Grief can truly impact all aspects of ourselves – mind, body and spirit – yet this is so often overlooked in mainstream approaches to grief. Grief as a "whole being" experience is something I talk about in both 'Love Untethered' and 'Supporting Your Grieving Client' (see books page).
It goes without saying that grief can have a huge impact on us emotionally. But it can also, in some cases, have a significant impact on our physical and mental health too (again, something you can read more about in both my books). Less spoken about perhaps is that grief can sometimes change us on a spiritual level, too, and, unlike the detrimental effects upon the mind and body, grief can, by contrast, sometimes actually have a positive and metamorphic effect upon the spirit.
How grief can affect us spiritually
Spirituality involves the belief that there is something greater than ourselves as just human beings with sensory experiences; that we are part of something much bigger and beyond our limited comprehension; that we are souls having a human experience, with the implication that the soul continues after physical death. Some of you may have found that an existing or newly found spiritual belief helps propel you forward into your post-loss world.
In my grief coaching practice, I have been surprised by just how many clients want to talk about and are keen to explore their (often new-found) beliefs. Many like to share the dreams and signs they feel they have had from their loved one. Sadly, however, I am not particularly surprised when they tell me how they have picked up a sense of discouragement from others to pursue this (even if not necessarily explicit), with the implication that they are deluded in some way due to the intensity of their grief.
I also come across bereaved people who held some type of faith prior to a tragic loss but then go on to lose it as a result of what has happened to them, and others who have a religious faith that may preclude an ongoing spiritual connection with their loved one but may provide them with the sustenance they need to carry on. Others, of course, think there is nothing beyond physical death. I always respect everyone's beliefs on this subject.
It seems possible however that that the trauma and intensity of a significant loss can open you up and lead, in some cases, to a spiritual awakening that facilitates communication with our loved ones. It is estimated that a notably high percentage of bereaved people believe they have had one or more after-death communication (ADC) within a year of bereavement and, according to Raymond Moody MD, PhD, 75 per cent of bereaved parents believe they have had a communication from their child.
Quotes on spirituality and the afterlife from scientists:
Carl Sagan, astronomer and astrophysicist, said: ‘Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality.’
Albert Einstein said: ‘Everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that some spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe, one that is vastly superior to that of man.’
Gary E. Schwartz, PhD, director of the University of Arizona’s Laboratory for Advances in Consciousness and Health, a former assistant professor at Harvard and tenured professor at Yale, says: ‘Speaking as a scientist, I am now 99.9 percent certain that life continues after bodily death.’
Several studies have shown that those who believe in an afterlife and/or hold strong spiritual beliefs fare better in the grieving process than those who don’t. A study in the BMJ (British Medical Journal) concluded: ‘People who profess stronger spiritual beliefs seem to resolve their grief more rapidly and completely after the death of a close person than do people with no spiritual beliefs.’
Although I don’t think it’s necessarily true that every type of grief is always 'resolved' or indeed with any rapidity, I do feel, speaking from my own experience, that the development of a belief that this life isn’t all there is and that energy or a soul continues in a different form can certainly help some of us survive a traumatic loss. This is perhaps a concept that is easier to comprehend for those who unfortunately find that life is no longer as it was and that all you previously thought to be reality is thrown into question.