Recently, while doing an interactive presentation on the topic of “Grief and Spirituality” I was asked what I thought the purpose of grief was. Delving deeper into this question I have a few ideas to share with you.
Even though grief is a natural response to a loss there are different perspectives to take into consideration with the question of the purpose of grief.
Some individuals may think there is no purpose to grief at all, while others may see growth and come to a different understanding of life, spirituality and perhaps themselves.
Another thought is, whose perspective are we looking from; the dying individual or the person who is grieving that individual’s death. The dying individual may have a life full of regrets, feel they have lived a good life or something in between; either way with a pending ending of life what thoughts of loss go through their mind.
From a religious or spiritual perspective what is the purpose of grief? Consider those who pull away from their religion and are angry with God. Perhaps someone has died by suicide and the church or parishioners look down upon those who are connected to the deceased individual.
This is not always the case, but it does happen; leaving the survivor who may be a family member feeling judged, abandoned and pushed away at a time when they potentially may need support the most. Who needs to learn a lesson here?
Consider the person who is sitting on the fence as to their belief in a God or spirituality. Now look at how this person makes changes in their life and understanding of death when personal, unexplained happenings occur. Do they now believe in something that was unbelievable before? Is there a purpose to grief in this case?
Grief expresses the loss, the missing and emptiness felt, but it is important to remember everyone grieves differently. From a therapeutic perspective, Theresa Rando mentions in her book, “How to Go on Living When Someone You Love Dies” that grief serves the purpose of getting you to the point where you can live with the loss healthily, after having made the necessary changes to do so. (New York: Bantam Books, 1991, pp 18-19.)
Is or was there an evolutionary reason for grief such as keeping people together for survival? Consider the teachable moments of grief, when children and those who have not experienced a death or other type loss observe others who are grieving.
Over time, after a loss we are forever changed and the purposes of our grief may change as healing and adjusting to a different life occur.