Religion and grief
How religions help deal with loss
Most religions have traditions and rituals for death and mourning that help people find solace and even meaning in the loss of a loved one.
There is usually a designated ceremony to pay respects to the one who has passed away, which many find comfort in.
Mourning periods are often very helpful as a time to process your emotions.
Even if you are not religious, you may find comfort in religions' readings about and perspectives on death and loss.
Religious beliefs are one way that we as humans make sense of things that seem larger than us. We often turn to religion in times of hardship or emotional turmoil, for answers and for comfort. And it makes perfect sense that when we’re mourning the passing of someone we love, we are looking for both.
Every religion has traditions and rituals around death and mourning, many of which are designed to help us process and make meaning of our grief, even after the funeral or burial. No matter your history or relationship with religion, you may find insight into your feelings and ways to work through them in these age-old practices.
Don’t be surprised if you find yourself wanting to connect with your spiritual side during this tumultuous time. It’s common for our connection to the sacred and the spiritual to ebb and flow throughout our lives, based on what we need in the moment. When you’re experiencing grief, it’s natural to feel in need of the extra support religion can offer.
Here are just a few faith-driven ways that individuals or communities have found to cope with a departed loved one. There are, of course, many more religions not explored here, and many customs within each one; whatever practices or beliefs you find bring you comfort and help you process your feelings, those might be the right fit for you during this difficult time.
Often what’s most important to us is to not feel like we’re forgetting the person who has passed away. Phrases like moving on and getting back to normal might strike you as not only insensitive, but the exact opposite of what you want while you’re in grief. It’s natural to want to remember, to hold on to the moments you had with our loved one, to keep their presence in your life.
In a wide range of religions, from Catholicism to Buddhism, practitioners remember and honor their departed loved ones through an extended ritual of ancestral veneration. Whether it’s setting up an altar for a yearly celebration like Dia de los Muertos or a daily act like lighting a candle in their memory, these rituals make space and time for your continued mourning. Finding ways to work an homage into your routine might also allow your grief to settle into the practice, opening you and your time up so you can deal with everyday life.
A dedicated period of mourning
You may be familiar with a few of the more common practices involving periods of mourning, like the Jewish ritual of sitting shiva or the Hindu custom of going 13 days without prayer. In these spans of time, there is usually an emphasis on helping the departed through their transition from the land of the living into the afterlife. Many also include elements of connecting to your loved one’s community: family, friends, religious circles, and other groups of people important to them.
Even if you aren’t sure what you believe about life after death, this kind of dedicated period of mourning can provide you with the time you need to process your emotions. You can structure it to last as long as feels right to you; it can be a time to connect with your loved ones and community, or a solitary experience.
Taking time away from daily stresses can give you room to experience the complexities of grief.
Taking this time away from daily stresses can help you give yourself room to experience the complexities of grief. Many jobs will offer bereavement days, so see if you can take this kind of time off.
Prayer, meditation, and scripture
Prayer and scripture are often extremely specific to their own religions. If you are a religious person, or were raised in a particular faith, you probably have some idea of the relevant prayer rituals. On the other hand, if you aren’t invested in any one religion, you might think a practice of prayer will not apply to your grief. The truth is that everyone can benefit from private moments with their thoughts.
Maybe your version of prayer is meditation or journaling instead. Perhaps you can read affirmations or quotes from your favorite book instead of scripture. No matter what works for you, the sacred connection with your thoughts can lead to emotional realizations and growth.
It makes sense to invite new rituals into your life to cope with new emotions. As you try to find the right fit for you, you’ll undoubtedly encounter moments of frustration and even anger, because everything can be overwhelming at such a hard time. What you’re really searching for is a way to channel those emotions into remembrance of your loved one.
Religion offers meaning, potential answers, community, and many other things that many of us need during mourning—and exploring your faith is just one path that might help you through it. Even within the structures of religion, everyone’s experience with it is unique. In this way, it mimics grief. There isn’t a set way to process the death of a loved one, but religious practices can help you navigate it ●
Buddhist traditions in death and mourning
Whether you want to hold a Buddhist funeral or just incorporate some elements, it will be helpful to understand how death fits into Buddhist thought. Its funeral practices are grounded in the idea that we are all caught in a cycle of death and rebirth.6 min read
Mormon traditions in mourning and grief
Mormon traditions for mourning and grief vary slightly by community, but are all guided by The Church of Latter Day Saints. Traditions emphasize dedication and community in addition to the memory of the person who has passed away.6 min read
Catholic funeral and burial traditions
Like all religions, Catholicism has its own special rites, rituals, and traditions around funerals and mourning. They traditionally begin before death with the administration of last rites, and end with a graveside service or Rite of Committal.6 min read