I’ve lost my faith – but my husband has his
QMY HUSBAND is very religious but, after losing my mother, I’ve lost what faith I had. I used to go to shul with him every week, but now I don’t see the point. Should I be a hypocrite and go just to keep him happy? I’m worried about causing a rift in our marriage if I tell him how I feel.
AI AM very sorry to hear of your mother’s death and its impact on you. Losing a loved one is, for most of us, the single most upsetting and unsettling life experience we’ll ever have to endure. For some, religious belief and practice will be a comfort and a help — and, in fact, a study published in the BMJ in 2002 found that people who profess stronger spiritual beliefs seem to resolve their grief more rapidly and completely after the death of a close person than do people with no spiritual beliefs.
But, as in your case, a bereavement may also make us have a crisis of faith, questioning the existence of any higher power and rejecting the way we’ve lived our lives up to this point. We may also feel angry, especially if the person we’ve lost has suffered, and want to lash out at something. Or we might just feel that we want to push religion away because it’s useless and futile. Of course, losing your faith is also a type of bereavement, so this is making things doubly hard for you.
From the sparse details in your question, it’s not clear exactly what aspect of your mother’s death has prompted you to lose your faith. It sounds like your religious belief has never been strong and that you were going to synagogue mainly to please your husband who is more observant than you. Were you, on some level, going to synagogue to please your mother, too? Or do you feel that your link to Judaism has died with her? Many people inherit their faith, as well as religious traditions, from their mothers — literally in Judaism, which passes down the matrilineal line. Or is it something else? Are you feeling angry at the way she died, or the support she received before her death?
It is not my place or remit to give you religious counsel. But I can tell you that it’s hard to untangle spiritual questions from the many conflicting emotions you’re likely to feel during the grieving process. It is now fairly well accepted that there are stages of bereavement, among them shock, anger and acceptance, and you may go in and out of them, in no particular order. So, what you’re feeling now may not be how you are feeling in a month, six months or a year’s time.
You say you’re worried about causing a rift in your marriage if you tell your husband how you feel, but I’d be more concerned that you’ll cause a rift if you don’t.
Your faith, or the lack of it, is deeply personal to you and it’s important that you talk to him about your emotions and your crisis of faith, and that you’re honest with him. Bottling things up will serve only to compound your grief and create distance between you, at the time you most need him.
If going to synagogue is making you feel worse, then you shouldn’t force yourself to go, and certainly not just to please him. If he loves you, he will be understanding. But going will not make you a hypocrite. In my opinion, going to synagogue isn’t just about belief, it’s also about being with your community. And that might actually be a help to you. If you don’t want to join in with the prayers then you could use it as a time of quiet contemplation to remember your mother. If you stay at home, alone, do you think you will feel better or worse?
Have you talked to anyone about your feelings? If you really think this isn’t something you can discuss with your husband, then think about confiding in another relative or close friend.
Or if you’d rather talk to someone who doesn’t know you, what about having some bereavement counselling? The Jewish Bereavement Counselling Service can help with both your grief and its impact on your religious faith. Call them on 0208 951 3881 or contact them via: enquiries@jbcs. org.uk
There is also the charity Cruse Bereavement Care (www.cruse. org.uk), which offers free, confidential advice and information for anyone affected by bereavement. You can call their helpline on 0808 808 1677. Please remember that you won’t always feel this way.
Do you agree with Hilary? What advice would you give? We’re keen to hear what readers think and will print some responses online. Contact Hilary with comments or with your problems via email at agony@thejc. com, anonymously or not. Or write to her at 28 St Albans Lane, London NW11 7QF