The Missing Link: Spirituality and Grief
By Kate J. Meyer, MDiv., LPC
If you are reading this, you already know just how complicated this thing called grief is. You also know that there are many realities that serve to increase the complexity, such as limited bereavement leave from work, disenfranchised grief, and grief that results from a traumatic event, just to name a few. Thankfully, there is an increasingly louder voice fighting for grief to be more recognized and validated for the true impact it has. Within that positive trend, I am happy to note that more also continues to be learned and shared as to how people can treat their grief from a holistic perspective.
With one persistent, notable exception: the spiritual self.
Despite its growing recognition as a valid and needed avenue of treatment, holistic approaches have yet to make significant progress as it relates to addressing spirituality, and, especially in grief, this is a gargantuan missing link. The truth of the matter is that if we are to expect complete healing, we need to be able to do work within all areas of life, including the spiritual self. Whether or not you are religious, there is a spiritual component of your being from which you connect with the earth, with yourself, with others, and, depending on beliefs, with a divine being.
The spiritual self is also the place in which we find our meaning and purpose, which, as you well know, is a primary piece of life that requires rebuilding in grief. If a person’s spirituality is also tied to religion, then an added layer of work often needs to be addressed.
The relationship a griever has with spirituality and grief tends to go one of two ways. Psychotherapist John Welwood brought attention to the first when he named the concept of a spiritual bypass, in which people use their spirituality to hide from or avoid their psychological needs. In other words, one’s spiritual or religious beliefs make it permissible to focus primarily, if not entirely, on spiritual needs or beliefs, to the detriment of psychological needs. If spirituality is the Missing Link in grief treatment, this approach swings the pendulum too far in the spiritual direction.