When a loved one dies we experience grief and we find ways to deal with it. Our friends and family try to comfort us, help us recover, and move on. For most, some form of relief and comfort can be found in faith in a life beyond physical death, faith that loved ones will be reunited some day, faith in the loving comfort of some power beyond our mortal understanding.
But with a growing percentage of non-believers in the U.S. according to a Pew Study, it's increasingly likely we will eventually be dealing with grief without those traditional beliefs and sentiments. How can secularists process their grief? What comfort can others offer to non-believers in an after life? If you are a non-believer how should you respond when people offer condolences based in their faith?
Rebecca Hensler found herself confronting many of these issues when she lost her son. Suffering alone from such a tragic event she sought out support in an online group. But while the group did help her, much of it was based in religious belief. As a secularist, Hensler found the support offered was often alienating more than comforting. This led her to create a Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/faithfreegriefsupport) for atheists looking for grief support.
The public Facebook page has grown to nearly 20,000 likes. There is now a website (griefbeyondfaith.org) and a closed Facebook group where peer to peer counseling free of religious sentiment is offered (https://www.facebook.com/groups/GBBGroup/).
Outside the online world, there are few genuine options available. Hospitals, and Hospice often offer some kind of grief counseling but those are almost always led by religiously grounded counselors. A well-trained counselor of faith would know how best to work in a secular situation. But training in secular grief counseling is not a high prriority and difficult to find.
Hensler has written a resource to help community secular organizations create grief support groups. She also recommends a couple books: A Grief Workbook for Skeptics: Surviving Loss without Religion by Carol Fiore and Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God by Greta Christina.A third book I discovered, The Humanist Approach to Grief and Grieving by Jennifer Hancock, also has a website humanistgrief.org with a number of other resources.
If you find yourself in need of secular support, or in a quandary on how to express sympathy or offer comfort to an atheist, there is a growing list of places to turn. As the trend toward secularism continues, more resources will inevitably become available.