My Interview

Nicki Neicole Houston


Background:

The individual that I interviewed is a 18 year old, single male, first year college student. Who comes from a middle-class family living in the United States. He is the first generation of Asian-American from Thailand. He has a Buddhist background. I will call him "Joe" for this interview. Joe and I have a class together at Indiana University. We stayed after class to do the interview. I was not sure what to expect from the interview, but I did assume that our ideas about grief, death and after death were going to be very similar since he has been living in the United States for his whole life. Which I am a 22 year old, white, single female, middle-class, Christian background, from southern Indiana. But to my surprise we have many differences on ideas about grief, death, and after death.

The Interview

Traditions and Rituals:

Joe and his family, even though they live in the United States, still carry out many of their culture's beliefs when a person dies. Like as in Christianity, they do have a funeral service for the deceased. At the funeral service that make offerings to a temple. For example, they make food for the monks. They carry out a funeral chant (which he couldn't really explain this chant in English). The guest of the funeral will bring cash as an offering to the family and the temple. This cash will help pay for the funeral, since most families are rather poor in Thailand. The amount of money you bring will depend on two things. One is how well off you and your family are as a whole. Two, how close you are to the deceased. Joe said that it ranges from four dollars to hundreds and even thousands of dollars. But as he mentioned above that Thailand people are very poor. That even five dollars is a lot of money to make at a job for one day. The Buddhist do believe in cremation. An example of this that Joe mentioned was when his grandmother died. They cremated her body and then divided up the remains of her ashes to the offspring. They were then suppose to do with her ashes as they wish.

Beliefs For Comfort and Pain:

Joe's belief is that if that person who has passed away was a good person throughout their lifetime then that person will go to a comfortable place and will be happy. Joe's culture has a merit system which allows them to loss or gain merit points. Joe used the example of a sand pile. If you do good things throughout your life then the sand pile will get bigger. If you do bad things then your pile will become smaller. The good things are like treating other people well, not killing even an insect or animal. If they thought that person was not a good person then this is very disturbing. The individual who is deceased will end up in an uncomfortable place after death.

Life After Death:

As Joe mentioned above, they are on merit system. In their current life they gain or lose merit points. When you die you will be reborn into another being. Depending on how many merits you have will determine what you will come back as. It is on an "animal scale". For example, a fly is the lowest on the scale and the highest is a human being. So your goal is to return as another human being. I was kind of confused about this merit system. I didn't know who keep track of the merits. Joe confirmed that nobody keeps track but you know if you have been a good person or not. Joe said that if someone feels that they were not a good person and want to earn merits than on New Years Day, they can set an animal free or something like that.

Healthy and Unhealthy Grief:

Joe's believe is more personal. He believes that healthy grief is remember someone who has passed away, here and there. If you think about them too much then that is unhealthy. For example, Joe thought about a friend who died when he was in school. He started have nightmares because he was thinking about them too much. He also believes that if you remember the good times about that person then that is healthy grief.

Private and Public Grief:

Joe's public and private grief is very similar to the way males from the United States grieve. Joe does not show that he is sad in front of anyone. But when he is alone he will be sad and will cry. They also do not talk about their grieve to anyone. They will remember someone and talk about that person but will not show any emotions.

Group Support:

Joe believes that group support would be very helpful for the grieving process. That group support would be a time to let out his emotions and a time to talk about the loss. Joe said that group support would help the grief go by faster.

What I Have Learned From the Interview:

What I have learned from the interview with Joe is that we a very similar but yet very different. I was most interested in the merit system they go by. This seems to me unusual but then again not. I was raised to be a descent, caring, and loving person. But the way I am is not put on a scale. We just have to live with the way we are and hope that we will go to heaven. The gender differences are very similar. That men are not allowed to show emotions. That they need to be strong for the rest of the family. I really thought this assignment was very interesting to me. I like learning about other cultures and their beliefs. This makes me realize that we are all, no matter what culture or religion we come from, similar but yet different.


Return to Cultural Interviews
Written for Grief in a Family Context, HPER F317, Spring semester, 1997.
(C) 1997, Nicki Neicole Houston. All rights reserved. Interested parties may contact her through the course instructor, at gilbertk@indiana.edu.