Grief and Church Attendance

I received this email related to a friend’s grief and church attendance (names and details deleted).

“My friend lost her husband a week ago. She is a Christian, as I am. Her pastor seems to think my friend needs to attend church and church meetings just as regularly as before. I think she needs time to grieve—to do what she feels she can, but not be a hermit. But it seems like she needs to become social just to please her pastor. Another friend thinks the pastor is controlling. What do you think?”

My Response about Grief and Church Attendance
Perhaps your friend’s pastor is responding from the knowledge that having supportive friends are important during grief, or the knowledge that some people struggle to attend church after a loss.

But your friend does need to do what feels right and comfortable for her. Grief is not a time to add "shoulds" on a person's life. Grief is extremely exhausting. Many people do find attending church to be difficult after grief. This is especially true for introverts. Other people often don't know what to say to those who are grieving. This can make it hard for the bereaved because in their exhausted state, they feel pressure to make an extra effort to be sociable.

I myself had very close friends at my church. They were my support system during grief. I went to church and sat with them and left quickly after the service. After two years, I ended up changing churches. I felt like I couldn't get beyond the grief story. Whether that was true or not, I don't know, but that was how I felt.

It is important that your friend has a means of support that feels right for her--whether that is family members, other widowed people, a counselor, a support group, or close friends.

Sometimes bereaved people do have to push themselves a bit to move beyond a depressed state, but that is not usually the case in the first weeks. If your friend became reclusive and anti-social after several months that would be greater cause for concern. But obviously in your case, she has friends who would be able to notice this kind of behavior and recommend professional help. It is certainly not something for the pastor to be anxious about in the first week.

I can't see that this pressure right now from your friend's pastor is helpful to her healing process. Your friend needs to be free to move back into social environments at her own pace.

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