Cultural Interview with Anna Maria:
Interview by Nancy Cahill, fall semester, 2000


Anna Maria is in her mid-twenties. She was born and raised in Czech and is now living in the United States because her American husband is a graduate student at Indiana University. Her English is quite good because she has worked at it with her husband and because she visited the U.S. two times in the past to stay with relatives in Iowa. On one of these trips, at the age of 20, she chose to be baptized in the Catholic Church, something that she did not have the opportunity to do as a child under the communist government. She is close to her family (divorced parents, and her grandparents), but is content to be in the U.S. with her husband. She works as a receptionist and assistant in a private beauty business and is trained as a physical therapist but, because of licensing laws, she cannot practice her profession in this
country.

Question #1: What kind of traditions and rituals do you have to commemorate a death?

Anna Maria started off by saying that in Czech she lives in a "modern age." The body does not stay at home. It takes a few days to prepare the funeral, which is Catholic. A mass is held for the departed soul. During the funeral ceremony, the priest tells about the life of the person, and what kind of person he/she was. After the burial, a party is given at the house of the relatives. Goulash, sweets, and coffee are served. The atmosphere is not supposed to be sad. The idea is to look to the future. The feeling is that the dead person is no longer with the living and that he is somewhere else. Anna Maria said that her great grandmother has her own funeral party all planned out. She also said that these parties are more cultural than religious.

Question #2: What are some of the beliefs you hold that offer comfort in times of loss?

Anna Maria was vague but definite in her belief that "there is something that continues," and that this concept gives her comfort. She said that she believes it is not over with death and that if people have had pain, then death is a release and that this is comforting. When someone young dies, it is sad, and it is harder to be comforted. When her dog died of cancer, she grieved this pet that was very much a part of the family. For her dog, she felt that there was something else waiting for him after death. 

Question #3: What about beliefs that could add to the pain of loss? 

Anna Maria felt that the bad part of death is that the person is gone. She doesn't like to think about it. She doesn't want to think about "this bad part." She added that this avoidance of the reality of death is a part of her family dynamics. So, she seemed to be saying that her family deals with the pain of loss by not talking about it and trying not to think about it. 

Question #4: What are your beliefs about life after death? 

Although Anna Maria has chosen the Catholic Church as her religion, she did not espouse traditional Catholic views of life after death. She reiterated that "this is not over." Spirits continue, she said. She believes that a little something from every religion adds up to the truth. Whatever comes after a person's life depends on the person's life on earth (i.e., how they lived their life). She doesn't exactly believe in hell. She said that if a person was bad, that person must be punished and, conversely, if a person was good, that person deserves something good. She likes the idea of the Buddhists--that the next life will be good or bad. She doesn't necessarily believe in reincarnation, but she believes in a sense of justice and the concept of karma. 

Question #5: How would you define healthy and unhealthy grief? 

Every person is different with different feelings, Anna Maria believes. Everyone shows sadness in different ways, but it always shows in one form or another. Whatever helps the person in his/her grief is okay with Anna Maria. In her family, it is believed that one must go on and, while death is very sad, it is important to move on with one's life. But, Anna Maria, added, everyone misses the departed in a different and individual way, and it's wrong, she believes, to stop someone from their own way of grieving. In conclusion, she said, "there is no best way to grieve." 

Question #6: What is the relationship between your private grief and your public mourning? 

There is nothing wrong with crying in public, Anna Maria said, for the death of a loved one constitutes a valid reason for crying wherever one is. If bringing up one's emotions helps the bereaved, then it is fine wherever that mourning is conducted. In her family and culture, the family will wear black clothes for varying amounts of time; black armbands may also be worn. This is a way of mourning in public. Anna Maria was not forthcoming on this topic, but she repeated that she thinks it is fine for other people to show public displays of grieving. 

Question #7: How useful do you think group support is in facilitating successful resolution of grief? 

Anna Maria does not see group support as all that helpful. When people say, "Oh you poor thing, you must be hurting so," it does not make her feel better. She says this kind of community support does not help. Then she admitted that she does not know what would actually help. In her culture, friends invite the bereaved to stay at their house and/or to go out with them as a way to alleviate the loneliness. Anna Maria then stated, "You lost the person. Nothing can be helpful. You have to deal with it." 

When I asked Anna Maria if her answers were a reflection of her own personal beliefs, or those of her family or if they were representative of her culture as a whole, she said that she really had been speaking only for herself and her family. She did not want this interview to be seen as speaking for the Czech culture. 

Interestingly, Anna Maria asked me what class this interview was for. I told her that I was taking this class as part of a process to decide if I wanted to go on for my Ph.D. in Health Behavior. I told her that I was a counselor. She said, "Oh, like psychology?" Then she mentioned that she didn't understand why people went to counselors. She said that she would not do that because when she has a problem, she talks it over with friends or just "deals with it." She thinks it is strange that people in this country (the United States) pay someone to listen to their problems.

Written for Grief in a Family Context, HPER F460/F560, Fall, 2000.

(C) 2000, Nancy Cahill. All rights reserved. Interested parties may contact the course instructor, at gilbertk@indiana.edu.