Grief is one of the strongest negative emotional experiences encountered by humankind. Commonly associated with inner suffering, it emerges as a psychological response to the loss of an important person or component of one’s life, particularly, on the reason of death. Bereavement presents a complicated challenge for every person that undermines his or her spirit and mind. People in grief are overwhelmed with sadness and pain and frequently manifest irrational and untypical behavior. Coping with loss requires strong spiritual support that might be discovered individually or come from outside. People occupied in area of social work often face the issue of bereavement and employ various treatments from this “disease.” Since loss and grief are primarily related to a person’s inner world, medicine is often found in religion. This paper represents the inquiry into the coping with the pain of loss grounded on reference to religion and its application in social practice. Therefore, it provides the analysis of five peer-reviewed journal articles that are focused on faith as the optimal remedy of bereavement.
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Every religion suggests peculiar ways of coping with loss. The article by Norton and Gino (2014) provides a general overview of possible rituals defined as symbolic activities performed after the instance of loss that help people to overcome grief. The authors emphasize the necessity of following specific ritual since it can “reestablish feelings of control and mitigate general negative feelings” (Norton & Gino, 2014, p. 266). There were conducted a few experiments that attempted to analyze all possible procedures people participated in while dealing with bereavement. It turned out that religion did not play here significant role, and many participants preferred social procedures or everyday rituals designed by themselves as ways to honor the memory and soul of the departed. The article concludes with the finding that it does not matter whether the ritual refers certain religious practice or not, it provides feeling of perceived control and strengthens the spirit of the grieving ones.
Christianity presents a strong and secure background for people in need of spiritual support. The article “Spiritual Distress in Bereavement: Evolution of a Research Program” provides the insight into spiritual practices immanent to Christian mourners. It confirms positive impact on turning to God in times of bereavement, describing religion as mechanism able to “reinforce hope for reunion with their loved one in the afterlife, offer a sense of divine consolation, and extend the support of a community of fellow believers” (Burke & Neimeyer, 2014, p. 1088). However, the authors differentiate two degrees of grief: complicated grief (CG) and complicated spiritual grief (CSG) (Burke & Neimeyer, 2014, p. 1087). Although both concepts presuppose prolonged grieving after the loss of a close person, the second one is marked with stronger symptoms of grieving and is commonly derived from unexpected loss or the one caused by violence. Having analyzed the experience of 150 grievers, the researchers have discovered the fact that the meaning of death may be found with the help of religion only in cases of CG, while victims of CSG expressed negative emotions towards religious concepts and teachings. Hence, counseling of people struggling with spirituality requires more than exclusive reference to religion.
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Apart from examination of facing grief at grown-up age, special attention should be paid to this issue in younger age. Different approaches regarding counseling adolescence in grief are discussed in the article “Spirituality and Loss: Approaches of Counseling Grieving Adolescents,” written by Muselman and Wiggins (2012). It refers to various spiritual practices including praying, art, journaling and meditation that approach people to the divine power. The article focuses on positive impact of suchlike practices in coping with grief and loss and recommends their application by counselors. The evidence obtained after qualitative research demonstrate that suggested activities allowed adolescence to perceive a true meaning of loss and look at it from the global perspective (Muselman & Wiggins, 2012, p. 237). The authors suggest employment of religion in the role of source of answers and explanations that young people are striving to find rather than simple guide of honoring rituals.
Recovery of spirituality is achieved through honoring God as the major manifestation of faith. The article “Assessing the Role of Attachment to God, Meaning, and Religious Coping as Mediators in the Grief Experience” depicts findings of quantitative study of grief among adolescence. Kelley and Chan (2012) state that religion represents a powerful source of faith that can provide necessary strength and raise spirit. In contrast with the previous article, this research prescribes religion the duty of the source of security and comfort. The interview of 93 European Christian adolescences demonstrated beneficial impact of a secure style of attachment to God in the attempts to overcome the negative emotions emerging from loss (Kelley & Chan, 2012, p. 222). The secure style was described as the one that treated religion as the source of spiritual comfort and protection. This article focused on the relations between acceptance of the figure of God and the tendency of better coping with depression and easier recovery. It was found that young people who associated God with benevolence and assistance demonstrated less tense period of grieving and better stress-resistance. Hence, positive religious coping was determined to be the effective way of dealing with grief.
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Significant information is presented in the article entitled “Grief, Traumatic Loss and Coping Following Bereavement: Case Study of Women” that examines the issue of grief from the perspective of Islam. It pays a great attention to the definition of grief and its features as well as to the description of various social and spiritual means of support. The authors define spirituality and religion as “buffers to declining physical and mental health status” (Kaneez, 2015, p. 20). Having analyzed the cases of three Muslim women who lost their husbands and shared experience of bereavement, the article states that religion provided specific framing for grief. It indicates certain spiritual practices including prayers, reading Quran, prescribed mourning behaviors and funeral ceremonies that relief the pain by providing “sense of belonging to a broader community” (Kaneez, 2015, p. 21). Faith is concluded to be not exclusively the source of support and security but also the provider of meaning and disclosure of the true essence of things and occasions. Application to faith enables people to cope with death by helping them to accept it, implying it with higher purpose.
All the five analyzed articles present valuable sources for both grieving people and those who act as counselors. I agree with the major idea promoted by all the authors: religion is a significant tool that has all the necessary means of coping with the loss. It was surprising to get acquainted with treatment of bereavement in different cultures and notice the parallels between the spiritual practices suggested by Christians and Muslims. I share the authors’ vision of the role of faith. First, Norton and Gino (2014) state that faith provides the sense of control. Second, Burke and Neimeyer (2014) describe it as the source of hope and support. Third, Muselman and Wiggins (2012) as well as Kaneez (2015) emphasize its feature of providing explanations and disclosing meaning of loss. Last, Kelley and Chan (2012) treat it as the embodiment of security. However, in my opinion, religious practices and rituals may not be exclusive way of dealing with loss. Taking into consideration the findings presented by Burke and Neimeyer (2014), it becomes evident necessity to combine spiritual practices with psychological support. Hence, in the selection of counseling strategy, social workers should take into consideration various approaches and try to integrate various kinds in order to achieve better results.