In religions from Christianity to Islam, sympathy is expressed by offering personal prayers and assuring the bereaved that their loved one will proceed to heaven, or "a better place." Expressing sympathy without religious language can be useful in certain situations, such as when an acquaintance's religious beliefs are unknown. In addition, some atheists -- individuals who do not believe in God and follow no religious creed -- may find religious expressions of sympathy offensive when directed their way.
The nonreligious sentence, "I'm sorry for your loss," clearly and directly conveys sympathy. A similar example comes from the nonprofit organization American Atheists in reference to a hate-crime perpetrated against a religious Sikh community. “We express our deep sympathies and offer our full support ... we want these communities to know that our thoughts are with them," reads the statement. These are all acceptable phrases for expressing sympathy from a nonreligious standpoint.
When attending a funeral or offering sympathy to a grieving friend, relating an upbeat memory of the deceased can be a positive way to express support. Depending on the mood and circumstances surrounding the death, funerals can be occasions for celebrating the life and accomplishments of the deceased. One way to do so is with a nonreligious sentiment such as, "Everyone dies, but not everyone has the privilege of being missed."
Expressions of sympathy are also appropriate during times of serious illness or accidents not resulting in death. Find nonreligious words for these occasions, too, such as "my thoughts go out to you." While this phrase is close to its religious equivalent, it replaces "prayers" with the secular "thoughts." The same sentiment is found in sentences such as, "Wishing you comfort and peace in this difficult time" and "sending you love and emotional support."
Sometimes there are no words to express sympathy and grief, such as in the case of extreme tragedies. After the 2012 fatal shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., the spokesperson for the National Atheist Party expressed sympathy in a nonreligious way by saying, "Words alone cannot express our sorrow over the deaths at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. The National Atheist Party and its members express our deepest condolences to the families of the victims of this horrific act."
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