Spiritual Care for Families Coping with Sudden Loss and Bereavement


Spiritual care aims to lend people in crisis and distress moral support, a sympathetic presence, and an attentive ear while relating to their spiritual resources. This is a relatively new professional area in Israel and to date, it has been offered mainly to people in end-of-life situations (to the terminally ill), to patients in hospitals, and to elderly in old-age homes and daycare centers. However, in 2012-15 JDC-Israel Ashalim, along with senior government officials from various ministries, notably the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Labor, Social Services and Social Affairs (MOLSA) conducted a learning and development process of the topic to integrate the service into Ashalim’s work with its target populations. What emerged from the process was a need for MOLSA to devise new responses for families experiencing sudden loss and bereavement, to help them cope and provide support. As a result, MOLSA and Ashalim developed the Makom Lanesha(i)ma Program (Breather-for-the-Soul Space), which operated from 2016 to 2019. The goal was to help families cope with their grief following incidents of motor accidents, suicide and murder, by drawing on the conceptions and tools of spiritual care. The response was made available to families at MOLSA’s help centers and was implemented by the Elah Center for coping with loss, and by the Beshvil Hahayim (Path to Life) NGO.

Ashalim and MOLSA subsequently asked the Myers-JDC-Brookdale Institute to evaluate the program. The study took place in 2016-19.

Study Goals

The goals of the study were to examine the contribution of spiritual care to bereaved families and to monitor the program’s assimilation at the help centers.


The study employed mixed methods research. It collected quantitative data by means of the Meitarim assessment questionnaire on the state of an individual faced with sudden loss and bereavement. The questionnaire was expressly developed for the study and transmitted to family members at both the start and the end of the process of spiritual care. In addition, qualitative interviews were held with the recipients of the support, the spiritual practitioners, the social workers at the help centers, and other professionals.

Main Findings

Both the qualitative and quantitative findings attest to the important contribution of spiritual care to bereaved families. The practitioner aims to “be there” for an individual wherever “they’re at,” and to validate the personal needs of family members, including the need to share their difficult experience of loss. The study findings indicate that while there are no therapeutic goals focused on functioning per se, family members noted that in wake of the process of spiritual care, they had changed their behavior in various areas of life, such as in the spousal relationship and in parenting. The change impacted on the behavior of the family as a whole and was reflected in the general atmosphere at home. These findings on improvement in the situation of family members were borne out by the Meitarim assessment questionnaire.

The interviews were conducted over three-and-a-half years of program activity. They revealed growing recognition of the area of spiritual care and considerable change in the attitude of social workers at the help centers and of other professionals in the area of sudden loss and bereavement. Their exposure to the topic in concentrated study days, the close professional training provided to spiritual practitioners and, especially, the personal acquaintance and relationships developed with social workers at the centers contributed to the gradual assimilation of spiritual care and substantially increased the number of referrals made to this new type of care.


To sustain the service as an integral part of the basket of responses provided to bereaved families at the help centers, the following steps are recommended: Social workers should have the benefit of further exposure to the area of spiritual care; their personal and professional relationships with the spiritual practitioners should be strengthened and clear mechanisms should be put in place for the management of ongoing contact; the group component of spiritual care should be further developed; and the program should continue to be disseminated to different populations countrywide.

Similarly, it is important to continue to extend the support provided by authorized spiritual practitioners to additional relevant populations and areas of service, such as trauma, domestic violence, children and youth at risk, and so forth.