Ask Ted: The role of religion and spirituality in loss and emotional healing


Dear Ted: I was talking to you the other day about grief and loss and we started discussing how spirituality and religion may play into emotional healing after a loss. How do you see a higher power working within the grief process? Thanks, Ryan

Dear Ryan: Thanks for asking and for the coffee and our short, but in-depth conversation. Your question is a topic that usually arises after a loss. After a loss, you may be questioning your understanding of God, religion or something outside of you that is a divine higher power. In today's world, words such as God, higher power, numinous, divine, source or any other word referring to something that is bigger than the human existence has become such a charged word that spiritual discussions almost seem to be taboo or against the social rules. Yet most people have a natural inclination to wonder, believe or question the idea that there is some sort of higher power.

I do see a difference between religion and spirituality. Spirituality is a personal and individualized relationship with a higher power of your understanding while religion is an organized group that acts as a container for you to connect with community and a collective understanding with that higher power.

Most people will redefine their understanding of God throughout their life as they mature and develop throughout their experiences in life. When someone has a loss in their life, there seems to be a natural process of re-evaluating beliefs on many levels from day-to-day life to God.

When there is loss, there is a level of chaos in which all aspects of you are questioned as you start to rebuild and redefine the present definition of yourself due to the loss. This is the natural and normal grief process. What I have found is if there is some type of understanding of something larger than yourself that can hold you during these difficult and possibly excruciating times, your internal system seems to feel a level of safety in the idea that there is something larger than the present situation you find yourself in.

Many people find comfort in religion, as it offers certain rituals and ceremonies that can give a type of road map for connection and healing through loss and possibly in life in general. Other people may have resistance to religion due to religious wounding or personal beliefs, but have a spiritual connection and have found ways to commune with the higher power of their understanding. Other people may believe there is no God, but it does not mean they don't have certain core values that help navigate their lives. This could be considered an internal compass that helps in the grief process, as well as a higher power of their understanding. Finding something that helps you feel held, connected or give direction seems to be a need for most people in order to feel emotionally safe and allow your heart and brain to find congruence in a time that the brain and "soul" seem in two different worlds. Spirituality seems to bridge this gap and allow someone to find solace in a difficult time of chaos and confusion.

As fellow humans, healing happens through kindness, being seen, heard and valued, as well as finding connection, giving reason for life and healing. Thank you for the conversation and question. You gave me a great challenge to walk through the social obstacles that can cause differences to arise and interfere with the natural and normal healing process derived from the amazing and difficult process of loss. I wish you well. Until next week, take care.

Golden Willow Retreat is a nonprofit organization focused on emotional healing and recovery from any type of loss. Direct any questions to Wiard, founder of Golden Willow Retreat, at (575) 776-2024 or

This column seeks to help our community understand emotional healing through grief. People may write questions to Golden Willow Retreat and they will be answered privately to you and possibly as a future article for others. Please list a first name that grants permission for printing.


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