An Interview with Kim

By:
Jennifer Sweazy

 

Kim is a white, middle-class female in her forties and is the eldest of five children, she has 3 sisters and 1 brother. She has lived in Indianapolis her entire life and her ethnic background is Irish and German. The main reason I chose to interview Kim is because she was raised fundamentalist Baptist and is now a Unitarian. She described her choice to become Unitarian as a process that she started when she was a young adult. Her sisters are still fundamentalist Baptist and her brother is Methodist. Unitarian is a very different religion than fundamentalist Baptist and that has created a vast and varied amount of differences between the way she and her family grief and think about death.

 

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

In coming from a fundamentalist Baptist background, Kim stated the visitation and viewing are very important functions associated with a funeral. A lot of attention is paid to the visitation and viewing; thus, it is centered around a convenient time for everyone to be able to attend. A lot of emphasis is paid on the body and it is important to have an open casket, if possible. It is also very important to send flowers or a donation to commemorate the person who has deceased. According to Kim, she compared this event to a ‘social function’ or a ‘shower’ and the closest relative to the deceased serves as a ‘hostess ‘ of the event. In the case of her grandfather’s death, her grandmother greeted everyone that came to the viewing and took them up to the casket to view Kim’s grandfather. In keeping with her ‘hostess’ role, her grandmother also took the responsibility to help others who were having a difficult time coping with the death. In keeping with the tradition of a ‘shower’, Kim mentioned that it is also important to send thank-you notes to those who sent flowers, made a donation or gave food to the family of the deceased.

Another important tradition for someone from a fundamentalist Baptist background is to have the funeral at a church instead of having it at a funeral home. In the funeral there is a lot of scripture and prayer that is recited. Also, during the funeral, there is a sermon that both challenges the survivors and commemorates the person who has died. During the service a lot of discussion is focused on the idea that the remains of the deceased are just an earthly shell. Kim was 9 when her grandfather died and she distinctly remembers her grandmother telling her "grandpa is in heaven; that is just his shell". The sermon also speaks of the person ‘being with God’ and how this is a better place. For Kim’s family, this serves as a great source of comfort during a very difficult time.

 

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

Kim answered this question from her family’s perspective and from her own.

Her family, being fundamentalist Baptist, believes that if a person is saved they have "gone on to glory". In other words, her family finds comfort in the fact that if the person was saved then that person will join God in heaven. Her family firmly believes that by living according to God’s word and evangelizing to others brings them great comfort during a time of loss.

For Kim, being a Unitarian has given her a different set of beliefs than those held by her family. According to Kim, "What brings me comfort is knowing that the deceased is a part of me and is still alive through me.".

 

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

Kim answered this from the perspective of her family. In her family’s eyes, if a person is not saved then that person will be condemned to an eternity in hell. This belief could prove very traumatic if someone close to one of her family member’s died who, in their eyes, was not saved. Kim really believes that this belief can significantly increase the pain of loss for members of her family.

 

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

Kim said that she really doesn’t know about life after death that she is not sure if she believes there is life after death. She would like to believe that there is a heaven but she is really not sure. As for hell, Kim has a hard time believing that a loving God would condemn people to hell. When asked about what effect does the idea of people going to heaven once they die have on her, she stated that the notion of people going to heaven once the die is comforting to her family but not necessarily to her.

 

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

Kim defined healthy grief as being sad but being able to incorporate the sadness into your daily life. She went on to mention that healthy grief, to her, includes not obsessing about the loss over an extended period of time.

As for unhealthy grief, Kim feels that grief is unhealthy when it affects one or all of the following: health, relationships or work. Also, she feels that grief becomes unhealthy when it extends over a long period of time or when the person can not move on to the future and keeps looking back to the past.

 

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

Kim stated that her private grief includes using her own remembrances of the person who has died and also talking to friends. Talking to friends gives Kim a great sense of comfort and helps her cope with her grief.

In terms of public mourning, Kim states that for both her grandfather and father’s funeral she has used her family’s religion as a part of her public mourning. Since her family’s religion is so important to them she feels compelled to incorporate their practices, such as prayer, the church funeral and the open casket into her public mourning.

 

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

Kim feels that group support-in the formal sense i.e. a group counseling session-is not necessarily for everyone. She believes that some people, due to their cultural background, are not accustomed to sharing feelings and thus would not be comfortable in a group support type of grief counseling. For Kim, she indicated that informal group support, consisting of friends, family or coworkers, helps people the most. It is important for Kim to have someone present in her life who cares and that helps her to feel less lonely during a time of grief.


Return to Cultural Interviews
Written for Grief in a Family Context, HPER F460, Summer, 1999.
(C) 1999, Jennifer Sweazy. All rights reserved. Interested parties may contact her through the course instructor, at gilbertk@indiana.edu.