Monday, February 08, 2010

Poverty and the Alternative Uses of Shopping Carts

This is an article I wrote for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives as a part of my Social Work Field Placement.

Last summer, Gabrielle Giroday wrote an article for the Winnipeg Free Press called "Stores can't stop carts vanishing: Shoppers wheeling thousands away." This article raised concerns about shopping carts being removed from store property to be used for other purposes. Giroday's article inspired me to look more closely at the way shopping carts are used in my community as a way for low-income people to accomplish daily tasks.

In my North End neighbourhood, shopping carts are often used as moving trucks. This is true in many neighbourhoods where low-cost housing is becoming increasingly scarce, forcing families to move more often. Poor families on the move cannot afford the price of a moving truck and often they do not have family or friends with vehicles.

Another example of alternative uses of shopping carts is their use as means to transport laundry to the laundromat. While most of us take our access to on-site laundry facilities for granted, there are many low-income families who are forced to regularly lug garbage bags full of laundry, often with kids in tow, to facilities far from home. Using a shopping cart to make this daunting task somewhat more manageable is not unreasonable.

Another way I've seen shopping carts used in my neighbourhood is as a wheelchair or as a walker. Elderly people and those with physical disabilities are transported via shopping cart. Transportation is an ongoing issue for many people trying to survive on low incomes. Bus fare can be prohibitive to some and walking a long way is difficult, but often necessary. Handi-Transit is an option for some but users must book in advance, making it impossible to utilize for emergencies or spontaneous outings.

In desperation a shopping cart is a good option
The shopping cart as emergency transportation to hospital is also not uncommon. The cost of an ambulance is approximately $300 per use. For many without specific coverage, this cost is not affordable. In desperation, a shopping cart is a good option.

Using a shopping cart to collect recyclable items is also not an unusual sight. In my back alley there is a whole network of recycling that operates outside of the city's services. My neighbours and I know that if we are getting rid of something useful, we can put it next to the garbage bin and it will often be gone within hours (I've found much of my furniture this way). People with shopping carts do regular routes around our alleys looking for useful items for personal use or to sell. Metal items are particularly valued as they can be traded for cash at the scrap yard.

John Graham, Safeway spokesperson, says that the majority of carts go missing from high pedestrian areas with large senior populations. Grant Park Shopping Centre's Safeway is the site where the most carts go missing each year. In this case, seniors are using the carts to transport groceries to their apartments along Grant Avenue. For seniors who are often on a fixed income, and others who do not have vehicles, shopping carts enable them to save money. They avoid the cost of delivery charges or of having to take a taxi. Use of a shopping cart can allow low-income shoppers to purchase larger quantities, something that is difficult to do without transportation. This can be an important cost saving strategy for people on fixed incomes.

While some of the issues often raised about shopping cart use may be true, some grocery stores acknowledge that many carts are being taken by paying customers who return to contribute to the business from which they 'borrow.'

For others, their creative use of carts shows us how resourceful people can be in the face of major challenges. People living on low-incomes are sometimes forced to be resourceful in ways that might not be considered socially acceptable; 'it is, after all, illegal.' But our desire to vilify those breaking the law, no matter what the reason, can serve as a front for a deeper sense of discomfort at the evidence of our society's failure to allow access to all. The reasons for breaking the law, when it comes to alternative shopping cart use, are all very rational. People are just trying to survive where there are few other alternatives. In my neighbourhood, there is one grocery store (many high-priced convenience stores, but only one grocery store) between McPhillips Street and Main Street. This is not an issue for those with vehicles, but the walk between stores is at least 45 minutes for a young, healthy, able-bodied individual who is unencumbered with groceries. Overall, services necessary for survival in inner-city neighbourhoods, where mobility and transportation are often the biggest issues, are few and far between.

Understanding why people use shopping carts for purposes other than what is intended, might prevent us from vilifying and seeking to punish everyone who takes a cart off the premises of a grocery store. For example, the shopping cart as a storage facility used by street-involved individuals is the stereotypical image that often comes to mind when we think about the 'misuse' of shopping carts. These individuals, often suffering from mental illness, shuffle along with a cart full of every possession they own. They are a reminder of how society is failing to adequately respond to those in dire need.

