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  • Bhagyasri Savyell

3 Ways of Dealing with Grief and Loss in a South Asian Context

Grief is a natural response to loss. It’s an emotional suffering and a struggle when we lose something and that can include divorce, break ups, loss of health, losing a job, retirement, loss of a cherished dream, loss of a friendship, loss of home and so much more. Grief caused by the death of a loved one often leads to an intense pain. This pain is coped with and manifests in different ways, however, in the South Asian community, there are some norms that guide how we express and experience grief.

The room was packed with women. I managed to find some space to stand at the foot of the bed, close enough to see her. She was lying on the bed with her head resting on an older woman's lap, weeping incessantly, screaming out her son’s name, having a monologue with God demanding to know why he had taken her child away!

Seema was an acquaintance and seeing her in so much pain wasn’t easy on me nor the other women present in the room. Losing a teenage son to an accident is unfathomable. It was heartening to see the warmth and concern the women showed towards her. However, in a bid to comfort her and instil hope, the advice that some women were giving her bothered me. Since Seema was still in her mid-30s, some women strongly urged her to consider having another child so that her dead son would return back in the form of a newborn.

I have known grieving parents to take a decision of having another child in order to cope with the loss, but it is a big decision that has to be made taking into consideration all the other factors at play. It can’t be made at a whim and especially not at the cost of a belief that has no scientific evidence. Suggesting it when the parent's wounds are raw and bleeding is highly inappropriate.

Losing someone to death is a profound loss which is life altering and it takes time and effort to deal with a change that is permanent. There cannot be quick fixes to the problem. The path to healing cannot be cut short.

Death is certain and all of us experience the loss of someone close at least once in our lifetime. These are truths of life that our culture recognizes, and there are rituals and practices that aid coping and healing. All religions allow one to be completely vulnerable. Crying, wailing in public and talking about the one who has moved on is accepted as normal and one is encouraged to be participative in these rituals.

But when someone close to the dead isn’t grieving in a way that is considered ‘normal’ (for e.g. if someone isn’t weeping, they are actively or passively coerced into crying), they are judged for not mourning in a way that’s familiar to them.

Everyone grieves differently, there is no one method or right or wrong when it comes to grieving and the process isn’t linear. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ popular “Five Stages of Grief” talks about denial, fear, anger, depression and acceptance. The order in which one experiences these stages may vary from person to person depending on the intensity, the extent of loss and other factors. Sometimes the stages may overlap, some individuals may not experience certain stages and sometimes individuals may go in and out of stages repeatedly.

A client of mine lost their father 4 years ago, and they were 14 years of age then. They have flashbacks of their father, it is evident that the loss has been traumatic for them. However, as an 18 year old, they believe that the pain of losing their father isn’t something they can share with either their mother or their siblings. Being the eldest, they believe they have to behave like an adult and be the strong one. They talk about how no one utters a word about the loss and all of them put on an act of normalcy.

This is the normative way of dealing with grief in many families. After the relatives and friends have left, other stark realities of death and its dimensions start becoming evident. Each individual struggles through the pain alone, like islands floating in a sea of emotions. It is important to understand that being vulnerable in front of family members is acceptable, it makes space for acknowledgement and acceptance of the loss and the pain. It allows you to share your pain and heal together.

Either individually or as a family a few rituals proposed by Dr. Kenneth Doka can be practiced:

  1. Rituals of Continuity – are rituals that will continue to remind you and establish that the loved one is still connected with you and is a part of you. Listening to songs they liked ,watching movies ,cooking some favourite dish of theirs ,going through pictures, lighting candles in their memory are some ways of feeling closer to them.

  2. Rituals of Transition – This type of rituals such as cleaning out the room of the loved one or donating their belongings, creating something out of their belongings etc. makes you prepared to move on to the next stage .

  3. Rituals of Affirmation – is having rituals where one can either choose to talk or write about feelings of regret, guilt, loneliness, sadness or gratitude for the loved one.

Acceptance, the ability to be vulnerable and share your feelings and focussing on self-care are rudiments of a healthy grieving process. Not everyone who is grieving needs professional help, however, if you feel you are struggling through it, please seek help.

If you or someone you know is struggling to cope with a loss, do get in touch with a psycho-therapist, and ensure that they know they are not alone and there is professional help they can seek.


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