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Grief: When Major Loss Challenges Your Beliefs

Topic Overview

A major loss can challenge your sense of certainty in your belief system and religious faith. You may find yourself examining many of your values and beliefs, including the purpose of life, death, suffering, and whether there is a higher power. Alternately, you may gain comfort, courage, and hope from your religious beliefs during this time.

It is important to distinguish between religion and spirituality.

  • Religion is a system of faith and worship of a divine being. There are many different types of religions. All religions have certain beliefs, practices, and rituals.
  • Spirituality is one's personal connection with and questions about the deepest meanings or powers governing life. Some people express their spirituality through their religion. Others may have a system of values and beliefs that does not include worship of a divine being.

There are some ways you can help yourself when you are questioning the purpose of life, death, and suffering.

  • Be clear about your feelings. Are you feeling unsure about your religious belief system? Are you angry because you have different beliefs from those of your religion? Are you feeling empty because you do not have a belief system that answers your questions?
  • Allow yourself the right to question. You may feel uncomfortable when you have questions that do not seem to have answers. Give yourself permission to say, "I don't have the answer for that right now," or "I don't know why this happened." Saying this instead of making up an answer or giving someone else's answer is often the first step in discovering what you truly believe.
  • Talk with someone you trust. Talk with someone who will listen to your concerns and will not try to answer your questions for you. If you talk about it, what is bothering you may become more clear and you may find the answers you are looking for.
  • Find a way to handle the feelings that arise. Are you angry with a higher power? Do you want to make a deal with a higher power as a way to avoid further distress and sadness? Are you frustrated with your feelings of helplessness? Do you feel guilty? It is important to recognize your feelings and handle them in the way that helps you resolve them.
  • Find answers to your questions about religious beliefs. If you are confused about a specific religious belief, ask someone who knows the answer. Talk with a clergy person. Read religious books or texts.
  • List your sources of spiritual (or religious) comfort or practices. What gives you comfort in times of questioning? Do you feel the need to be alone or with other people? Are there practices in your religion that you have not done in some time and would like to try again? If needed, talk with someone who can help you list and do some of the things you choose to do.

If you or someone you know is having trouble addressing religious or spiritual questions that arise while grieving, talk with a clergy person or a licensed counselor, social worker, or psychologist. Pastoral counseling, which combines the spiritual expertise of a member of the clergy with the skills of a licensed counselor, may be helpful. You can also ask your local librarian to recommend books that can help address your spiritual questions.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Sidney Zisook, MD - Psychiatry
Last Revised November 4, 2013

Last Revised: November 4, 2013

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