Coming Through: Polite Yet Firm

Hello again, everyone, William here.

I try to make my contributions to the web worth the one-half of an English degree I’ve managed to get, but I am not by nature a particularly polite or restrained guy. I’m impulsive, prone to speaking my mind, and it’s really sabotaged a lot of potential friendships I might otherwise have had. I was thinking on this, and it brought to mind the problem of believing families that many nonbelieving grievers have to deal with.

There was recently a thread on the Grief Beyond Belief page on Facebook, put up by some manner of theist. It was the usual creationist nonsense – irreducible complexity demands a creator, that sort of thing.  My reply was instinctive and altogether characteristic of how I usually handle things. I lit into him with some of my choicest invective, and our collective responses drove him right off the page. (As in all Grief Beyond Belief spaces, religious content is not allowed on the page and GBB page administration prefers people notify them of infractions, rather than engaging.  — Ed.)  While this was entirely satisfying, it raises the question – what would I have done if it was a family member? I can’t imagine myself telling my father or brother “If you’re really sorry, go to your other friends and tell them what you did and why it was a terrible thing,” if they had done this.

The issue compounds itself when the deceased was religious. A religious memorial service and religious sentiments are very likely what they would want. My mother wanted a “preach the salvation message” funeral, and she got it. My grandmother was Catholic, and the service at Arlington was a Catholic one. We can’t and I think shouldn’t object to that sort of thing; we know they are gone and their wishes practically no longer matter, but legally and ethically it’s important to honor last requests.

Yet we still can’t let people walk all over us. Constant messages of “she’s in a better place,” or “what would your mother think if she knew you were an atheist,” hurt. Our own healing is important, and we have to hold to a certain principle of enlightened selfishness to protect ourselves and our well-being.

A response I’ve come up with that I offer to you for use and modification as you see fit is to politely yet firmly respond:

“I understand where your sentiments are coming from, and please know I am saying this in love and fear, because I hold you and our relationship dearly. These sentiments are not a comfort to me, because I don’t share your belief. Please, don’t bring them up again when we’re talking. I don’t mind if you share them elsewhere, I wouldn’t dream of asking you to change for me, but when we’re together, please respect that these sentiments don’t help, they hurt.”


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