Losing a spouse is one of the most stressful life events, according to the Holmes-Rahe Scale, which lists the effects that big challenges can have on our wellbeing. When we lose ‘our person,’ the one we thought we would grow old alongside, it can feel like a rug has been pulled out from under our feet. If you have just experienced this loss, know that you are not alone. Your faith and the Catholic community will help you through the many stages of grief, though it is important to be realistic about the impact of such a big loss.
The Stages of Grief Are Cyclical
Elizabeth Kübler-Ross discovered that people who grieve undergo five different stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Sometimes the stages overlap. At other times, we can get over one stage and start another, only to go back to the previous stage a few days or weeks later. They do not comprise a linear time frame. It is key to know that all these stages are to be expected so that when we encounter them, we feel comforted in the fact that they are emotions shared by all human beings who encounter a great loss.
How Can Our Faith Help Us Through the Stages of Grief?
The Bible is an ideal companion when we are wrestling with difficult emotions. For instance, when we feel angry, alone, or afraid, we can turn to passages in the Bible to ease our mind. Isaiah 41:10 springs to mind. It says: “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” The Bible acknowledges that suffering is part of the human lot, yet reminds us that God is, indeed, our shepherd.
The Calming Effect of Prayer
An interesting study carried out at the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that prayer gives comfort to those who are undergoing hard times. The researchers note that prayer helps us manage emotional pain. Lead researcher, Shane Sharp, stated: “During prayer, victims came to see themselves as they believed God saw them. Since these perceptions were mostly positive, it helped raise their senses of self-worth.” Sharp notes that prayer is a legitimate type of social interaction except that instead of interacting with a person, we do so with God. Prayer has a powerful calming effect, which is important in times when we have important decisions to make. Thus, the death of a spouse may require us to raise finance to make ends meet, to downscale or home, or even change our working arrangements. To make these decisions, mental clarity and calm are key. Prayer can help us achieve this state because it is a mindful activity that helps keep the mind in ‘the here and now’ rather than the past or the future.
The Power of Community Worship
Studies have shown that those who make time for a rich spiritual life, are generally happier! One groundbreaking study found that the only group activity that promotes sustained happiness is taking part in religious worship alongside others. Doing so helps us battle isolation when we are grieving or facing difficult hurdles. It helps us feel that we are part of something larger than ourselves and that there are people who are there for us when we most need them.
Grieving is a challenge at any time in life, but when the person we have lost is our life partner, it can be particularly painful. Bible reading, prayer, and worship can all help us feel more connected to the rest of humanity. All people have tough times, yet by holding on to our faith and seeking support from the Catholic community, we can look forward to one day feeling like our life has a purpose, beauty, and even happiness.