When faced with death, whether it’s the loss of a loved one or coming to terms with your own mortality, odds are the topics of religion and spirituality will come into play – even for the non-religious.
Of course, that’s not to say an experience with death will make you take up a religion or adapt to certain beliefs. Rather, it’s likely you’ll turn to religion and spirituality because they’re some of the only places we can turn to when processing death.
If you’re currently dealing with the loss of a loved one, here are some truths and mistruths when it comes to the intersections of faith and death.
False: It’s easy to know where you stand
Whether you believe in reincarnation, heaven and hell, rebirth, immortality or nothing at all (to name a few) it’s not a given that your religion’s teachings will ring true when faced with the death of a loved one. The same goes for the non-religious: it *is* possible for you to hold certain beliefs that are based in religion.
As someone who grew up Catholic, became less religious throughout my teens, then became agnostic or atheist (I still don’t know!) after my father’s death, it turns out that this sort of up-and-down journey with religion and spirituality following death is actually pretty common. One good rule of thumb that I’ve learned: you don’t have to have the answers.
True: Religion can cause disagreements after someone dies
Just like marriage, moving and divorce, death can often cause drama and conflict within families and close relationships. When it comes to religion, the various beliefs that loved ones may hold can (believe it or not) cause riffs involving things like end-of-life care, burial decisions and funerals. With emotions at a peak, you can practically expect those differences to be heightened at this time.
Such differences can also cause stress, anxiety or anger – in my case it was all three – but it’s important to remember that everyone deals with death differently, and if their beliefs are helping them through it, it’s probably just best to respect them. If you’re struggling to figure out how to honour a late loved one, remember that this is about them; not anyone else.
False: Religion and spirituality are the same
If religion were a northern star, spirituality would be like a personal flashlight. While religions provide one general guiding light, spirituality can be based on several different beliefs that are meaningful to you. When you lose a loved one, it’s a good idea to consider where you stand on both in order to find some sort of peace within yourself.
For example, while I don’t consider myself a religious person, there are many elements of spirituality that have helped my grieving process over the years, such as coincidences, signs from the universe and dreams.
False: You’ll have the same views forever
No one’s journey with grief and death can be one straight line. With all the stages of grief; our natural aversion to confronting death head-on; and a wealth of information at our fingertips, it’s also OK if your beliefs will change over time. But that doesn’t mean you’ll never have closure; it means that your grief and faith will continue to grow with you, keeping that person close to you, even long after they’ve passed.
Ebony-Renee Baker is a Canadian writer and content creator based in the UK. She writes about topics including lifestyle, fashion, race, social issues and, yes, sometimes death.