Cultural Interview with "Kathy"
By
Wei Tu

 Kathy (not the real name) is the second generation of Malaysian Chinese. She is in the upper middle class family with the religion of Taoism. She is the graduate student of IU. Her families still live in Malaysia.

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

Kathy told me that they need to wear the special attire which is gunny-made robe to commemorate a death of parents.  The reason of wearing gunny-made robe within the funeral is because the bereaved can't wear good quality clothes within the mourning period. As one's parents or husband die, the bereaved can't have the makeup because he/she needs to mourn within the rituals. Before carrying the coffin to the burial place, it is mourning period. Within the mourning period, the bereaved can't go to work, eat at restaurant. (Actually, people of restaurant don't want the bereaved to come in because there is a dead person in your house and that means bad luck.) Generally, there are three days of official mourning. During these three days, the bereaved needs to stay besides the coffin most of the time. (Most people won't sleep during these three days because they believe that the dead person's soul is still around within these three days.)

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

Kathy told me that family presence is important at the moment people die. As people die, it is better if his/her family stay besides him/her. In traditional concept, accidental dead is not good because family members are not around the dead people. There is an old saying that if the person die accidentally outside the home, as the time the dead body was sent back to his/her home, the dead body will bleed from "seven holes". (Seven holes
mean 2eyes, 2ears, 2 nostrils, and mouth.) They also believe that keeping whole body is important as people die. The reason to have family staying with the dead at the last minute is that the dead people can have better
reincarnation. Kathy also told me that in the case of the long-term sickness, they believe that death can terminate the sick person's pain and mental trauma.

3.What about beliefs that could add to the pain of loss?

Kathy told me that the incidental death of the youth could add to the pain of loss because the youth is not ready to go. (They are too young.) And the death of young people preceding the old people will also add to the pain of loss, like the children die before their parents. There is a traditional regulation in Kathy's culture that parents can't go to the funeral of their deceased son/daughter. People think that the deceased son/daughter can't show filial for their parents as they die. If parents go to the funeral of their children, they will be very upset and painful.
It will increase the deceased children's guilty for not showing filial for parents and make parents feel painful.
Dismembered body of death will also add to the pain of loss. In Kathy's culture, people believe that the whole body in death is very important because it will be better for the reincarnation.  Like in the question 2, the presence of family members at the time of people die is very important. Kathy told me that if the deceased has no family or friends present at the time of death, it will also add to the pain of loss.

4.What are your beliefs about life after death?

In Kathy's culture, people believe that the dead people will get into the cycle of reincarnation. They believe in the possibility of life after the death. They also have the concept of heave and hell. Good people will have happy life in the heave and bad people will have painful life in the hell. Good people will have better reincarnation in the next life and bad people will have worse reincarnation in the next life.

5.How would you define healthy and unhealthy grief?

Kathy thinks that the healthy grief means the bereaved has the ability to cry and mourn over loss in a certain or reasonable period time. And the person is able to let the loss go, go on with in his/her own life, and yet remember the good times with the deceased. The unhealthy grief means the bereaved refuse to accept the reality. Or the bereaved refuse to grieve, cry out, and talk about the event or about the deceased.

6.What is the relationship between your private grief and your public mourning?

In Kathy's culture, public mourning can be construed as being casual, at times even celebrative. It is like a reunion for family members from far and near to catch up on news, etc.  Kathy told me that there is some amount of public crying (shedding of tears), but usually only on the first day of mourning. Private grief is usually concealed by the individual. It is of good taste to grief publicly in front of close family members. Most times,  private grief takes place in the privacy of one's room, when one is alone. Private grief can also last for a longer period of time -- when memories of the deceased are evoked --even after a long period of time.

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

Personally, Kathy thinks that group support is good, especially if it is a case of unhealthy grief. However, group support is not common in her culture, and would come only from close friends and family members (not strangers or professional therapists, for example). It is not popular to seek for help to strangers or therapists in Kathy's culture as people grieve unhealthily.
 


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Written for Grief in a Family Context, HPER F460, Summer, 1998. 
(C) 1998, Wei Tu. All rights reserved. Interested parties may contact her through the course instructor, at gilbertk@indiana.edu.