A Question of Faith

I read an article today which brought me back to something I’ve been thinking about a lot particularly in relation to grief.  I know it can be a sensitive subject for many people as it has to do with religion and personal beliefs about God and what happens when we die.

People tend to have wide-ranging and often strongly held views on this which can greatly influence their experiences with death and grief.  For many, it can be very comforting to have a strong belief that the person who has died has passed on to a beautiful, safe place where there is no more pain or sorrow.  I personally believe this is true.  However, I have found that there are many different ways in how people view and describe this post death experience, including what it’s like, who goes where and the rules you need to follow to get there.

The reason I ponder this is twofold.  One is because I am bothered by the angry divisions that are being fostered in the name of religion in our country more strongly now than ever.  It seems that we continue to try to use it as a weapon to get people to behave in certain ways as opposed to the spiritual nurturing that it should be.

More importantly though, and in relation to the article that I read, are the difficulties that these ranging views and approaches can cause for those who are grieving as people try to comfort them. It can make it awkward or challenging to know how to approach someone if you aren’t sure of his or her beliefs.

I know that people are frustrated with political correctness but death is a time for sensitivity and putting your own views and needs aside no matter what.  If the phrase “it’s not about you” were ever appropriate, that is the time.  It’s so tempting to fall into the trap of saying the usual things when you see someone who is grieving- “He’s in a better place”, “There’s a reason for everything, only God can know”, etc.  Or we may feel we can ease someone’s pain if we remind him or her about God and religion.  This can be very tricky.  Unless you know the person very well and know how s/he feels, it is probably not the time to try to tell someone about faith and God and believing.

Now, I know there are people who may need and want that.  What I am saying is that you have to really take your cues from the person who you are comforting, not from your beliefs and values.  I feel that is where the mistake occurs.  In our effort to say something, we often fall back on what we would want to hear, or at least think we would want to hear.

Remember that I said that I am a believer?  Well when my baby died, someone actually said to me “I guess God must have needed another angel”.  What?  Why would you think that, even if I believed that my baby was in heaven,  I would want to believe that God took her because he wanted another angel? Telling me that my baby was now an angel didn’t help when all I wanted was for her to be in my arms.

“It was God’s will” is another popular thing to say and I have no problem telling you that one is off of my list as well.  As I have grown and matured in my faith, I do not believe that God “wills” these things.

I have heard so many stories from people of things being said and done that were meant to comfort but made them feel worse- “he’s with God now” when the widow is crying in agony “but I want him here with me”.  Or someone insisting on a formal religious funeral ceremony when it wasn’t wanted by the deceased and everyone is upset and uncomfortable and great expense is incurred that no one can afford. Or there’s an implication that because a baby wasn’t baptised that there will be a “problem” – with what?- getting into Heaven? Really?

And what about those who are not religious or do not believe in God?  As the article I read addressed, there are a lot of people who do not associate dying with anything but the end of life and do not want to hear about God or angels or heaven or anything like that.  And I believe that they deserve and need the same respect and kindness and sensitivity as everyone else.

The thing is, we are a people of all different kinds of faiths and beliefs.  We all practice our faiths and express our spirituality differently. We are not all Christians and among those who are, there are many interpretations of exactly what being one means.  We do not all believe in God – that is just the way it is.  But we do all experience grief and what matters is how we respond to that in the persons that we encounter.

Everyone who is grieving needs quiet understanding, a shoulder to lean on, someone to help with the housework and the kids and the home maintenance, friends to get them out of the house, and a listening ear for months and years to come.  It doesn’t matter who they worship or if they worship at all- grief doesn’t care.  We all love and we all lose those we love and it hurts us all the same.

Read the full article here>  Grief Beyond Belief


18 Comments (+add yours?)

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  2. melodylowes
    Apr 20, 2012 @ 12:14:23

    I, too, have been slammed by someone’s well meant but deadly Christian ‘comfort’. It is my growing desire to teach the church how to deal better with those of us in desperate grief and terrible circumstances – the ignorance out there is heart-breaking. Your story is an amazing testimony to God’s faithful purposes in our lives – a proof that He can use the smelly fertilizer of circumstances to His glory, if we let Him. And you are – and that, my friend, is beautiful…


    • Cindyss
      Apr 20, 2012 @ 12:58:22

      I like how you put that- “smelly fertilizer of circumstances”- reminds me of going to the Pennsylvania Dutch countryside in Spring when it smells so awful with all the manure fertilizer that’s been spread. Their food tastes wonderful for all of that stinky stuff. I do hope we can get people to be more understanding and sensitive with what they say without having to experience grief itself.


      • melodylowes
        Apr 20, 2012 @ 19:19:21

        I think it must take a special person to understand grief without having been there…unfortunately. I myself would have loved to be more ignorant! 😦

      • Cindyss
        Apr 22, 2012 @ 10:13:46

        Boy am I right there with you on that! It’s definitely a club I’d rather not belong to!

