A. Mills, Peter G. Coleman, Fionnuala McKiernan & Peter Speck
University of Southampton, Department of Psychology, UK
BELIEFS AND EXISTENTIAL MEANING IN LATER LIFE:
THE EXPERIENCE OF OLDER BEREAVED SPOUSES
Traditionally, religion has been thought to be an important provider of meaning in life, especially during the process of ageing. However religious affiliation in the U.K. has been in decline for many years but it is important to appreciate that decline of religious practice does not mean decline in spiritual beliefs. British surveys continue to show large majorities of the population believing in some sort of transcendent power or God, and some form of afterlife. This exploratory study investigated the role of beliefs in spousal bereavement. 28 participants were recruited via doctors and one funeral director. They included both Christian and non believers. They were interviewed 3 times over one year, beginning after the first anniversary of the death. Internal and external dialogues, adjustment to bereavement, belief systems in bereavement, and support for those belief systems were investigated. An important finding is the association between strong belief, church attendance, high levels of personal meaning and absence of depression. Depressive symptoms are concentrated among those of moderate to weak belief who do not attend church. Our exploratory study demonstrates that, although not without difficulties, it is possible to engage older people in discussion of their spiritual beliefs and their internal and external dialogues, especially if the interview is sensitively rooted in accounts of their own experiences. This is possible even when this experience is something as traumatic as spousal bereavement.