CULTURAL INTERVIEW

Sandra Kay Flenar



Callie is a single, middle-class, twenty year old student at Northern Illinois University. She is a first generation American with a prominent Italian background. Callie's parents came to the United States from Italy looking for a new start. Callie was a product of this. Her parents brought with them part of the Italian culture, and this was an integrative part of her growing up. I choose to interview Callie because of her strong Italian background, and our differing religions. Callie is a Catholic, and I have no religious affiliation.

Callie and I had an interesting talk about how her family mixed the American and Italian cultures together while they were raising her, in particular, the grieving process. She told me that many of the traditions and rituals to commemorate a death in Italy are not practiced in the United States. This is mainly due to the villages in Italy being so small, allowing the people to be more familiar with each other. A funeral in Italy depends a great deal on the family and their financial position in the village. The more money, the more prestigious and elaborate the event would be. Callie said that the deceased is kept in a casket at the family home, and that people come to the house to remember the dead. The family decorates the door of their home indicating that a death has occurred, and they also put a table outside, in front of the house, with pictures of the deceased on it. They also post notices all over town telling that a death has occurred, and about the life of the deceased. These things are the families way of letting the village know that someone has died. After everyone has visited the deceased they all go to the church where a service is held, including a full mass. After the service the pall bearers carry the casket from the church to the cemetery, and everyone follows. As the procession passes by the people in the village stop what they are doing and watch, as a form of respect.

Only a few of the practices from Italy followed Callie's parents to the United States, and the were conformed to the American culture. The way Italians have services today is how the Americans used to do in the past, but time, money, and law have now changed them. In the United States we have obituaries instead of notices all over town to let people know of a death. Also, in the Unites States, at a Catholic funeral they have a full mass, as they do in Italy.

Callie said that her belief in God and the afterlife offer her comfort in times of loss. She said that she only believes that people's souls can go to a better place, heaven, and that there is no hell. This helps her feel better about where her loved one has gone. Callie feels that she has not beliefs that add to the pain of a loss.

Callie defines healthy grief as, grief that is experienced and facilitated with your family. She says that unhealthy grief is that in which one can not continue on with their life.

Callie believes that all grief that is experienced in private should and can be experienced in public.

She feels that group support is good if a person is having problems with their grief, and the family and friends are not their to turn to.

I have learned many new things from Callie. I thought it was interesting to see how Callie's Italian heritage has affected how she grieves in the United States. She believes that Italian communities are closer than American communities, and she wishes that the United States could be more like Italy in this way. I think that this is true, and that maybe if American communities were more like Italian communities than people may not have as many problems with grieving. It was interesting to see how someone with a strong religious background thinks of grieving compared with someone, like me, who does not have one. I enjoyed the interview, and liked learning about the similarities and differences between my culture and Callie's.


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Written for Grief in a Family Context, HPER F317, Spring semester, 1997.
(C) 1997, Sandra Farley. All rights reserved. Interested parties may contact her through the course instructor, at gilbertk@indiana.edu.