      • melodylowes
        Apr 22, 2012 @ 15:31:01

        And yet are you finding that it is pulling some good from somewhere deep? I so would love to have chosen different course material – but by faith I trust that the degree I’m getting will be worth it all…

      • Cindyss
        Apr 23, 2012 @ 12:29:07

        Yes, I started doing something with this once before and then turned away from it but seemed to have gotten drawn back again. I wonder if it makes sense to keep focusing on it all but it seems like that’s where my path is leading me..what can you do, right?

      • melodylowes
        Apr 23, 2012 @ 14:40:49

        It is indeed hard to find a balance – am I ‘wallowing’ or just honestly allowing grief to process itself in my heart and mind? I have friends who suggest that I just turn my back and leave it alone already – but if there is more grieving to come, how is that healthy? sigh… On we trudge, knowing that God knows these details, and perhaps I am meant just to plod away. Tough stuff!

      • Cindyss
        Apr 24, 2012 @ 15:02:02

        Yes it is!

  3. Trackback: A life without problems & the language of relating to life as a problem « JRFibonacci's blog: partnering with reality
  4. HopefulHellion
    Apr 23, 2012 @ 13:39:10

    Thank you for this. I had the same experience when my fiance died. I am not a believer (and neither was he); but I received many comments in a religious nature that was supposed to make me feel better. It really didn’t. I appreciate you bringing up the idea that everyone should be able to grieve in their own way – no matter what that is.


    • Cindyss
      Apr 24, 2012 @ 15:01:10

      Unfortunately people just make those assumptions or think that because they are religious, it’s ok to say those things. I wish people could be more comfortable just saying nothing at all!


  5. huntersoledad
    Apr 24, 2012 @ 23:55:13

    Thank you Cindy. As a non-believer, I found some of the so called comforting comments not comforting at all. As you said, I think they were trying to say something rather than nothing. I think faith does bring a lot of people comfort but there is a time and a place for everything. Unfortunately, faith brings no comfort to people like me. I am glad you wrote this post.


    • Cindyss
      May 04, 2012 @ 12:11:55

      I apologize for not responding sooner but I have been really out of it with a bad cold. I’m glad that you liked what I wrote- I sometimes hesitate to write about “religious” topics as it can be tricky. I do get frustrated though when people of faith can’t see past that to honoring all people. I feel they miss the point.


  6. Anonymous
    Apr 26, 2012 @ 13:44:04

    Cindy, first I want to acknowledge your loss of your daughter and offer my sympathy. Your thoughts and comments have given me a new understanding of what a parent experiences when they lose a child. Thank you for enlightening me.

    I just read your blog today about offering comfort. It was very timely for me since I just spent a week with my 90 yr old mother (visits are a few times a year since, sadly, we live far apart). My mantra the whole time I was there was, “this is not about me”. I had prepared for this visit by reading poetry that I could share with her since she often asks me over the phone about the end of life and her old age. As you say, I watched for her cues, then chose poems that I thought she would like. She loved them! (Mary Oliver, an Aboriginal proverb, others). But she also let me know what she had had enough. I only hope that, with her dementia, somewhere in her being she found this comforting.

    I enjoy reading your blog and find it helpful. This one was particularly timely for me. (apologies if a comment appears twice. I’m still trying to figure out how to post comments!)


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  8. marthajpc
    Apr 28, 2012 @ 20:57:19

    Hi Cindy, first, I want to offer my sympathy to you for the loss of your daughter. Since we only recently reconnected after so many years, I didn’t know about this. I have been touched by your blog and now have a much better understanding of what a parent goes through after the loss of a child. Thank you for enlightening me. I just read in Barbara Kingsolver’s novel, Prodigal Summer, a comment about losing a child, spoken to a grieving widow: “you learn to love the place somebody leaves behind for you.” It reminded me of you and that I wanted to respond to this recent post.

    I just returned from a visit to my mother(in Ohio, she’s 90). It’s very hard to be so far away. We talk almost daily. She has dementia and doesn’t always know who I am. She’ll often talk about “where will I go when I’m not here anymore?”. I try to be open to what she wants to talk about ( “cues”). During this visit, I kept telling myself, “it’s not about me”. I took poems to read to her and that turned out to be very helpful, even if only for the moment they were read, since her short term memory is gone. She’s not a religious person so there is no comfort there. But the poems, carefully selected, really found a way in. (Mary Oliver, Aboriginal proverb about our passing through and returning home, others).

    You can see how your thoughts and this article were very timely for me! Honoring someone’s grief is not so different from helping someone prepare for their own death. In a way, we were grieving together for our eventual parting.

    Thanks for listening!


    • Cindyss
      May 04, 2012 @ 13:38:40

      Sorry to not respond sooner- I’ve been really out of it with a bad cold or some kind of evil bug. I’m glad that you are getting something from my ramblings and that you are finding ways to reach your mom.

      I think it’s always best to take your cues from the individual and think about the person they have always been when approaching them. Most people just need someone to listen, especially older people. In my studies of death and dying, the statistics were amazing in terms of how many older people never get asked about what they want or how they feel about what’s happening to them. Their kids just take right over and make all of their decisions particularly when it comes to extending their lives.

      Hope you get to spend lots more good times with your mom!


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