Deeper understanding of issues can only lead to more effective solutions in the long term. We need solutions that go beyond fines, (which, given the reason people take carts, would only serve to compound the problem) and appreciate the innovation of the citizens of Winnipeg who are working hard to survive with very little income.

By Joy EIdse

Tuesday, March 31, 2009


Hi All,
I've been involved in a group through the University of Manitoba called the Centre for Anti Oppression Studies and we are putting on the second workshop in a series.

THe first was last fall called "Becoming an Ally" for individuals in the helping professions (or ministry) that work with people from minority people groups.

On May 8th, we are having the second workshop called: " Impact of Power and Privilege-Understanding Oppression" to look at the experience of people who are not "White" in this society as well as, acknowledging the privilege that being "white" brings in this society and how that privilege and power impacts our relationship with those we are trying to help and the way we help (or harm) because of it.

I would encourage anyone who is working with people from minority people groups to attend. THere are two speakers coming from the States as well as a panel made up of people from organizations and communities in Winnipeg. There will also be a small group discussion time.

Hi All,
I've been involved in a group through the University of Manitoba called the Centre for Anti Oppression Studies and we are putting on the second workshop in a series.

THe first was last fall called "Becoming an Ally" for individuals in the helping professions (or ministry) that work with people from minority people groups.

On May 8th, we are having the second workshop called: " Impact of Power and Privilege-Understanding Oppression" to look at the experience of people who are not "White" in this society as well as, acknowledging the privilege that being "white" brings in this society and how that privilege and power impacts our relationship with those we are trying to help and the way we help (or harm) because of it.

I would encourage anyone who is working with people from minority people groups to attend. THere are two speakers coming from the States as well as a panel made up of people from organizations and communities in Winnipeg. There will also be group discussion time.

I'm trying to post the poster but am having trouble with it, so here's the info:

May 8 from 9AM - 4:30PM at R.A. Steen Community Centre 980 Palmerston Ave.
Registration fee $50 lunch included. Subsidies available for students and low income.

Hope to see you there,

Hope to see you there,

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Kevin & Sadie's Birthday Photos

Click the link above to go to the Flickr Slideshow

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A paper on a book by Albert Memmi by Joy Eidse

In the preface to the book “The Colonizer and the Colonized,” Albert Memmi (1965) calls himself “a sort of half-breed of colonization, understanding everyone because I belong to no one” (p. xvi). Memmi lived in Tunisia, North Africa during the French colonial occupation which lasted from 1881-1956. He was a part of the black Jewish community. In terms of power structure, the colonialists, the French, were at the top. Memmi, not being a member of the colonial class was, in essence, a colonized person. He argues that he was not among the most oppressed groups of society, that position was relegated to the Muslims, but he, nevertheless, was definitely not a part of the ‘power elite.’ Memmi talks openly about the fact that he worked to assimilate to the French way of life, despite his distaste for their treatment of the people within the colonies, the colonized, he appreciated their culture. Memmi was an academic and many of his colleagues were French. In fact, Memmi eventually immigrated to France.
Despite Memmi’s disclaimers about how oppressed he was, or wasn’t, in comparison to other groups, within the colony, a reading of the chapters on the colonized, portray intense oppression, no matter how aligned with the colonizer the colonized person attempts to become. In the first chapter, Memmi explains how there can be no such thing as a ‘colonial’ as defined by history. His reason is that no matter what the intentions of the member of the colonizer, he will always be privileged due to his membership in the colonizer community and, most importantly, due to his skin color. This is demonstrated on a day-to-day basis, as Memmi (1965) describes:
Every act of his daily life places him in a relationship with the colonized, and with each act his fundamental advantage is demonstrated. If he is in trouble with the law, the police and even justice will be more lenient toward him. If he needs assistance from the government, it will not be difficult; red tape will be cut; a window will be reserved for him where there is a shorter line so he will have a shorter wait. Does he need a job? Must he take an examination for it? Jobs and positions will be reserved for him in advance; the tests will be given in his language, causing disqualifying difficulties for the colonized. (p. 11-12)

