The Afterlife and Grief
It is Normal to Believe in, Have Hope in, or Desire to Explore the Possibility of an Afterlife
Although there is no cure or panacea for the pain associated with the loss of a loved one, for many bereaved, some of the worst suffering originates from a feeling of total separation from the departed or having uncertainty about where there departed loved one is. Discussion of the afterlife is often neglected or avoided in psychotherapy, support groups, and the academic world of grief, and yet most Americans believe in an afterlife (click here to see findings from a 2008 survey by the Pew Research Center). Beth understands many clients desire to talk about and incorporate their beliefs or questions about an afterlife into the grief process. She will complete a biopsychosocial-spiritual assessment to better understand your religious and/or spiritual belief system, for the purpose of integrating these beliefs into your healing process.
It is normal for the bereaved to have questions such as “Will I see my departed loved one again?” “Can my loved one hear and see me now?” and “Does my loved one forgive me that I was not there when he died?” The desire to receive answers to such questions is normal and very understandable. For clients who believe in or desire to explore the possibility of an afterlife, Beth has often found it to be appropriate to provide them with optional non-psychotherapy resources that incorporate the belief or hope in an afterlife. Many clients feel hesitance about discussing their belief or questions about the afterlife due to fear of ridicule or that someone will think he/she is “crazy.” Beth understands it is normal to believe in or have hope in an afterlife. As there are a multitude of beliefs regarding the afterlife, Beth is committed to working within your belief system to augment the healing process. If you so desire and it is appropriate for your treatment, Beth can also provide additional spiritual resources if you would like to read more on afterlife/survival of consciousness research or engage in non-psychotherapy healing modalities that incorporate this belief.
After-Death Communications/ Sensing the Presence of the Departed
Many bereaved clients have hesitance about sharing spiritual experiences, such as sensing the presence of the departed. These experiences, sometimes called after-death communications (Guggenheim & Guggenheim, 1997) are quite common and are generally positive experiences (Haraldsson, 1989; LaGrand, 2005; Nowatzki & Kalischuk, 2009; Steffen & Coyle, 2012). Experiences of sensing the presence of the departed can happen spontaneously or can be induced through various practices. Beth is committed to working with you to help integrate spiritual experiences in a manner that can be most beneficial to you.
Continuing the Relationship with the Departed
Beth is dedicated to working attentively with you to help strengthen the relationship with the departed, if you so desire, and in a manner that also can promote engagement with the living. Continuing a relationship with the departed is often addressed in academic research on grief, where it is referred to as continuing bonds with the departed (Klass, Silverman, & Nickman, 1996). Much of the continuing bonds research investigates issues related to the bereaved gaining comfort from connecting to the memory or legacy of the departed.
In addition, Beth understands that most people believe or have hope in an afterlife, and these people may seek to continue an ongoing supportive relationship with the departed that assumes the departed have awareness and can continue to be a source of love and support. The specific nature of this relationship manifests itself and changes over time and, of course, is unique for every person. Fundamentally, it is important to appreciate how it is not pathological for someone to want to continue this sort of relationship. However, it is important that the relationship generally brings solace and growth, versus promoting isolation, self-neglect, or despair.
Guggenheim, B. & Guggenheim, J. (1997). Hello from Heaven: A new field of research-after-death communication- confirms that life and love are eternal. New York, NY: Bantam.
Haraldsson, E. (1989). Survey of claimed encounters with the dead. Omega, 19, 103-113.
Klass, D., Silverman, P. R., & Nickman, S. L. (Eds.). (1996). Continuing bonds: New understandings of grief. New York, NY: Routledge.
LaGrand, L. E. (2005). The nature and therapeutic implications of the extraordinary experiences of the bereaved. Journal of Near-Death Studies, 24, 3-20.
Nowatzki, N. R., & Kalischuk, R. G. (2009). Post-death encounters: Grieving, mourning, and healing. Omega Journal of Death and Dying, 59, 91-111. doi: 10.2190/OM.59.2.a
Pew Research Center. (2008). Summary of key findings – Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. Retrieved fromhttp://www.pewforum.org/files/2008/06/report2religious-landscape-study-key-findings.pdf
Steffen, E. & Coyle, A. (2012). ‘Sense of presence’ experiences in bereavement and their relationship to mental health: A critical examination of a continuing controversy. In C. Murray (Ed.), Mental health and anomalous experience (pp. 33-56). Hauppauge, NY: Nova Science Publishers.