The University of Southampton
University of Southampton Institutional Repository

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 & Society, 27, (6), pp. 869-890. (doi:10.1017/S0144686X07006551).

Record type: Article


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.

PDF ageing.pdf - Version of Record
Restricted to Repository staff only
Download (110kB)

More information

Published date: 2007
Keywords: bereavement, spirituality, religion, philosophy of life, personal meaning, depression, prayer, pastoral counselling
Organisations: Faculty of Medicine


Local EPrints ID: 49291
PURE UUID: efdbddb1-5556-47e0-8c7d-1930e1896e6d

Catalogue record

Date deposited: 26 Oct 2007
Last modified: 17 Jul 2017 14:56

Export record



Author: Fionnuala McKiernan
Author: Marie Mills
Author: Peter Speck

University divisions

Download statistics

Downloads from ePrints over the past year. Other digital versions may also be available to download e.g. from the publisher's website.

View more statistics

Atom RSS 1.0 RSS 2.0

Contact ePrints Soton:

ePrints Soton supports OAI 2.0 with a base URL of

This repository has been built using EPrints software, developed at the University of Southampton, but available to everyone to use.

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you continue without changing your settings, we will assume that you are happy to receive cookies on the University of Southampton website.