Bereavement due to traumatic death

Religion and spirituality

In the UK spirituality used to be associated exclusively with religion, but during the 1950’s the concept of spirituality broadened to include the individual quest to understand the meaning of life. Today, some people describe themselves as religious, others as spiritual, some as both, while others have always argued that religion and spiritual events are “social illusions”. Some people acknowledge that religious or spiritual beliefs help or comfort those in distress but resist the explanations given by priests, spiritualists or mediums.

Although most people in the UK are do not regularly attend religious services bereavement often prompts people to seek comfort and explanation through going to church, talking to a minister or reading the bible. Rosemary said that after her son died she used religion as “a crutch” for a bit, even though she had lost her interest in religion many years earlier. She said that the local priest helped her enormously.

Some people felt that their religious faith had been shaken, at least temporarily, after a traumatic death. A sudden bereavement is a dreadful shock and can seem terribly unfair. This sense of unfairness made some people question whether there could be a God. However, for some the experience eventually resulted in a deepening of faith.
Carole found comfort through attending church services but sometimes felt like leaving when the minister started to talk about forgiveness – she cannot imagine forgiving the woman who killed her son.
The idea that the person who has died may still be alive in some other realm can greatly comfort someone bereaved. People who have no religious or spiritual belief don’t have that source of comfort. Tamsin said that she did not want to cause offence to people who believed in an afterlife, but she felt that it was important for her to confront and accept the reality that her brother was gone.
 
Many people said that the bereaved need to find comfort wherever they can. However a few people we talked to were cynical about religion. One woman told the funeral director that she wanted none of that “God stuff” at her children’s funeral. Another said she felt angry and could not understand how God could have allowed her daughter’s traumatic death. She had lost all faith in God.

Some of those who said that they didn't believe in established religion said that they believed in a spiritual realm. A few people had experienced events that they couldn't explain and they decided that these events were signs from the person who had died. For example, Elizabeth had a terrible pain in her head at the exact time that her daughter died in a car crash. Elizabeth’s husband suggested that the pain was Elizabeth’s daughter returning to her. Sometimes people consulted mediums to try to make contact with those who had died, or to understand these experiences. Linda said that her belief in karma and in “previous lives” had helped her survive the terrible time when her son was murdered.
After the traumatic deaths of two friends, Lisa was ill for over six years. Her GP referred her to a psychiatrist, who diagnosed depression, post-traumatic stress and anxiety disorder. After years of unsuccessful treatment Lisa found a healer at a local Spiritualist Church who put his hands on her shoulders and on her head and made her feel warm and relaxed. Lisa felt that he had restored her soul.

Last reviewed October 2015.

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