Grieving Without Religion


When I accepted this prompt, I didn’t expect my father in law to pass away a few days later. My husband had been out to visit him briefly over the weekend. He came home Sunday, I accepted the post Monday and my father in law passed away on the Tuesday evening. Grief has been raw and fresh in my mind and in my house.

I am not a religious person. I wasn’t raised in a religious household. My parents didn’t start going to church until I was 13, and actually started because I went to church with a friend for Christmas and I thought it was pretty so I wanted to go regularly. That was short lived for me. I did attend a Catholic high school but never really picked any of it up. My husband not raised in a religious environment either and it’s something we’re both fine with. We had a civil union marriage with a Justice of the Peace and it was perfect for us.

We have a lot of religious friends and it has never been an issue for either of us. I subscribe to the thought that I just don’t know. It’s not my place to say whether something exists or not and my beliefs aren’t meant to be someone else’s. I do not feel like I am missing anything in my life. I have never been in a situation where I felt lost or struggled with the idea of God. I simply don’t. I am okay with that.

The stages of grief are often the same, regardless of your religious upbringing. You’ll experience the denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance whether or not you believe in God. They may manifest differently but the origin is the same.

The hardest part of grieving without religion is often dealing with people who are religious. They offer to pray for you, offer to biblical wisdom, and “remind” you to keep your faith. It’s hard to keep faith I never really had so it can be awkward navigating those conversations.

While I don’t personally believe in prayer I do understand that when a friend says that they will pray for me this means something to them. It means that they will think of you and hope for you. It means that they feel your pain and they want you to know that you are in their heart and their thoughts. So, when a friend says they will pray for me, I thank them. It’s a beautiful thing to have a friend care enough about you to pray for you, even if you don’t believe in prayer.

The Bible was written a long time ago, and has been translated through the ages, and is often confusing. However, a friend who offers you a passage from the Bible is trying to offer you some sort of comfort and give you reassurance that there is more to the world than just that exact moment. While I don’t necessarily understand or agree with the message, remember it’s the thought that counts and not the package.

Grief does not require religion to navigate. They are not mutually exclusive. You can experience one or the other or both or neither.

There are people who have found religion through grief and that is okay too. The important thing is to take your time and work through your grief in a way that works for you. It’s also important to remember that friends who are religious will offer help, comfort and wisdom in a way that is meaningful to them and, while it might not be the way you would put it or want it, it’s a gift to have a friend who goes out of their way to offer what they can in a time of grief.

Photo credit: adapted from seyed mostafa zamani | Flickr

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Christy Harris

Christy Harris has been married to the love of her life since October 2010. Her favourite things in life are her husband, their three cats, and knitting. They are working with the fertility clinic to expand their family.

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