Sunday, July 10, 2016

Grief Beyond Belief

“God has a plan.”
“All things happen for a reason.”
“God never asks of us more than we can bear.”
“He is in a better place.”
“God needed another angel.”

If you are a religious or spiritual believer, these statements are not allowed in an online Facebook page or the closed Facebook group called “Grief Beyond Belief.” In 2011, Rebecca Hensler, founded the group, devoted to faith-free grief support. 

According to Rebecca, this group would rather hear phrases like “I’m so sorry,” “I’m thinking of you,” or “We think of your daughter often.” Comments should be compassionate and respectful of other members. She says that if  your opinion or experience differs from that of another participant, describe your own experience or opinion, rather than criticizing those of others.

The site, according to Rebecca, is to provide support for all kinds of loss: children, siblings, parents, and even pets. Rebecca lost her 3-month old son Jude in 2009. He was born with a birth defect and did not survive.
The aim of Grief Beyond Belief is to facilitate peer-to-peer grief support for atheists, Humanists, and other Freethinkers by providing spaces free of religion, spiritualism, mysticism, and evangelism in which to share sorrow and offer the comfort of rational compassion.

She found that most grief organizations such as Compassionate Friends, depending where you live and who is the head of it, may expound on life after death and seeing your loved one again. Rebecca was looking to create support for anyone grieving who doesn’t believe in God. Religious or spiritual content is not permitted anywhere on this site.

Opinions expressed on the site are those of individual atheist bloggers only. One blogger said that she was afraid to offend someone who did believe. If a child had survived a car accident, some might call it a “miracle” and a testament to the power of prayer. If the child died, it would be just part of “God’s mysterious ways.” Then the blogger realized that ignoring her being offended was ridiculous. Bloggers believe no one should be offended because they believe differently than those who are religious. Everyone has a right to believe what they want, according to Rebecca.
The purpose of this site, according to Rebecca, is to provide mutual support. Comments should be compassionate and respectful of other members.

Grief Beyond Belief is about peer to peer grief support. The group volunteers send out links to articles; people may comment, and those grieving can comment or write in for support. The closed Facebook group, which you must join, has 2,508 members. Blogs are written by supporters, and Rebecca travels around the country speaking to free-thought organizations on grieving as a non-believer, secular grief support and related topics. Articles on what the group does have appeared in USA Today, Culture Wars Radio and the Thinking Atheist podcasts.

The group does not provide professional grief counseling but can refer you to a specialist. They stress they do not endorse anyone in particular or receive any type of benefit from doing this. They are just trying to help.

Rebecca is a middle-school counselor in San Francisco with a BA in political activism and an MS in counseling. She currently lives in the Bay Area.

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