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Addressing Grief & Loss: Cultural Perspective

Grief & Loss during the pandemic can trigger anxiety and distress within one’s self and with their family and communities they are living. Grief in simple terms is the way of reacting to loss of a loved one. The loss can be classified under different categories.

Possible loss experienced during the COVID 19 pandemic situation are:

  • Physical Loss- death of a loved member in your family or community due to COVID 19

  • Social Loss- social distancing from a loved one (eg: front line workers who are working closely with the people affected by COVID 19) and worrying about family members who are stuck in different countries due to COVID 19 restrictions.

  • Occupational Loss- this is due to loss of job caused as a result of COVID 19

“We are all dealing with the collective loss of the world we knew,” -David Kessler, Grief Expert

Why Culture is important?

Culture is not something that was born in a day. Culture is something that was developed by our ancestors a long time ago. Culture is a way of one’s life to tell stories, celebrate, mourn, remember our past and predict our future. Culture is a way in which we see ourselves and the world we live in.

Culture plays a crucial role and participating in culture develops children’s thinking skills, resilience, enhance learning outcomes, confidence and self-esteem. Culture broadens people’s way of thinking about their self and others and it helps in building a positive self-image. Research papers on cultural neuroscience have highlighted that people who have experience severe trauma can be healed through participating in culture in everyday activities. They have studied that culture re-wires the brain network to heal people from their trauma.

How people survive with Grief & Loss before the pandemic?

Before the pandemic, people who have a cultural upbringing cope with their grief and loss by performing cultural ceremonies, being together with their family, sharing the connections through mutual loss, mourning with family, helping the family member to heal from the loss through providing them with their everyday basic needs so they can complete their mourning.

People from the Aboriginal culture has shared their journey through their culture since 60,000 years. Aboriginal people have been evidenced as the ‘First Man’ to live and survive on this Earth. The Aboriginal community have researched and published articles on the importance of how culture can heal them from the trauma, cope with grief and loss and build positive mental health and well-being.

Current Situation:

Due to the current pandemic situation and social distancing, people also experience cultural loss. Cultural Loss is when people are unable to be together with their families during this tough period, unable to perform rituals and ceremonies during the time of wedding or a death and unable to visit their cultural place of worship such as temples/church/mosques.

Due to restrictions imposed, people face higher distress and anxiety due to the uncertainty of the current situation. Our anxiety might become complex when we have a loss of a family members or a loved one or experiences grief due to various losses. The reason is because cultural ceremonies and rituals provide a way of giving us a closure to our loved one who have passed away and we are surrounded by our family members who will be willing to take care of us during our mourning period. Due to the current restrictions, there’s a huge gap in dealing with our grief and loss that might cause to increase our stress and anxiety.

How to address cultural loss?

Few Strategies that can help people to cope with Grief & Loss are:

  • Look out for people who are experiencing a loss- talk to them on a regular basis

  • Build a small space in your home or garden to pray to build hope and faith

  • Social Distancing is important but also social caring is crucial. You do not have to physically be present to take care of someone who is coping with grief and loss. Drop flowers/food/greeting card outside their home to show your compassion.

  • If you are experiencing loss, talk to someone and do not be afraid to get professional help if needed

  • If you have a child or a youth present, parents be mindful around them and show them emotional resilience through your actions. Model positive behavior around them

  • Write a letter or maintain a journal to your loved one who have been recently deceased and share your thoughts and feeling through that letter

#StayHome #StaySafe #Grief&Loss #CopingCOVID19 #Culture

Written by Veena Vibhushini Varun Prasath (Child & Adolescent Psychologist, Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency, Colombo, Western, Sri Lanka)

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