Grief and Spirituality: How Faith Helps with Loss
Life is a mystery. What happens after life ends is an even greater mystery. An encounter with grief can be one of the most challenging experiences of the human condition. How do we reconcile the loss of a loved one? What is our life without the ones we love? Will we ever see them again? Why must we endure loss at all? An overwhelming majority of the 8 billion human beings on this planet identify with some form of religion to help make sense of events beyond our comprehension. Through memorials, rituals, and other meaningful traditions, faith can provide a warm shelter from grief’s emotional storms.
How Does Religion Help with Grief?
Grief and religion are often experienced together. A religion is a belief system that places God or Gods at its center as the source of all creation and knowledge. Through traditions, rituals, worship, and sacred text, religion seeks to unravel the meaning of life as well as the great mystery of the undiscovered country that lies beyond our Earthly existence. The most recognized religions in the world are Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, and Hinduism. Thousands more exist. Faith is beyond human understanding. Only through the divine guidance of a God or Gods can the unknown be known. Here are three ways religion can help with grief:
Honoring the Departed
Each religion is marked with sacred traditions that allow the bereaved to respectfully say goodbye to the departed. In doing so, the bereaved can find closure during a difficult time. Religious funerals enable us to acknowledge the loss, which is a big step in processing our grief. It also provides us with an opportunity to give testimony to the departed’s life. Whether it’s reading a meaningful religious text or recounting the special relationship shared with the departed, we face our feelings and permit the grief process to unfold.
When a loved one passes, religious funeral services help prepare a lost loved one for safe passage into the afterlife. For some, the afterlife could be a trip to heaven, reincarnation, or another belief. Even though a loved one may have shed their earthly body, the spirit remains eternal. The bereaved can find solace in knowing death is not the end but just a stepping stone in the spirit’s never-ending journey.
Periods of Mourning
Each religion carries with it a period of mourning for the departed. The length of mourning can vary significantly from one religion to the next. Setting aside a designated mourning period allows the bereaved to acknowledge the loss and process grief. Some religions prioritize mourning to a point where work and other obligations may be excused. In fact, many jobs provide bereavement days to help employees properly absorb the loss. Families, friends, and communities can come together to support one another during this time.
Prayer and Scripture
Leaning into prayer and religious scripture can be grounding for those experiencing grief. One of the most essential elements of processing grief is self-care. When we take time out of our day to pray or read scripture, we momentarily release ourselves from the burdens of daily tasks and commitments. Through prayer, we can quiet the mind and gain clarity. Reading scripture can offer support and stabilize our thoughts with comforting words.
Why Grieving People Turn to Spirituality
While often used interchangeably, spirituality and religion are not the same things. A religion's beliefs, traditions, and values are shared among a community. Spirituality is the human experience of seeking and exploring purpose and meaning in something greater than oneself. There are several important reasons why people turn to spirituality in times of grief.
The Search for Meaning
Losing a loved one can be an overwhelming experience. It can defy logic and send the bereaved into an emotional tailspin. Words from supporters can do very little to offer solace. By leaning into spirituality, grief-stricken individuals can connect to a higher power for comfort. Through this powerful connection, a framework for understanding the loss may be possible. It can help provide clarity and meaning to the loss, which leads to healing. Feelings of confusion, despair, and isolation can give way to clarity, comfort, and peace.
Help From Above
When all other options have failed, prayer can be the medium of miracles. A prayer can be a simple intention for peace or a thoughtful, heartfelt call for support. It can also be a religious prayer traditionally used in worship. Conversing with a higher power can have a stabilizing effect on the bereaved. When we can calm our nervous system and experience peace, we can open up a whole world of healing and possibility.
Our connections to spirituality can revitalize our lives. As the adage goes, it’s always darkest before the dawn. As we journey through the grief process, spirituality and religion can put the loss into perspective and allow us to discover a new purpose for our life. With the strength and support of our spiritual and religious practices, we can learn to embrace life with a grateful heart once again.
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