Julie Stahl lost her 18-year-old son two years ago when he was hit head-on by another driver who was high on drugs. She was (and is) devastated, of course, but found no comfort in the religious platitudes she received from people -- things like "God has a plan for us all" or "He's looking down on you and keeping you safe" or "Your son will be waiting for you in heaven."
That led Julie to write a powerful piece entitled, "Don't Inject Your Religious Beliefs In My Grief"...
To an atheist like me, these aphorisms are loaded with offense. They feel presumptuous, taking for granted a shared belief in a higher power and an afterlife. They are also condescending. After all, if I believed in a god and/or a heaven, wouldn’t it have already occurred to me to take comfort from my faith in these? They insult my intelligence, all of them being childishly simplistic and illogical. No. 5, for example, would have me believe my son has become an angel who will watch over me. I guess I’m not supposed to wonder where his angel was (my mother, for instance, who adored him and died 10 years ago), when he needed one. Why would I get one, but he would not? As for him waiting for me in heaven, if I thought that were the case, do you think I’d still be here? I would have committed suicide days, perhaps even hours, after he was killed.
Julie goes on to include a list of things you can say to someone who is grieving the loss of a loved one...
If you can’t say any of these things, it’s OK to say nothing. You can even say, “I realize there is nothing I can say.” That is profoundly more helpful, honest and comforting than the empty, “God has a reason for everything.” Life is random. Death is random. And unless you die painlessly in your sleep at a ripe old age, it rarely makes sense. Nothing you can say to me in the wake of my child’s death is going to have it make sense.
Read Julie Stahl's full piece here.
The bottom line is you can’t fix me, no matter what you say or do. There are no magic words that will ease my sorrow. If I’m lucky, the passage of time and the loving, happy memories I have of my son will rise to the surface of my heart and crowd out the anger at the man who killed him, the guilt for not being able to protect my child from harm, the remorse for not doing something I might have done that could have changed the course of events that day. If you really want to help, then offer to help, or say something that draws on your humanity, my humanity, and the fact that we are all in this thing called “life” together.