My Shattered Just-World Hypothesis
Researchers have found that certain belief systems can have a positive effect on our grief process. For example, if we believe in a loving God who will care for our loved one in the afterlife, we will find comfort. Holding on to a hope that we will see that person again someday also helps us in our grief. Ultimately, faith aids us in grief resilience (Daniel, 2017).
Other worldviews can also impact our grief. We hold certain assumptions about the world, our selves, and others. We believe the world works a certain way, and our belief system helps us feel safe and in control.
Maybe you believe in a just world; that this earth is a fair place and everything works out in the end. Maybe you believe that good people don’t suffer, and bad things only happen to bad people. You believe we all get what we deserve. If you work hard and do what you should, then everything will work out for you in the end. These views of the world help you manage your expectations and see the world as right.
And then your loved one dies and that belief system is shaken to its core.
A couple months after Scott died, my children and I visited his relative in prison. As we sat waiting for them to be called out from their cell to the visiting center, we watched offenders come in and greet their friends and family members.
Wonderful reunions all around us! Happiness!! Joy!!!
Then it hit me:
Each one of these individuals had committed a felony. Some of them were murderers.
Others were rapists. There were embezzlers. Thieves. Drug dealers. Pedophiles.
My husband volunteered every spare minute he had to work with kids with disabilities in a therapeutic equine-assisted riding program. Any expendable income we had he would spend on rescuing horses from abuse and neglect. My husband was a moral and upright man.
But these felons were all alive. And he was dead.
These felons were kissing their spouses! I would never again feel his lips on mine.
These felons were hugging their kids! Playing board games! Laughing with them! They might be out in time to see their children get married and become parents themselves!
My son would become a fatherless father. My daughter would walk down the aisle alone.
In that moment, I realized the world was not fair at all. There was no justice. Certainly not for me and for my children. I can’t describe to you how earth-shattering this was.
But in retrospect I can see that dismantling my belief in a just world was necessary. It forced me to grapple with what I really believed and why I believed it. I searched for who God really was in all of this. I confronted what this all meant for me and for my children.
And now, over time, through study and tears and a lot of grief work, I see the world with more clarity. I know more about the character of God. And I know more about my own character.
I am resolving this. I am finding meaning in my grief.
You see, the world didn’t change when Scott died.
His death changed me.
That, my beloved friend, is the goal of grief work.