Whether a bright, idyllic, cloud-filled heaven, or the fiery depths of hell, most people have some perception of the afterlife. In most cases, one’s idea of the afterlife is based in some type of religious or spiritual belief system. Trust in a type of afterlife because of religious conviction can lead one to be less distraught after the passing of a person close to them due to the comfort in knowing that the deceased is in a “better place”. Having religion to fall back on as a type of emotional touchstone can keep one level headed in the grieving process. This kind of security is especially crucial to teenagers coping with tragedy who do not have much life experience to guide them through the stages of grief. The question arises as to how exactly religious belief can affect the grieving process of teenagers. This study aims to draw out the connection between religious belief and the grieving process in Catholic teenagers experiencing the loss of a peer, in hopes of proving that some sort of faith in a higher power can be an affective aid in how teenagers handle grief.
Christian Religious Belief and the Grieving Process in Teenagers
As early as 1991, researchers conducted studies to discover the affiliation between religious belief and the grieving process. In 1991, David E. Balk, a Ph.D. with expertise in adolescent development, grief counseling, and bereavement during adolescence, performed a study to learn the “impact of attitudes towards religion upon grief reactions” (Becker, Blum, Xander, Lutterbach, Momm, Gysels, & Higginson, 2007). Balk’s study sampled a group of 42 adolescents (ages 14-19) dealing with the death of a sibling in the past 4 to 84 months. Balk investigated emotional reactions such as shock, anger, guilt, fear, and loneliness, as well as persistent thoughts about the deceased, and whether or not the participants experienced any kind of change in the grief felt after the loss of their sibling. The researcher also asked participants about the role religion played in their life before the loss of their sibling, the role of religion at the time of the study, whether or not religious belief provided aid in dealing with the loss, and if they considered religion valuable in general. This study led Balk to the conclusion that mourning can lead to an increased importance of religion in adolescents, but more research is necessary to provide a concrete relationship between religion and bereavement (Balk, 1991).
Balk’s study on death and adolescent bereavement is among 31 similar studies included in Gerhild Becker’s systematic review of studies done on the subject of religion and grieving. Becker’s review is meant to accumulate all of the findings from 32 research studies to form a consensus on the impact of religious belief on bereavement. The review proved that 94% of the studies involved “show some positive effects of religious/spiritual beliefs on bereavement” (Becker et...