In sure and uncertain faith: belief and coping with loss of spouse in later life

Coleman, Peter G., McKiernan, Fionnuala, Mills, Marie and Speck, Peter (2007) In sure and uncertain faith: belief and coping with loss of spouse in later life. Ageing and Society, 27, (6), 869-890. (doi:10.1017/S0144686X07006551).


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This paper reports a study of the religious, spiritual and philosophical responses to spouse bereavement. Twenty-five bereaved spouses aged 60 or more years living in the south of England and from Christian backgrounds were followed from the first to the second anniversary of the loss. The participants expressed a range of attitudes, from devout religious belief to well-articulated secular conceptions of the meaning of life, but the largest group had moderate spiritual beliefs that were characterised by doubts as much as hopes. Uncertain faith was more often associated with depressive symptoms and low levels of experienced meaning. Nine case studies are presented that illustrate different levels of adjustment to bereavement and both changing and stable expressions of faith across the one year of observation. Attention is drawn to the importance of both secular agencies and religious organisations developing a better understanding of older people's spiritual responses to loss. Although to many British older people, practise of the Christian faith may be less evident now than in their childhood, quality of life assessment should not ignore sources of spiritual satisfaction and dissatisfaction. Moreover, previous and especially early-life religious experiences provide useful points of reference for understanding present religious and spiritual attitudes. The study suggests that there may be a substantial need for pastoral counselling among today's older people, especially those of uncertain or conflicted belief.

Item Type: Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI): doi:10.1017/S0144686X07006551
ISSNs: 0144-686X (print)
1469-1779 (electronic)
Keywords: bereavement, spirituality, religion, philosophy of life, personal meaning, depression, prayer, pastoral counselling
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BL Religion
H Social Sciences > HQ The family. Marriage. Woman
Divisions : University Structure - Pre August 2011 > School of Psychology
Faculty of Medicine
ePrint ID: 49291
Accepted Date and Publication Date:
Date Deposited: 26 Oct 2007
Last Modified: 31 Mar 2016 12:26

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