Richard Wade’s advice columns at Friendly Atheist are consistently excellent. This week he handles the question of what to say when the grieving religious person remarks that their lost loved one is in a better place when you cannot honestly say that you agree:
When the more religious people talk about how the person will “live on” in the afterlife, you can talk about the things that you think will “live on” in the form of good memories or of their continuing positive influence on you or others
When the more religious people talk about their grief, ask them if there is anything you can do to help, to take care of some ordinary task while they deal with the emotions, the upheaval and the fatigue. In the throes of grief, a simple errand can seem overwhelming. An offer to do a few of these can be not only helpful in mundane terms but also deeply healing and soothing because it is a humble gesture of caring. If they say you can pray for the deceased or whomever, say that how you express your caring is by helping in some way, that you want to honor the person’s memory through something tangible. If they say thank you, but there’s nothing you can do, then just nod and accept the helplessness. Often for those on the periphery of grief, those who only slightly knew the deceased, the awful thing they have to endure is helplessness. Even if there is nothing you can do, or nothing you are allowed to do, the caring still helps to soothe those who grieve.
His advice in full is here.