In contrast, with each privilege of the colonizer, the colonized person faces a disadvantage in kind.
The position of the colonized in this constant disadvantage is one of poverty and constant discrimination. Although Memmi was a scholar, and likely had a regular income, the stereotypes placed upon his people by the colonizer would have followed him everywhere. The idea that the colonized are lazy, no matter how hard they work, that they are not intelligent, not matter how much education they receive, must have weighed heavily on Memmi on a daily basis and affected him regularly. He tells of his fears that he would not be allowed to sit for the Philosophy examination as a young student, due to the fact that he was a member of the colonized.
Memmi describes the colonizer who tries to assimilate, seeing all the advantages of the colonizer and believing that, if only he would deny his own disadvantaged people and adopt the ways and beliefs of the colonizer, the privilege would also be his. Although this entire book is born of Memmi’s personal experiences, this seems to be the position that Memmi personally identified with. He continues to describe the journey of the colonized who tries to assimilate as one ending in rejection from the colonizer. No matter how much he rejects his own culture, language, religion, beliefs, and people, and tries to adopt that of the colonizer, he will never be accepted by them. In response to this rejection, he will turn back to his own people and culture and revolt against the colonizer.
I have rarely considered myself an oppressed person. I am white, heterosexual, married, born in Canada, have English as a first language, am from a Christian, middle classed family, I am able bodied and of sound mind. Recently, I have begun to recognize one area in which I have felt oppressed and that is as a woman. In the fundamental, Evangelical, Christian culture that I was raised in, women were to submit to men. God spoke to men and they, in turn, told women how to direct their lives. Women’s roles were delegated to producing and raising children and to running the household. Any other pursuits were considered hobbies, not to interfere with this primary role. In broader society I have felt the expectation that women are to be agreeable, pleasant, happy and outgoing. They are to care for society’s physical and emotional needs at the cost of their own. As an introvert, who tends to be a critical thinker, and more interested in philosophy than baking, this has caused me problems. In areas that I have been interested in, particularly as a musician, I have felt ostracized by men in the field who feel that a woman’s role in music should be limited to being a singer, backup singer, and/or a backup musician, but never as a technician or producer and rarely as a serious songwriter. Creative control is meant to belong to men. Often in my life, I have felt oppressed by reactions to my physical appearance. As a younger, single person, I felt objectified by men who showed very little interest in my personality and ideas and soon halted our friendship when it was clear that it was not to be physical. At the same time, I felt rejected by women who treated me as if I was arrogant and out to steal their men before knowing anything about me and have often had difficulty making female friends. Living as a woman is one area in which I have most consistently felt oppressed, in my life, and can most relate to Memmi.
For those who are not being oppressed, even if they are not actively seeking their own gain at the expense of others, they are gaining at the expense of others. In the quote given earlier, from the first chapter of the book, Memmi describes how the colonial cannot exist because he is inherently privileged in so many ways, by virtue of his skin color. Memmi spells out the day-to-day privileges of the colonizer, and, in doing so, effectively describes the condition of the colonizer as the antithesis of the privileged. This description served to provide me with a clear enough picture of the situation that I found myself, for the first time, able to begin to imagine both the position of the colonizer and the colonized within a colony. For every privilege the colonizer has, one has been usurped from the colonized. Memmi (1965) describes it this way:
If his living standards are high, it is because those of the colonized are low; if he can benefit from plentiful and undemanding labor and servants, it is because the colonized can be exploited at will and are not protected by the laws of the colony; if he can easily obtain administrative positions, it is because they are reserved for him and the colonized are excluded form them’ the more freely he breathes, the more the colonized are choked. (p. 8)
The colony is created to be a mini replica of the colonizer’s homeland rendering the colonized as aliens in their own homes. Not only is everything around unfamiliar to the colonized person, he is barred from entry and condemned to being considered less than the colonizer. It is essential for the colonized to believe that they are less or, at the very least, be constantly reminded of it in order for the colonizer to benefit from the exploitation of the colonized and their land. It is essential that the colonized remain distant in appearance and culture in order for the colonized to continue on in their charade of supremacy domination. The colonizers are there for economic gain and they must convince themselves that the colonized are less than they are in every way, in order to justify their exploitation.
