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August 30, 2018 Beyond The Dash

Finding (or Losing) Faith After a Loss

When grief threatens your worldview

Finding (or Losing) Faith After a Loss
Your worldview will change with a significant emotional upheaval, such as extreme grief. The good news is that time and healing will help you stabilize your beliefs again. (Shutterstock)

Your worldview says a lot about you. A personal philosophy helps you navigate the world, make decisions that are consistent with your values, and motivates you in all aspects of your life. Over time, your personal faith strengthen, solidifying your character and informing your identity. 

When a death occurs in your immediate family or close circle of friends, the grief that comes with it can shake you to your core. Though many of us prefer to think of grief as profound sorrow, it's actually much more complicated than that. Grief is an altered reality that affects all aspects of your life for some time. During the immediate aftermath of a death, grief can be strong enough to shake the fundamental values of anyone. This is one of the most disturbing and misunderstood parts of grief.  

Loss of religious conviction

Many aspects of religion depend on death, resurrection and belief in an afterlife. Souls are often seen as immortal, transcending your body and the earth at the time of death. These ideas are baked into religious teachings, and those of faith have often learned lessons about death from early childhood. 

One of the most daunting experiences you can have after a loss is a crisis of faith. No matter the strength of your sense of self, losing someone you are close with is likely to challenge parts of yourself that you didn't expect. Your perception of morality, the ways you live your life, and the very existence of God can all be thrown into question.

  • How could God allow this to happen?

  • What if everything is random and meaningless?

  • What if everything I believed in was a lie?

  • Who am I without my faith in God?

  • Why is my faith so easily shaken?

These tough questions may be novel to a first-time griever, but they are actually common in people of all beliefs. It's not enough to trust that everything will work out when nothing seems to be working out. 

Crisis of identity

Those who are not religious are just as likely to suffer a crisis of faith. Although they may not set their beliefs in the presence of God, everyone has their own personal values that help them understand the world. Grief can shake these views. 

For example, atheists put their faith in rational thought, science and logic, flatly rejecting the notion that a higher power exists. But grief turns everything on its head, to the point that even the most steadfast atheists may begin to question their beliefs. 


When someone close to you dies, it's natural to feel shaken to the core, and to question everything. Because of this, many recently bereaved people find themselves making sudden changes to their lifestyles. Eating healthier, quitting smoking, attending church every Sunday, vowing to spend more time with family, and other life-affirming activities are wonderful additions to your routine. 

Life affirmation is important when someone has passed, but this stage is what Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, creator of the Five Stages of Grief model of processing bereavement, would call bargaining

Though nothing can reverse a death, many people bargain (consciously or subconsciously) when a loved one dies. From promising God to live better, to deciding to "live each day to the fullest," to becoming an advocate for cancer research, there are many ways people bargain to ease their emotional pain. That is not to say that all bargaining behavior is bad, but that it's important to realize these feelings are often closely linked to identity and faith crises.


Sometimes loss lights a fire. Loss of faith isn't a bad thing, if the worldview you turn to following a loss suits your new outlook and experience. Some change is good. It's okay to adjust your values when something monumental happens in your life. Many people who have lost a loved one find themselves attracted to certain avenues of activism. Activism empowers grievers with the ability to control over a difficult situation. Working to improve conditions that led to a loved one's death soothes feelings of grief. Knowing that the loss was not in vain is a powerful tool for feeling safe as you go about your life after death has touched your life. 

Death will change you

For those who are worried that this shaken faith will never be restored, there is hope. Most people do experience sudden changes of heart when a loved one dies, but return to their former beliefs over time. As grief begins to heal, so will your worldview.

But it's very unlikely for anyone to go through a monumental loss without learning anything or changing at all. In fact, adapting to loss is a positive thing. Though no death will ever be easy, having your own personal system for handling bereavement cna help you cope in the future. It's possible to emerge from the experience with a more mature sense of your own values. 

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