We still have a long way to go in western culture to help grievers feel fully supported throughout all of their grief. In this short episode, learn about how important community is related to death and grief around the world in some other cultures, and the two key elements missing in Western culture that forces us to isolate us in our grief and recovery.
0:26 Community and grief
1:16 What the West is lacking
3:12 Why we don't share our experiences
4:24 Two key elements missing
5:54 Cultural practices around the world
8:01 Cremation & Burial in the West
9:23 Funeral homes
10:16 Other cultural rituals and community
13:00 Grief recovery and healing - the difference
14:26 Vonne's community, advocacy and change
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Books (by Vonne Solis)
Vonne Solis 0:00
Welcome to another Grief Talk Coffee Chat episode. I'm your host, Vonne Solis.
Vonne Solis 0:13
Okay, so welcome to another Divine Healing, Coaching with Vonne Solis episode. I, of course, am Vonne and I welcome you to this episode called Death Culture and Community.
Vonne Solis 0:26
So recently I have been speaking with a lot of people, practitioners, clients, and so on. And what they want is community. In the business world there has been a definite notice of the importance of community over the last few years. And so how does that relate to grief and loss? The importance of community in grief and loss made me think about how much we don't celebrate death and loss in community. And so I got really curious about what the cultural rituals and practices were around the world with respect to death and grieving. Here's what I found.
Vonne Solis 1:16
So for sure, in the Western world, where we're basically lacking cultural practices, acknowledgement even and it maybe even rituals around loss and then our grieving process makes it incredibly difficult to heal. And as a mom of a daughter who died by suicide in 2005, I've had nearly 18 years in this world of loss and grief. And basically, throughout much of my grief journey, I have felt unsupported. This led me to basically write the three books I've written, do a blog, and my latest venture, have this podcast episode, so that we can start to talk more openly about the things that are difficult in life, and go through our experiences together by sharing our stories. For sure community helps those of us who have had a sudden and traumatic loss, where the recovery period, even just trying to get through grief and ultimately healing for those that desire healing, makes it a really lonely and long and complicated process. This can even be true of deaths that are just uncomfortable for people to talk about. Such as perhaps drug overdoses or other things. I can't really think of all the examples right now. But deaths that maybe have occurred in our family, where the person may have even been older. So in quotes, you know, the death kind of expected, but there may have some kind of taboo or cultural repulsion, you know, around it. And those deaths are equally as important as sudden and traumatic ones, where the griever has to hold all of that pain and struggle through the grief process. It makes that experience very isolating for them.
Vonne Solis 3:12
So the point I want to make is how we culturally and socially acknowledge and talk about and then come together in our various communities openly, to support ourselves through our grief journey totally impacts how we are able to heal and move forward and grow. I can tell you that the number and types of support systems needed certainly for bereaved parents. Certainly for suicide loss, sibling bereavement, and there may be other impacted groups, they are needed. And when we don't have them, our grief can be referred to as disenfranchised grief. That is a grieving process related to any type of loss that culturally we do not want to acknowledge or talk about, or in my view, and I'll just throw in here really don't know what to do with that type of grief. And that impacts an awful lot of people. Millions of people in this world.
Vonne Solis 4:24
As grievers, we make no attempt to openly share our experiences of loss for two reasons. One, we feel we aren't supposed to share our stories. And two, nobody really wants to hear about our painful experiences. Without question, we are bound together by our pain and joy. And while it's pretty easy and acceptable for all of us to share our joyful experiences, being able to openly share our experiences of loss and grief where we could openly grieve that death because we recognize death as a culturally shared experience would feel incredible. It would help us all heal much faster instead of trying to cope with grief that often we don't understand in isolation.
Vonne Solis 5:12
Cultures that honour, death and grieving, have a couple of different elements that are missing in Western culture. These elements are number one, acknowledgement of the shared experience. And number two, cultural practices or rituals where everyone participates without fear or judgment. In the case of the West, where we don't acknowledge death and grief nearly as much as we should, the only community quote, community grieving that really has an impact on us all are those deaths that occur very much in the spotlight. And this acknowledgement is very temporary.
Vonne Solis 5:54
So a few examples I'm going to share with you that I researched and to my delight, and actual comfort, came across these practices and/or rituals that make death and bereavement and the entire grief experience much less isolating, and certainly not one to fear. From Mexico's Day of the Dead public holiday that celebrates the departed, to the public cremations in Ganges India, where everybody must be based before it is cremated, publicly. And then the ashes returned to loved ones after the cremation. To Nepal's Happy Festival of the Cows, which was created centuries ago by a king who lost a son. And in order to make his queen, his wife happy, arranged the Festival of the Cows to cheer up his wife. To Bali, where they practice communal burials to help ease the financial burden on families that can't afford to bury their loved one alone. So when there are enough bodies to bury, they have a communal burial ceremony. To Hinduism and Buddhist practices that do not view death at all as end of life and should only be mourn for a specific period of time. To Islam, where mourning is also required for a specific period of time and crying is expected. To specific Jewish practices that require immediate mourning and then annually. So what these practices have in common is a focus on tradition, ritual, and the expectation of inclusivity for all of the community, rather than isolated grief, such as we mostly experience in the Western world. And by the way, these practices and rituals may be severe. They may be celebratory. But the point is, they are rituals, practices and traditions that everyone participates in. And some of them have been around for centuries.