In the colonial situation, racism is the key to justifying the exploitation of the colonized as well as the tool of the oppression of the colonized. It is used on both the personal and institutional level to ensure that the colonized person cannot rise above his or her social status.
The process that the colonizer who accepts goes through in order to justify the oppression and exploitation of the colonized people begins with the acceptance of the inherent power given to the colonizer by virtue of his skin color. Although he knows that he has not gained his position or power by his own virtue, instead of giving up his power, he accepts. This is partly due to the pressure of friends and family, partially due to the enjoyment of his position and privilege. Unfortunately, he cannot fully silence the guilt he feels over his ill-gotten gains and must some how justify it to himself and others. This is done by comparing his group of colonizers to those being colonized, stressing the differences and moralizing them in favor of the colonizer. Everything the colonized person does is inferior in some way to the colonizer, (Memmi cites the trait of ‘laziness’ as most often attributed to the colonized) therefore, they deserve the harsh treatment they receive. In time, he comes to believe that the differences are biological and starts to feel sorry for the colonized people and sees himself as a sort of benevolent, paternalistic figure, there to save them from themselves. The creation of charities for those suffering the results of colonization, allow the colonizer to feel that he is above reproach in his lifestyle and gains and leaves the colonized person to recognize that any opposition expressed, regarding the harsh treatment he receives, will never be heard by the colonizer.
As a result of these beliefs, nothing the colonized person does can be viewed in any other way, by the colonizer, than as inferior. In order for the colonizer to maintain his privilege, he must continue to believe that he is superior and that no colonized person deserves what he has, otherwise, the colony will fail. Within the colony, the colonized person will never have opportunity to rise above his or her social status.
Because the colonizer holds all positions of power and controls every institution of society, the colony is institutionally racist, politically, educationally, and legally. Memmi (1965) quotes a politician who says, “[t]hey are not capable of governing themselves…that is why …I don’t let them and never will let them enter the government” (p. 95). Memmi describes an educational system which consistently bars the colonized person from participation by excluding him from all content. It is conducted in the colonizer’s language, it teaches only the colonizer’s history and assumes the philosophy of the colonizer. The colonized child does not find himself anywhere in this education. At higher levels, the colonized is barred more and more by unmanageable fees and continual discouragement from pursuing higher education by educators and family members who need his immediate labour to help with survival. Legally, the attitude that all colonized people are inferior and lazy is supplemented with the assumption of moral inferiority. All along the continuum from police to judge, the assumption of guilt is there and the colonized person suffers for it. They will be first accused and first punished, despite any evidence to the contrary.
The result of this racism that permeates attitudes, policies and laws, is that the colonized person has been effectively subverted, not only from rising above his social status, but from participating in society and even from the motivation to participate or attempt to promote change. The colonized person has been removed from his history, removed from the present and removed from any foreseeable future. Psychologically, he begins to believe the colonizer about who the colonized person is, and eventually, begin to take on the very characteristics that the colonizer made up about him in the first place. He begins to feel unmotivated or “lazy” knowing that any effort on his part to better his situation will be thwarted. He begins to understand himself as an outsider within the colony and stops trying to imagine his potential role in it. In anger, frustration or out of sheer desperation, he may even begin to participate in illegal activities in order to survive both physically and psychologically. This hatred called racism has powerfully and effectively served as a weapon to destroy any chance of change for the colonized person.
Canada is not immune to the condition of Tunisia from 1881 up to 1956, while under French rule. We have been in this condition for 540 years with the English, European, Protestant majority in control of every aspect of society. The attitude towards those not of this class, in particular, the aboriginal people of Canada is very similar to the attitude of the French towards the Tunisians. All the same stereotypes are applied. All the same benefits are reaped from the oppression of Aboriginal people. Aboriginal people are excluded from society, not only because they rarely find themselves within it, society being a replica, in many ways of life in England, but also by overt exclusion. In education, Aboriginal languages are not spoken, Aboriginal philosophy and perspective is rarely considered and Aboriginal knowledge is looked down upon as inferior. In politics, there is little room for Aboriginal involvement. Too often they are portrayed as an outside special interest group begging for handouts from a benevolent government who just keeps on giving despite what is seen as “self perpetuating poverty and social issues.” In the legal system, aboriginal people make up 70% of prison population despite their small numbers in society. Somehow, the rest of Canadians are blind to this blatant institutionalized racism and oppression. Likely, the benefits gained from this oppression outweigh the guilt that might be felt from it. Also, after 540 years, there is genuine ignorance about the origins of the problems facing aboriginal people and our country is large enough to be able to hide much of these issues in remote areas that are rarely encountered by the majority of Canadians.
