Guest Post: If You Want to Comfort, Don’t Assume

Elizabeth Rubenstein, a grieving mother who describes herself as an agnostic atheist, originally posted this on the Facebook page Walking with Forest, a page on which she and her husband have shared the story of their son Forest.

If You Want to Comfort, Don’t Assume

by Elizabeth Rubenstein

We don’t believe in God. We fall into the category of agnostic atheists, meaning that we don’t believe in any deity and we don’t claim to know for sure if any can or do exist.

I put this out there because, as we wade through this world of child loss and the greater world of grief, I find more and more often that many people assume otherwise. I respect everyone’s right to believe whatever they believe. Even without believing, I truly appreciate the offers of prayers for us as I believe that any positivity being put out for us means something. I do not, however, appreciate other religiously based comments. Not because I don’t think they come from a good place or with good intent but because they bring me no comfort and honestly hurt more than they help.

forest

I know that these words come from a good place: an attempt to comfort, a lack of something else to say. I know that some of these things don’t even comfort or feel good to those who do believe.

When I hear “God needed another angel” all I can think of is a jealous toddler. My 3 year old handing his 1 year old brother a toy only to grab it back from him the moment he starts to enjoy it. I cannot fathom any god who would “give” a child only to change its mind mere weeks later.

When I hear “God has a plan for you” or “All things happen for a reason” it makes me angry. Flat out, seeing red, angry. How could anyone believe that the death of a child was anyone’s plan?

I have hesitated about posting my thoughts on this for quite a while. Afraid I would offend someone. Afraid I would lose support from those who do believe. Then I realized that ignoring my being offended for fear of offending someone else was ridiculous.
If someone decides to not support us because our beliefs are different than theirs then they never really supported us. If someone is offended because we believe differently, well that’s too bad.

I beg of you all to think before you speak or type. Do you know if the person you are speaking to is religious? Do you know for sure that they hold the same views you do? If not, find something else to say.

My first suggestion is “I’m so sorry.”, “I’m thinking of you.” Or any sentence in which you can use their loved ones name, “We think of Forest often.”

About Grief Beyond Belief

Grief Beyond Belief is a safe space to grieve free of religion and spiritualism.

5 Responses to Guest Post: If You Want to Comfort, Don’t Assume

  1. Sue Blue February 4, 2016 at 8:20 pm #

    Thank you; this is excellent and exactly describes how I have felt even with members of my own family who are religious. I wish they could understand that platitudes do not help and actually hurt. I know they don’t want to hurt me, and are usually just trying to find something to say, but every time my son’s death comes up in a conversation I have to listen to these empty assurances: “Take comfort in knowing you’ll see him again if you have faith”, and so on. This has been going on for over 10 years now. I haven’t said anything openly to them for fear of losing what little support they do give me.

  2. Sarah Harnsongkram July 18, 2016 at 4:01 pm #

    Thank you for writing this. I am so sorry about the death of your son, Forest. I think I’d know what to say; because I too had a son die. But I offen struggle to find the right words to comfort.

    Just the simple title of your article is basically the information I need to remember.

    My son, Jack, drowned 5 1/2 years ago. I’m not saying “I know how you feel.” Just that I have suffered that loss too. The saying: “It doesn’t get easier, I just get more accustomed to my grief and learn to live with it.” I too love hearing my son’s name.

  3. Nina Stoltzfus July 19, 2016 at 4:46 pm #

    I too have lost a son. He was 25 years old and died very unexpectedly of a drug overdose after being clean for almost a year. Nothing anyone can say will ever bring comfort to me. I love it the most when someone sends me a note remembering my son. I still love hearing his name spoken our loud. I know that God didn’t take him away from us because he needed him. He has all he needs at his disposal. I also know that we live in an evil world and the influences here are bombarding us daily. We become a product of our choices and every choice has a consequence. I know that God has established that from the beginning of time. I also know that I will see my son again but that doesn’t lessen the trauma of losing him so young before he even had a chance to live his life.

  4. Nina Stoltzfus July 19, 2016 at 4:49 pm #

    I too have lost a son. He was 25 years old and died very unexpectedly of a drug overdose after being clean for almost a year. Nothing anyone can say will ever bring comfort to me. I love it the most when someone sends me a note remembering my son. I still love hearing his name spoken out loud. I know that God didn’t take him away from us because he needed him. He has all he needs at his disposal. I also know that we live in an evil world and the influences here are bombarding us daily. We become a product of our choices and every choice has a consequence. I know that God has established that from the beginning of time. I also know that I will see my son again but that doesn’t lessen the trauma of losing him so young before he even had a chance to live his life.

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