Vonne Solis 8:01
So when talking about burials, because Cremation and Burial, pretty much, as far as I know right now, are the only two ways to dispose of our loved one's body. So unlike some of these other practices in various parts of the world, where it is observed and witnessed and celebrated or mourned very publicly, sending the body off in the West, certainly in North America. Releasing your loved ones body, certainly to cremation, it's basically a very, and I'm going to just use the word hidden practice, and nobody but the funeral home attendees are present. And so while you might know the day and maybe even the time your loved one is being cremated, you are basically, once again, mourning very intensely, the disposal of the body. And by the way, this is not something that we really talk about. I will acknowledge here that people who have ground burials even there largely, it's only limited to a very few people watching the coffin lowered into the ground. I know. Kind of morbid stuff for those of you who aren't used to talking about death and loss. But hey, it's gonna hit you one day, somehow. You might as well be prepared.
Vonne Solis 9:23
Even our funeral homes in the Western world. Certainly here in Canada, they kind of look mysterious and even a little bit foreboding. And before I was introduced to grief in 2005, other than losing my grandparents when I was a child and didn't really think another thing about it, the loss of my daughter in 2005 was me absolutely thrown into death. Real death and very impacting grief. And having to go into that forbidden funeral home on more than one occasion. And I was 48 years old at that time. So that's nearly half a century of my life where I really didn't understand anything about physical death, other than in a spiritual and metaphysical concept or framework.
Vonne Solis 10:16
Now, while I'm not sure I'd want to stand on the bank of the Ganges, and watch my loved one being bathed and then cremated very publicly. Or see them pressed into jewelry beads, such as they do in South Korea. Or have them fed to vultures and crows, such as they do in Tibet. Or attempt to, you know, hang the coffin on a cliff side, such as they do, in some cultures. Or one of my favourites. Dress them in their finest, sit them in a chair, put a smoke in their mouth, and leave them like that for several weeks. All these are common practices, and traditions and rituals that have been passed down generation to generation. In these cultures. Death is neither feared nor hushed. It is simply accepted. People cry. They laugh together. They mourn together. And then they get on with their life.
Vonne Solis 11:10
And I will wager it's easier to get on with your life, when you have community and cultural practices that allow us to display our pain, our emotions, and share our loss with anybody because they get it. It happens. It happens. I'm sorry, it happened to you type thing. But I'll support you in it, because it could happen to me, too. But let's not just stay in that morbid, you know, headspace. It's just acknowledging it as a shared cultural and life experience.
Vonne Solis 11:49
I have been a long time advocate of the need for us not to feel shamed or embarrassed, or be silenced when it comes to our death and grief. It is evident to me that we want to be part of communities in which we can share our stories, and what we're currently going through. And it is in these communities where we can find our hope and healing. Quite frankly, we need more of them.
Vonne Solis 12:18
Basically, if you want to join a community, you are going to be searching on some platform in social media. Facebook, Instagram, other platforms. And if you're lucky enough, you're going to find one that goes yes, that relates to my loss. I'm going to join that. And then you can quickly become part of that community. You can make friends in communities. You can get advice and tips. And most importantly, for those that have travelled the path before you, you can understand that you can survive the experience you're going through in your own way and time. But with a bunch of tools in your toolbox and a community behind you.
Vonne Solis 13:00
I have great respect, compassion and empathy for everyone's losses, no matter who they have lost, or how long ago. And if we all want to have a better chance of recovering from our grief, and then healing, they're kind of the same, but not really. There's, it's I don't want to get into the semantics of that. But you know, we're so used to the words read, you know, Grief Recovery. And so a person could say, yeah, they've recovered from that experience, but still not have dealt with deep seated pain and emotions to feel fully healed. Or at least make good inroads on a path to healing because that is what they desire. And within that I'm just going to throw in, there are a lot of things we have to do to attain that type of healing, with acceptance of every circumstance and experience we have come through, as well as the loss of our loved one. And particularly if it's been traumatic, sudden, they've gone before what we think is is the right time, these can all pose challenges for us as grievers sometimes for many, many years. But the point is, if we want to have a chance, at anything better in our life, feeling supported, it's far easier to do this when we feel heard, seen and understood.
Vonne Solis 14:26
I am all about community. And I am doing my part here advocating on this platform change, awareness, education, and empowerment for all grievers to understand that there are safe places for you to come to, to feel supported. To connect with others. To learn. To open up your mind a little bit about possibilities for your own future. Help develop a vision for how you want to move forward in life, step by step, after losing a loved one or more where these deaths have been incredibly impactful for you in a difficult way.
Vonne Solis 15:06
Right now, I'm inviting anybody to come and join the community I have now started. We're not on Facebook yet. But for the moment, I do have a community that you can join through subscription, where I'm checking in with you frequently. Offering some stuff up about maybe what I've been challenged with in the last week or two. And giving you some great tips and resources and information related to grief from suicide, grief in general, and a whole bunch of other goodies. So check that out. You can get that link in the description to this episode. Just click on that mini personal journal. The information is designed to help you start thinking about what you're dealing with. What you are processing. What you possibly and probably need to address maybe now or in a little bit in your grief.
Vonne Solis 15:59
Join my community where I can speak with you for now, one on one through the written word regularly about some stuff I'm not talking about on the podcast. So I invite you to hang out with me. Otherwise, just enjoy many of the resources I offer, which you'll find on my website vonnesolis.com.
Vonne Solis 16:20
So I hope you got something out of this. Which really the main message here is openness of community. Acceptance of our death and losses. And support for any of us, all of us going through what sometimes we've been thrust into unexpectedly. And other times, we're expecting this to happen, you just want a soft place to fall.
Vonne Solis 16:47
Until next time, thanks for watching. Thanks for listening.