This week, in addition to the Questions for Discussion, you will be given the initial information for a project that is due between the seventh and eighth units. So, be sure to check the link to the Cultural Interview Instructions at the bottom of the page. Also, we will be setting up a Conversation on Oncourse for discussion of any problems or concerns about doing the interview.
Rosenblatt, P. C. (1993). Cross-cultural variation in the experience, expression, and understanding of grief. In D. P. Irish, K. F. Lundquist, V. J. Nelsen, (Eds.) Ethnic variations in dying, death and grief: Diversity in universality (pp. 13-19), Wash. D. C.: Taylor & Francis.
Shapiro, E. R. (1996). Family bereavement and cultural diversity: A social developmental perspective. Family Process, 35, 313-332.
In the Preliminaries section, I asked you to think about what culture means to you. It's only fair for me to do the same, as I will be writing this lecture from my own perspective. I see culture something that binds a group together and is seen, at minimum, in the beliefs, attitudes, standards, behaviors, language, traditions, rituals, artifacts and arts that are associated with some group. That group may be quite large or small and, depending on the level at which you start defining a cultural group, I also see subcultural groups, with distinctive and unique variations on the broader cultural themes. A cultural group may be identified by religion, race and/or ethnicity; it may also be defined by age grouping, generation, class, gender, professional association, sexual orientation, and so on.
Being a member of a distinct culture or subculture provides a sense of membership as well as a structure (or philosophy) within which to contextualize one's lived experiences. One of the ways in which we study the relationship between culture and loss is through mourning customs. Here, the term "mourning" is not used, as psychologists often do, as synonymous with grief. Instead, it refers to the public, socially constrained, behavioral response to a loss which incorporates death ritual activities.
When I was preparing this unit, I struggled with the way in which I would present it. I could put forward a "laundry list" of characteristics of different cultures. I feared that, because of the limitations of this medium, the lists of characteristics of the groups I chose to focus on would reflect my own sense of cultural differences (then, viewing that from the perspective of a 54 year old, married, middle-class, university professor living in a rural college town in the midwestern US, a third generation American of Slovak descent, with an urban, blue-collar, Catholic background), I would run the risk of doing exactly what concerns me about much of what I've seen written in text books in this regard. I could reify stereotypes of these groups and limit your understanding of cultural groups other than your own. Additionally, although there are normative characteristics of particular groups, individuals and families in those groups will have some characteristics that are unique to them. As an alternative, I've compiled a list of multicultural resources for this unit and have put together a short list of published resources at the end of this unit that address cultural issues and look at particular cultural groups.
Because there is so much that can be learned from reading the assigned readings and from the multicultural links, I decided to keep this lecture fairly short and to refer to points I found to be especially significant in the readings. You may also want, on Oncourse, to bring up points that you found significant, but that I didn't mention.
We look at life through our own cultural lens and this lens has the potential of distorting what we observe. We may be able to adjust the focus to a degree, but we can not completely "regrind" or replace the lens. Keep this in mind as you explore the links provided to Web resources. As you look at these resources, I encourage you to look at both differences with and commonalities to your own cultural context of grief.
The concept of living systems models, addressed in Unit 2, can be used to understand the influence of culture on families and family members as they grieve a loss. A culture is comprised of component parts that, together, become greater than the sum of their parts. A culture also evolves and changes over time as members of the cultural group are exposed to new information and experiences within their community as well as to aspects of other cultural groups. Individual families and their members will also vary in response to broader cultural themes, because of their unique experiences. In a sense, the family acts as one of the lenses through which we view the broader culture, and influences our specific response to cultural influences.
