“When my dad passed away, I was angry at almost everything and anything"
It is estimated that 55.3 million people die every year.
This means that someone loses a loved one every day.
Death is both shocking and unpredictable.
Someone in grieving can experience sadness, happiness, shock, anger, vulnerability and numbness all in a space of five minutes.
But the mental, physical and social impact of grief over loss is underrated in South Asian culture. Emotions are often suppressed and talk about death is a taboo subject.
DESIblitz explores the expectations of grieving in South Asian culture and how some Asians deal with loss.
5 Common Stages of Grief
- Denial ~ Refusing to accept reality.
- Anger ~ Towards friends, family, the deceased, themselves or life in general.
- Bargaining ~ Questioning ‘if only’ or ‘what if’. Thinking of ways to bring the deceased back or silently offering an exchange of life.
- Depression ~ Thoughts are mentally unstable. Emotions are negative. Regular tasks become overwhelming.
- Acceptance ~ Facing reality. The deceased is not coming back. Learning to carry on with life without your loved one.
In a National Poll of Bereaved Teenagers and Children, 46 percent of teenagers said they couldn’t believe what they were hearing when told of the death of someone they knew.
The initial feeling of denial is widely impacted by the lack of closure someone has and may develop into a long-term problem.
For many people, seeing the body of the person who died can offer a small comfort.
DESIblitz spoke to 21-year-old Kiesha whose grandparents passed away before she was born.
Kiesha visited the grave and village where they lived: “Experiencing it made me feel closer to them in a way because I got to see where they lived.”
Some South Asian funerals display an open casket so people have the choice of gaining closure. Children are also encouraged to see the body if they wish to.
But in circumstances where people are unable to see the body or need further closure, it is common to consider more harmful methods of coping.
Excessive drinking and drug use are one of the biggest ways to numb the pain of losing a loved one.
Ignoring reality is a common trait in South Asian culture because it is frowned upon for the family to openly express their feelings.
25-year-old Raja spoke to us about her own experience:
“After my sister died, my family home was the worse place for me because it was like nothing had happened. We would just stay silent and carry on with normal stuff… My parents acted as if my sister never existed.”
This additional strain not only worsens the burden but also puts the bereaved in a worse state of denial.
Mental Illness and Depression
Such methods can lead to serious depression or mental illness.
Mental illness in South Asian culture is not accepted as a serious issue. Instead, an act of madness and shame on the family.
In the frustration of failing to deal with death in a healthy manner, people’s behaviour may change.
They may blame themselves for the death of a loved one as they feel a responsibility towards the deceased.
Maryam, 31, lost her father after a disagreement about the man she wanted to marry. Although her parents eventually accepted the marriage she says:
“A few months after my expensive Asian wedding, my dad had a stroke and passed away. I still blame myself for his death.”
Becoming angry, forgetful, disorganised or confused may also lead to depression or mental illness.
DESIblitz spoke to 42-year-old Ibrahim:
“When my dad passed away, I was angry at almost everything and anything. I couldn’t control it, I’m normally a calm person but the smallest thing would set me off… I started to see a counsellor after two months and it really helped me to calm down and control myself. ”
But facing reality can also send people into a state of depression.
People begin to question the meaning of life on a deeper level, turning to spirituality or science as a way to understand the meaning of life and death.
For South Asians, religion and culture are predominant coping mechanisms to deal with the grieving process.
But support from an outsider may ease the strain on home life and help those in culturally divided communities.
“Have you gone back to work yet?”
“Is that all you’ve been doing today?”
“Isn’t it about time you started carrying on with your life?
These are questions which people who are grieving are faced with every day.
Asians, in particular, are expected to carry on with their normal routine immediately after the funeral. Leaving minimum time to grieve for their loved ones.
Generally, people fear or prolong the notion of ‘moving on’ because they feel judged or pressured into it.
8 out of 10 South Asian grievers who spoke to DESIblitz initially thought that the notion of ‘moving on’ means to forget.
Depending on the relationship to the deceased, the nature of their death and the individual’s own personality, grief is unpredictable and doesn’t have a set timescale.
Online blogger, Rebecca Carney reflects on her own experience:
“You’d think after nearly fourteen and a half years, I’d have this whole grief thing down and be on a smoother, less rocky path.”
And many agree that it is impossible to ignore or forget reality even if they wanted to.
Dawn McManus reflects: “I don’t feel that one can ever move on, only progress at a pace that is inherently personal.”
Everyone has a story.
Everyone remembers a time when this or that happened.
Everyone just saw or spoke to them last week.
Death is depressing but grieving can involve reminiscing about happy memories.
Whether it is sharing stories, photographs, or personal items, people are able to think positively about their loved one.
30-year-old Krishna tells us: “After I lost my brother, I didn’t want talk about him.
“But one day a few of his friends came to see me and we got talking, it actually felt better… Like a whole weight lifted from me. It’s amazing how much I didn’t know about. And now I’m grateful for the memories.”
Many find it helpful and enlightening to cherish the happy memories of their loved ones.
For those in need, support is available to help South Asians and those from culturally divided backgrounds.
Here are some organisations who understand the pressures of home life and expectations of Asian culture:
- South Asian Project
- Asian Family Counselling Service
- Family Lives; Helpline: 0808 800 2222
- The Child Bereavement Trust; Call 0845 357 1000
One woman who lost her husband 22 years ago says: “The pain never leaves it just gets smaller.”
The pain of losing someone never goes away. But there is a way to lighten the burden and focus on rebuilding yourself with the acceptance of the loss.