Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Religious Coping Strategies: Illness and Death

When a person is diagnosed with cancer, how do they cope with the illness and the realization that their life may be coming to an end? How do loved ones cope with the death of someone close to them? This is a challenge that, unfortunately, many people have faced or will potentially face in their future. This is a challenge that our family had faced only a few years ago. My mom was diagnosed with T-cell lymphoma in 1990. The doctors encouraged her that, for the most part, this disease is not life threatening. In 2008, she was told that it had spread into her lymph nodes and organs. In 2009, we were told she only had days to live. My mom and the rest of our family used religious coping strategies throughout my mom’s illness and death. Without our faith in Christ, this event could have destroyed our life with depression, anxiety, and many other psychological disorders. What exactly are religious coping strategies? Some examples of religious coping are “positive revaluation, collaborative religious coping, active surrender to God, searching spiritual support, religious purification, religious forgiveness and seeking support from clergy or members of the church community” (Religious and Nonreligious Coping among Cancer Patients). Commonly, we find that most people choose prayer as their religious coping strategy. When my mom was told her cancer had worsened she started a prayer journal. This brought her comfort and peace. By having this communication with the Christ, who has control over each and every life, the patient dealing with an illness is comforted and becomes more hopeful. Religious coping strategies are usually thought of “as emotion focused but can potentially have cognitive (e.g. appraising an illness as part of God's plan) and also behavioural (e.g. praying or attending religious services) components” (Do religious/spiritual coping strategies affect illness adjustment in patients with cancer? A systematic review of the literature, 2006). In the same article the authors share with us that, ”Religious resources may also serve multiple functions in long-term adjustment to cancer such as maintaining self-esteem, giving emotional comfort and hope, and providing a sense of meaning and purpose”. Many studies also show that religious resources and coping strategies have an incredibly positive affect on patients with life threatening illnesses. “In fact, reviews have generally found religious coping to be more typically a help rather than a hindrance”.
We live in a fallen world where we humans will face hardships. Each individual who goes through a hardship will use some kind of coping technique whether it is negative or positive, religious or non-religious. It is important for people to know that there is a beautiful life after this. That this life we live now is only temporary and what is to come is everlasting filled with God’s amazing love. Many people who are dealing with cancer or a life threatening illness realize that this life is indeed short. This is why many turn to religious coping strategies as they go through this process of sickness or in some cases the process of dying. Sometime facing the hardship of illness and death, we have the opportunity to experience Christ’s love, peace, and comfort in a way that we could never experience Him in any other situation, that is if we use religious coping strategies during the trials of illness and death. By using religious coping strategies as a Christian, we realize how extremely blessed we are to have Christ in our lives. No sickness nor death can separate us from Jesus Christ.
2 Corinthians 4:16-18
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardley we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

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