The purpose of this study is to examine crisis of faith of people whom have lost a loved one. Do people more likely turn to faith in a time of loss? Why did they seek faith in the time of their distress? What was the process of their faith during this time in their life? What were the results of their hold of faith in their time of need? Did they feel comforted and safe? I will answer these questions through various interviews to receive more in depth and personal answers.
Death and faith are often linked together, many people turn to faith in their most desperate time of need. The goal of this research is to understand the importance of faith or lack of, to individuals who has gone to a life changing and traumatic experiences.
Can tragedies increase religious commitment levels?
Can the loss of someone increase religious belief and dependency? Is having the possibility of an afterlife a coping mechanism where a believer latches on to hope, believing that this is not the end, where eternity with the ones you love is an option? Billi Graham once said, “You’re born. You suffer. You die. Fortunately, there’s a loophole.” Many Christians believers when they lose someone holds on to the hope of seeing them again in a far better place. This is seen across religions, Judaism, Islam, Hindu, the belief in the afterlife helps people cope and move on. In February 2011 when an earthquake in New Zealand killed 185 people and injured thousands, it occurred and a survey was done to compare levels of religious affiliation before and after the earthquake. They discovered that many people living in the area where the earthquake occurred, Canterbury, became more religious. The research was in awe of how there was a significant increase in religious faith among those who were affected by the earthquake. Another research done by Jeanet S. Bentzen found that people who live in areas when natural and unpredictable disasters occur were more religious than people living in areas where it was not so common. This was shown in 2005 when Hurricane Katrin destroyed the Gulf Coast of the U.S. 67% of the victims reported in becoming more religious after the hurricane. And those whose religious faith increase had a decrease in mental illness and suicidal thoughts after the horrific natural disaster. But this study was not only done to natural disasters, but there was also an increase in religious faith to the victim of the 9-11 terrorist attack. And this was a national increase. This article only looked at major catastrophes and not deaths like terminal illnesses, heart attacks and accidents that only happen to a small group of people or an individual. This articled supported that tragedies do help increase religious commitment levels.
Can spiritual beliefs affect the outcome of bereavement?
A study was done in London from January 1997 to August 1998 at the A Marie Curie Centre for specialist palliative care, where researchers measured the correlation between spiritual beliefs and resolution of grief. 135 relatives and close friends the patient with terminal illness participated in the study and went through five measures. The test was; (1) The Royal Free interview, which assesses the nature and strength of spiritual beliefs and practice. (2) The core bereavement items scale which measures the intensity of grief. (3) the hospital anxiety and depression scale. (4) The closeness support test where participants nominate the people to whom they felt closest and second closest to in the last 12 months. (5) The Locus of Control of behavior scale, which measured the extent people perceive events as being a result of their behavior. The results were that the participants with strong spiritual beliefs recovered from their grief in progressively while those with low strength in spiritual beliefs demonstrated little change by the nine months mark but improved quickly after. However, participants with no spiritual beliefs show a temporary increase in grief recovery but soon their grief intensified again by the final assessment. Overall those who reported no spiritual belief did resolve their grief by the 14 months after the death of the loved one. As a result, people who have strong religious beliefs resolve their grief faster in completion than those who do not have any spiritual beliefs. This test can also be applied in other areas to see how different regions differ when it comes to religion and grief. How would the result of this test differ in countries where the economic status is lower, or religion is apart of the nation or where religion is very small?
Changed Faith; Uncertain!
Life isn’t black and white. There are people when they lose someone dear the can’t seem to let go of their religious beliefs and at the same time believe completely in what they used to. They are uncertain of where they stand in their faith. Kyle Cupp the author of this article lost his young daughter in a tragedy. He talks about how at first, he did not question God he just simply let him be. But as time went by, he hated feeling the nothingness when he did look up to God, when he asked for answers when he simply just want to hear something. At that moment he became uncertain of where he stood with his faith. He became skeptic if this was even real if it was even worth it. And still, there were times he would pray to God in hope that if God was real, he would hear. And he is not alone. After reading this article I found that what this man was going through about the uncertainty of his faith was similar to the people I interviewed.
Afterlife Beliefs effects on Psychological Adjustment in older couples?
A study was conducted on how five psychological symptoms; anxiety, depression, anger, intrusive thoughts and yearning, were correlated with the beliefs about the existence and nature of the afterlife. This study was done on an older spouse with the average age being 70. An analysis was conducted using data from the Changing Lives of Older Couples, a previous study of the loss of a spouse. The data collected was before the loss and 6-18 months after the loss of the significant other. The results were that belief in the afterlife can inhibit the ability to adjust completely. Believers in the afterlife had an increase in intrusive thoughts. However, widows who do not expect to be reunited in the afterlife have significantly more depressive thoughts, anger, and intrusive thoughts at both 6 and 18 months after the loss. It is suggested that beliefs in the afterlife may be adaptive in the short term but may become a problem in the long run. This is due to the fact that widowers who have these beliefs are prevented from resuming everyday activities and relationships. Would these results be the same in younger spouses? And would they differ in different regions?
Nonbelievers Ways to Cope, Faith Shaken, But Rarely Destroyed.
If faith is not an option how do those who don’t rely on faith cope? Professor Joanne Cacciatore lost her child in 1994. After that, she created the MISS Foundation which is a group for parents who have lost their children. This group has grown large to be nationwide and has people from various backgrounds. Because of this, she is able to observe the type of spiritual base each parent has and how they cope. And she noticed that those who have spiritual beliefs don’t necessarily cope better than those who don’t they usually tend to be comforted in the fact that this is not the end. That they will be reunited with the child, someday. She has seen spiritual believers leave their faith and non-believers turn to faith in their time of need. She noticed that most of the time faith is only shaken not destroyed, in the long run, people tend to come back to their religious beliefs at some point, it might be for a short while, but it seems that they do come back. Mari Bailey who lost her son in a murderer gave up on her belief and separated herself from the church. She no longer practices her religion, but she can’t seem to give up the hope of seeing her son again. As long as there is hope in the chance to be happy with the deceased once again faith is not destroyed
The weakness of this study is that it was mostly conducted with a monotheistic religion. And most were done right after the loss of a loved one. How would people feel about faith maybe 10-15 years after they lost someone they loved? And how are teenagers and young adults affected with death and faith? I believe these studies should be done again in with this generation of millennials, where there is a significant increase worldwide of “non-believers.” I believe the result would be significantly different from the younger generation now in comparison to the older generation.
- Carr, D., & Sharp, S. (2013). Do Afterlife Beliefs Affect Psychological Adjustment to Late-Life Spousal Loss? The Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 69B(1), 103–112. DOI: 10.1093/geronb/gbt063
- Cupp, K. (2014, June 15). How Losing My Daughter Changed My Faith. Retrieved from https://www.thedailybeast.com/how-losing-my-daughter-changed-my-faith.
- Hagerty, B. B. (2013, January 16). After Tragedy, Nonbelievers Find Other Ways To Cope. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/2013/01/16/168563480/after-tragedy-nonbelievers-find-other-ways-to-cope.
- Research Center, P. E. W. (2018, June 14). Religious observance by age and country. Retrieved from https://www.pewforum.org/2018/06/13/why-do-levels-of-religious-observance-vary-by-age-and-country/.
- U.S. Public Becoming Less Religious. (2018, April 25). Retrieved from https://www.pewforum.org/2015/11/03/u-s-public-becoming-less-religious/.
- Walsh, K. (2002). Spiritual beliefs may affect outcome of bereavement: prospective study. Bmj, 324(7353), 1551–1551. DOI: 10.1136/bmj.324.7353.1551