Many in the throes of grief lean on religion and spirituality to find healing, but this isn’t the case for everyone. Here are 3 ways to comfort a grieving person that helps—not hurts—their spiritual journey.
People experience and process grief in a myriad of different ways. For many, religion and spirituality are a cornerstone to navigating grief and healing, especially if the church was a hallmark of their upbringing. But for others, those who either don’t believe in a higher power or those whose faith has been severed instead of strengthened by the loss they are enduring, spirituality either takes a backseat to their pain or is simply not in the vehicle at all.
Well-meaning friends and family, in an attempt to provide comfort and hope, try to meet their loved ones’ heartache with a Scripture or a cliche quote about how “God never gives us more than we can handle.” And instead of lending a helping hand, actually unwittingly pour salt atop a fresh, gaping wound.
So before you tell a loved one who has just been faced with a devastating loss that “God only gives his toughest battles to his strongest soldiers,” here are 3 ways to offer comfort that will help – not hurt – their healing journey.
- Love your beloved griever where they are – not where you think or hope they should be. Oftentimes, a comforter will provide advice, words of wisdom, or a different perspective to encourage the person in the depths of their pain. But all too often the chatter becomes too overwhelming or is said in an attempt to avoid an awkward silence because they just don’t know how to meet the person in their grief. Sometimes, silence can go further than a misguided attempt at sharing scripture or quote stitched on a throw pillow somewhere. If you really want to comfort your loved one, learn to get comfortable in the dark and sit in the silence with the griever, and leave your answers, reasons, and proverbs at the door.
- Remember that not all grievers lean on their spirituality in hard times. In fact, it can often be the opposite. Just as trauma can rewire the brain’s neural pathways, grief can similarly recalibrate a spiritual compass and not everyone’s points the same direction after a tragic loss. Some may look north and find hope in a supernatural savior whereas others’ compasses point starkly south because their earthly mind can’t fathom why their god allowed this to happen to them. Wherever their arrow points, remember it is not your job to change the direction of their arrow. Instead, allow them the space to explore their complicated emotions – the good, the bad, and ugly – freely, and without judgment.
- Hold space for your loved one to freely explore their relationship with their higher power on their own time and their own terms. Resist the urge to say “Everything happens for a reason” and instead ask questions that spur your griever to share freely what kind of support they may need at that moment. Replace “You’re so strong” with “There’s no way you feel strong right now. What can I do for you in this moment?” If you are saddened by their deviation from their spiritual path, try not to take it personally and just allow them the space to process and explore the wide spectrum of emotions that grief brings. Whether the griever doubts the existence of God or swears religion off for good – offering a shoulder and listening ear will be immensely more helpful than pushing a spiritual agenda on them during their darkest moment.
Healing is a colorful journey that takes on many faces and wears different hats. When bursts of anger explode, sadness may soon follow, only for anger to pop back up with a torrential downpour of tears like a game of whack-a-mole. Adding spirituality – or a deviation from it – to the season of grief means peeling back another complex layer of the healing journey that, if not met with grace, openness, and acceptance from the comforter, can exacerbate grief, prolong their pain, and push them away.
If you are struggling spiritually in your season of grief, or if you were previously religious but the loss you experienced has you second-guessing where you stand now that the ground was ripped from beneath you, you are not alone. In our grief sessions, we handle the subject of spirituality from the very beginning – that is, whether or not you wish to discuss it at all – to ensure we are providing you with the individualized support that you need most. Your feeling supported in this unimaginably painful season is our first priority. Wherever you stand spiritually, whether you don’t have a belief system or yours is hanging on by a thread, we will meet you where you are, on your terms, at your pace. Contact us today to schedule a brief session so we can walk this journey with you.
Sharon Brubaker is a certified Life Coach and credentialed Grief Specialist who teaches women who are grieving how to process their thoughts and emotions. To learn more about grief and spirituality, listen to the full podcast episode here or download my free e-Book The Griever’s Guide, which equips you with the tools to live life after grief; because no griever should have to navigate a broken heart on their own.