INTERVIEW WITH JG

Linda Cheek, fall semester, 2000

 

            I interviewed a co-worker that I will refer to as JG for the purpose of anonymity.  I chose JG for this cultural interview primarily because she was born and raised in Cwmllynfell, Glamorganshire in South Wales and has two brothers which are two distinct differences from my American upbringing as an only child.  JG is a 48 year old, Caucasian woman and has been married to her second husband (another difference since I’m still married to my first husband of 30 years) for 13 years.  JG is the daughter of Welsh parents – her father was a working class coal miner and is now 80 years old and still living in Wales along with her older brothers.  JG’s mother was a stay-at-home mom and died of leukemia when JG was 15 years old.  JG was college educated in London and shortly thereafter immigrated to the United States.  She spent 8 years in the US Navy and was stationed in Hawaii.  Because JG’s father was Protestant and her mother was Methodist, she was raised as both – attending Methodist services Sunday morning and Protestant services Sunday evening.  As an adult, JG has chosen to follow the Methodist religion.  JG considers her current socio-economic status to be white collar/lower middle class.

            When I asked JG what kind of traditions and rituals were observed to commemorate a death in her family, she described what she remembered when her mother died.  In the Welsh village where she grew up, the curtains were pulled shut on every window of their house.  Her mother was never taken to a funeral home but, laid out on a table in the parlor of their home as was the custom.  At that time only the men of the village attended funerals.  According to JG that custom has changed over the years, however, elderly Welsh women still do not attend funerals.  JG’s mother was cremated (which 33 years ago in Wales was almost unheard of) but, if she had not been cremated, the men would have taken the casket out the front door of their home and walked it all the way to the cemetery.  There was no church service, however, the minister would say a few words at the grave site.  Everyone came back to their home.  Neighbors brought food and everyone sat around and ate and told stories about her mother.  It was not a sad occasion but, rather, a celebration of her mother’s life.  According to JG, not much has changed over the years except that women do now attend and the casket is taken to the chapel where a service is held prior to going to the gravesite.

            JG believes her strict dual religious upbringing has given her a strong faith in God, which is what she draws on for strength and comfort in times of loss.  She also has a strong belief in life after death and reincarnation.

            JG stated that her mother was diagnosed with leukemia when JG was 7 years old.  No one in the family, however, was told of her mother’s condition, including her mother.  At the time, it was the custom for the physician to only tell the head of the household the diagnoses of their spouse or children and it was up to him to decide whether to tell anyone else.  JG’s father chose not to tell his family about his wife’s condition and it wasn’t until JG was much older that he revealed what happened.  As a 15 year old when her mom died, JG considers herself to have been too young to have fully developed her strength or to draw comfort from any beliefs that she has learned to draw on as an adult.  As a result, she remembers feeling hurt, confused and angry when her mom “left her”.  She feels that her youth at the time of her mom’s death in addition to feelings of abandonment added to the pain of her loss.

             A very powerful belief in God and Jesus Christ sustains JG as an adult ad she attributes that to growing up in a strong Christian environment.  She also believes in life after death and reincarnation and draws comfort from the belief that while the body may be physically taken away in death, we are not spiritually taken away.  JG related an incident that occurred involving the maiden aunt of her ex-husband’s to whom she was particularly close.  Aunt Edna developed liver cancer and died while JG was separated from her husband.  The night she died, JG recalls Aunt Edna coming to her in a dream and saying “three days, three weeks” repeatedly.  Exactly three days and three weeks after Aunt Edna died, JG met her current husband!  JG feels that this experience has reinforced and reaffirmed her belief in the spiritual.

            JG’s personal opinion is that you have to go through a period of unhealthy grieving before you can arrive at the healthy grieving.  In her own experience, she was angry for years after her mother’s death because she felt abandoned.  Additionally, all of her friends had mothers that they did things with and talked about and she was jealous of their relationships, which only fed her anger.  As a rather poor lower class working family, JG'’ mother had very few personal possessions.  Her father did make sure that JG got her mother'’ wedding ring and her old pedal driven Singer sewing machine (which her mother taught her to sew on); and, she values these items today as her only physical reminders of her mother.

            When asked about the relationship between private grief and public mourning, JG responded that she thinks there is a huge gap between the two.  She indicated that she does the crying, talking to herself, and possibly ranting and raving in the privacy of her home and only when she’s alone.  The public sees only the “stiff upper lip.”  JG stated that “you must be a rock” for the public and believes this attitude comes from her Welsh upbringing.  JG stated that you can “admit” your grief in the privacy of your home but, not in public and, therefore, sees no relationship between public mourning and private grief.

            JG perceives support groups to be useful after a period of time from when one experiences the loss of a loved one and that period of time would vary from person to person.  Personally JG has never participated in a support group, however, she developed strong friendship with her three college roommates that she believes provided some level of support.  She also believes a friendship with someone who has experienced a similar loss provides support.  She considers people who have not experienced the loss of a parent are generally afraid to talk about the subject with you…perhaps, it’s too intimidating or hits too close to home.  I also asked JG if she was aware of any types of grief support in Wales and she felt that the Welsh are becoming more and more innovative.  While years ago there was no such thing as a “support group” in Wales, the country is coming out of the dark ages with respect to that kind of therapy.  She also thinks that the technology revolution and the onset of computers and the Internet has been helpful – giving people an outlet to support that is rather anonymous and less intimidating than actually facing other people in the traditional support group.  JG added that for a little country, though, the Welsh have been “very forward thinking” in some respects.  For instance, JG indicated that the Welsh had practiced aromatherapy for many years before it became a “rage” in this country. 

            Additionally, I asked JG whether there was any kind of hospice care in Wales to which she responded that Wales has been a national health care country since 1940.  As such, they have a “service” for everything and the government pays for it.  Health care workers will come to the home or you can go to a health care facility – which ever is more convenient for the patient.  Everything is “for the people.”  She remembers that her mother went to a “spa” like place that was designed for recuperation – a place where you could go and get your strength back and there was no cost to her family even back then.


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

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