Comfort After Newtown

Question from Rhoda:
At the prayer vigil, after the massacre occurred, how would the families be comforted without referring to god and relying on religion for solace?

Answer by SmartLX:
Firstly, even if it were completely impossible to console people after a tragedy without using faith and religion, it wouldn’t mean there was any kind of a god. It would suck, but wanting or even needing something to be true doesn’t make it true (unless we make it true ourselves, and as far as we know we can’t bring a god into existence).

Regardless, and fortunately, secular consolation is possible even in terrible events such as the Newtown mass murder. It’s also capable of being more frank and honest; telling people for example that the victims are all in Heaven goes against many people’s ideas of the requirements for admittance into Heaven, and is a guess at best. Any reason one might give why a loving god would allow the massacre in the first place is definitely a guess, and plenty of Americans in the media have been guessing like mad.

Now then, if the families are at a prayer vigil in the first place then they probably will be comforted by religious platitudes, but let’s say they’re at a secular memorial service instead, or just at home after it’s all over. Here’s a start, but certainly not the extent of possible approaches.
– “Your child is no longer afraid or in pain. No one can hurt him/her anymore. It’s over.”
– “The killer is dead. He won’t be able to cause any more bloodshed. We’re all safe from him now.”
– “We will all remember your child, not just because of what happened but because you had a wonderful child who touched us all while he/she was here.”
– “Because of what happened, the politicians might finally do something which stops the long line of mass murders with assault weapons. That’s something we can help to bring about through political activism, so we can play a part in the safety of other innocents.”
– “I’m here if you need me. I can only imagine what you’re going through, but is there anything I can do to help you out, even if it’s just to get you through the day?”

I emphasise that last one because it’s the most important. The process of comforting the recently bereaved doesn’t only consist of giving them a lecture (or sermon). You have to be there for them, to work out what it is they really need from you at any given moment instead of just assuming. They might want to hear comforting words, sure, but they might just need a hug, or a cup of tea, or for someone to look after their families so they can be alone for a while.

Whether you talk about God and the afterlife or not is only important while you’re talking, which is really only a small part of what’s going on. That said, the non-religious do have things to say when they need to.