The varied beliefs and practices used by cultural groups to cope with death have common, underlying themes that extend across cultures. Kagawa-Singer (FYI, we will read this in a few weeks--we'll just refer to it here) described integration and function as the warp and woof of all cultures. Regardless of the particular cultural practices related to grief and mourning, they serve a functional purpose (i.e., the business of "getting things done") and to promote the integrity of the group. In Grief as a Family Process, Shapiro (1994) discussed the utility of cultural practices (e.g., rituals) as a means of helping families as they cope with a loss. This would help the family to move through the tasks they need to accomplish in order to successfully deal with the loss (e.g., recognition of the loss, reorganization and reintegration of the family, discussed in Unit 2). The funeral ritual serves the purpose of recognizing the loss, affirming the continuity of family, the altered relationship with the deceased (sometimes continuing, sometimes not--depending on the culture), and the closure on a past life. Yet, in clinical practice and social science research, one often sees a Western bias in that which is "normal," healthy, and appropriate grieving. The reading by Rosenblatt encourages sensitivity to cultural variations in the response to loss, including the idea that the concept of grief might be alien in some cultures.
Shapiro (1994) writes about the goodness of fit between the broader culture and the individual family. She notes, "In the dominant North American culture, which emphasizes the centrality of the isolated individual; minimizes the importance of spiritual, as compared to scientific, explanations; and stresses the value of 'letting go' and 'moving on,' social sanctions are likely to pressure the bereaved into reentering the flow of ordinary life long before (the bereaved) feel psychologically ready" (p. 221). This concern is echoed in the reading by Koenig and Gates-Williams. I wonder about the goodness of fit between an industrialized society that needs its "component parts" to be back in working order quickly and the need of the bereaved person to work through the varied tasks of grief. Are other cultures better at providing support after a loss? One curious question also comes to mind: Might it be better, easier, possibly emotionally safer to live in a society in which there is less exposure to alternative cultural views?
Many of you are or will be active in the helping professions, which also have developed as unique subcultures within the broader cultural context. These subcultures can be at odds with the needs of the bereaved, particularly of culturally appropriate grief is seen as evidence of pathology. In his article on small-scale cultures, Rosenblatt addresses this nicely. Culturally appropriate grief may range from muted through quite dramatic displays. Grief may be expressed through somatization or in psychological or emotional ways. In the US, the tendency is to view grief through a scientific lens, with spiritual aspects ignored or viewed with suspicion. I wonder how a therapist, living in a Western, industrialized society, trained to recognize "continuing hallucinations of the deceased's presence" as evidence of pathology would respond to a father who describes vivid, ongoing dream visits from his long-deceased son.
Members of the health care profession also may face a conflict between the needs of a person facing death and her/his family and the pressures they feel from their professional subculture. Kagawa-Singer describes the culture of hospitals in this way: "In the hospital, the human experience of dying is decontextualized from cultural tradition, lineage, and accepted dogma for death is antithetical to the mission of health care"(p.102). Her view is of the mission of health care conflicting with the needs of dying patients and their families. This results in a clash between the spiritual and the technical, the personal and the impersonal, the subjectivity of the cared for and the objectification by the caregiver. An alternative model, increasingly used, is that of the hospice. In this model, the family often is seen as the care unit and the approach is more closely tied to the spiritual, personal and subjective.
Post your response to the following questions on the Class Discussion..
Irish, D. P., Lundquist, K. F., & Nelson, V. J. (Eds.). (1993). Ethnic variations in dying, death, and grief : diversity in universality. Washington, DC : Taylor & Francis.
Johnson, C. J. & McGee, M. G. (1991). How different religions view death and afterlife. Philadelphia, PA: The Charles Press.
Kapp, M. B. (1993). Living and dying in the Jewish way: Secular rights and religious duties. Death Studies, 17, 267-276.
Kleinman, A. (1985). Culture and depression. Berkeley: University of California Press.
McGoldrick, M., Almeida, R., Hines, P. M., Rosen, E., Garcia-Preto, N., & Lee, E. (1991). Mourning in different cultures. In F. Walsh & M. McGoldrick, (Eds.), Living beyond loss: Death in the family. New York: W. W. Norton & Co.
Shapiro, E. (1994). Grief as a family process. New York: Guilford Press. Stroebe, M., Gergen, M. M., Gergen, K. J., & Stroebe, W. (1992). Broken hearts or broken bonds. Love and death in historical perspective, American Psychologist, 1205-1212.
Wieland, D. (Ed.) (1994). Cultural diversity and geriatric care : Challenges to the health professions. New York : Haworth Press.
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