Our faith traditions teach us how to honor our grief and come back to life.
This article appeared in the Fall 2002 issue of Spirituality & Health.
In the nineteenth century, mourners languished in their grief. Women draped themselves in black veils, men and children wore black armbands, and visits to the cemetery were virtually a weekly event. Even Victorian art depicted families in grief to exemplify religious devotion. Grief was emotional yet stoic, private yet public, pointing toward heavenly reunions, yet clinging desperately to tangible reminders of the deceased.
Nowadays, even as psychologists have delineated the stages of grief, our culture has largely lost touch with the rituals, traditions, and even the wisdom that teaches us how to grieve. We typically allow ourselves only brief services of "healing" and rarely wear black or any emblem to let others know that part of us is missing. Our aim is to get through difficulties quickly, to move on. But perhaps it's all become too fast and too private, so that we allow ourselves neither the time nor the space to feel, let alone to honor the process of grieving.
Fortunately, our faith traditions have preserved customs c …
Sherri A. Watkins has written for The Living Church, Episcopal News Service, and Catholic News Service, among others. Megory Anderson is the author of Sacred Dying: Creating Rituals for Embracing the End of Life and founded the Sacred Dying Foundation.