, particularly for those whose loved ones stayed faithful and close to the sacraments, but even so, it still stinks for those of us who have to experience the loss or watch the deterioration etc...

I don't know if the grief of an atheist is worse than that of a religious Catholic - after all, my atheist brother just figured my Grandmother would turn to dust like everyone else when she died, but I'm the one that was worried about the possibility of hell for her as a fallen away Catholic. People did say "she's in a better place" to me, and I found it burdensome to smile and nod all the while wondering if she might be in a worse place.

So my point is that you can just be there for your friend. She might be surprised by her emotions - maybe she could use someone to talk about them with. You don't have to tell her "he's in a better place" anyway, because unless he is canonized, you can't know that for sure. Just listening, nodding, and agreeing that death sucks is enough (even if you have a different reason for disliking death than she does). She also might want to talk about him. So ask her what he was like, give her the opportunity to talk about him. It is comforting to keep a person's memory alive by talking about them. You don't necessarily have to do all this - maybe she doesn't need or want to talk about him. Like the others said, continuing to be her friend and expressing your sorrow for her loss is a good place to start. Ultimately, she has to grieve, and who knows if this difficult loss might spark something in her.


#6

[quote="pkdsquared, post:1, topic:240426"]
But I feel even more at a loss on how to comfort her than I usually do when stuff like this happens. Any thoughts?

[/quote]

You are a wonderful friend for wanting to be there for your friend! Were we all as lucky as her.

Here are some ideas about helping your friend through this difficult time:

  1. Listen to her if she wants to talk about her feelings and about her uncle.
  2. Spend time with her. Make her dinner or take her out for a cup of coffee. Go to the movies together. She might want to get away from her grief, even if it's just for a few hours. If she doesn't want the distraction, just be a shoulder for her to cry on.
  3. If you knew the deceased, share your memeories of him with her.
  4. Grief can take a lot of forms. She might experience trouble concentrating, she might be forgetful, she might have mood swings, she might start sleeping a lot or not enough. Be patient with her.
  5. Encourage the friends you have in comon to include her in their fun time activities. Sometimes grieving people get avoided because other people don't want to intrude on their grief, but the fact is that a lot of grieving people don't want to be alone.

What I would caution you against, however, is talking with her about your faith or her lack thereof. If she asks you what Catholics believe about death and the afterlife, fine - tell her what you think is appropriate. But avoid sharing with her your incredulousness about her disbelief in God and heaven. It's going to do her little good to hear that her beloved uncle is in heaven if she doesn't believe there is such a thing. She needs a friend right now, not a theology debate partner. :)


#7

Thank you all or your thoughtful responses. For the record, I definitely wasn’t planning on talking to her about my beliefs or anything like that. She’s a very, very open person and is always texting or updating her facebook status about what she’s going through, how she feels about it, etc. She’s also the type of person who takes a non-response as a sign that someone doesn’t care. You can see how I had a bit of a dilemma. I have been trying to console her by acknowledging what a good person her uncle must have been (I didn’t know him) by the things she’s telling me. She texted me today to say that the funeral was very long and emotional, and there were over 300 people there. I said that he must be very loved and that we should all be so lucky to have over 300 people at our funerals. Just things like that.
I think it’s extra hard for her because she lost a close friend not quite a year ago, and I think she’s been struggling with the anniversary of that coming up as well.


#8

[quote="pkdsquared, post:7, topic:240426"]
Thank you all or your thoughtful responses. For the record, I definitely wasn't planning on talking to her about my beliefs or anything like that. She's a very, very open person and is always texting or updating her facebook status about what she's going through, how she feels about it, etc. She's also the type of person who takes a non-response as a sign that someone doesn't care. You can see how I had a bit of a dilemma. I have been trying to console her by acknowledging what a good person her uncle must have been (I didn't know him) by the things she's telling me. She texted me today to say that the funeral was very long and emotional, and there were over 300 people there. I said that he must be very loved and that we should all be so lucky to have over 300 people at our funerals. Just things like that.
I think it's extra hard for her because she lost a close friend not quite a year ago, and I think she's been struggling with the anniversary of that coming up as well.

[/quote]

I think you're doing right by your friend. :)


closed #9

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