One area that could be changed in society is the area of education. Incorporating a comprehensive curriculum on the history, culture, and current situation of Aboriginal people from Kindergarten on up and giving the option of Aboriginal language instruction from the earliest years right through to university would be a start. Educating older Canadians through the media by covering more variety of stories concerning Aboriginal people, not merely stories about crimes or corruption in leadership, but stories about innovations in Aboriginal communities both on and off reserves and giving historical context when covering stories about social issues. Documentaries about the history of Aboriginal people and continued integration of Aboriginal art, stories and culture into mainstream media. I also think that Aboriginal people should be given autonomy in the area of education and be allowed to design their own curriculum and run their own schools both on and off reserve with government funding. These schools could function as private school, in that non-Aboriginal students wishing to attend could pay a fee to receive a distinctly Aboriginal education.
In the area of the Justice system, Aboriginal people should be given the same kind of autonomy I suggested for the education system, with full financial support from the government. A system based on the traditional principles of restorative justice and consequences for crimes in accordance to the discretion of Aboriginal people. Whatever it takes to regain these principles and ideas and implement them, should receive full government support.
Another area that I think should be changed in Canada is the area of self-identification. I think the government needs to allow aboriginal people the right to define who is and who is not aboriginal and award the rights and benefits currently afforded only to “treaty Indians” to all those who identify as Aboriginal. I am in full support of self-government for Aboriginal people and believe that the Canadian government needs to do whatever it can to support this process.
Supporting Aboriginal autonomy can only benefit Canadian society. Memmi speaks about the complete disaster of colonization for both the colonizer and the colonized and how the only solution is to end it entirely. I believe that that is the only solution for Canada and the Aboriginal people of the world.
Memmi speaks about revolt. In Tunisia, this actually meant an all out war where the French were forced to leave. In Canada, revolt takes on a different form. The non-Aboriginal people cannot, at this point, be forced out by the Aboriginal people, nor will they leave willingly. The picture of revolt has something to do with the personal process of decolonization in the lives of each Aboriginal person as well as the personal process of letting go of power by those in power, in order to make room for equality among all Canadians. And since, as Memmi suggests, each member of the colonizer has some form of power over those being colonized, this process of ‘letting go’ falls to every majority member of Canadian society. Letting go of racist ideas, letting go of the belief that ones own privilege is inherently deserved and letting go of resentment for every step of emancipation achieved by Aboriginal people that may cost “us” something. These are things that need to change in Canadian society in order for the condition of oppressed and marginalized people to be improved.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Rik @ Festival du Voyageur

Here's a video I just completed for my friend Rik and his band Tribe of One. They played at the 2008 Festival du Voyageur here in Winnipeg.

Monday, January 07, 2008

A New Cousin - Liam Eidse

Kenton & Heike had a baby boy yesterday. They named him Liam. Now Neko will have someone to boss.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Eidse Christmas Comic 'O7

Click on Pictures to see full-size.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

New Pics

Here are some new pics of our boys.

What Would Jesus Buy

Here's an Interview with Morgan Spurlock about his new movie What Would Jesus Buy.

Here's the trailer to the movie.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Thanksgiving Liturgy by Derek

I face the east and thank you for the children in our midst.
I thank you for their curiosity, their receptiveness and their journey towards belonging
I thank you for new life.
I face the east and thank your for the rising sun
I thank you for the energy it gives our minds, our spirits, and our bodies.
I face the east and thank you for Your Spirit
I thank you for the mystics and prophets in our midst
Who inspire us to seek out and hear Your voice
I face the east and thank You for those in the east
Who have taught us about discipline.

I face the south and thank you for the teenagers in our midst.
I thank you for their new ways of thinking, their challenging of power, and their journey towards identity.
I face the south and thank you for the earth and soil
I thank you for it's ability to sustain us and meet our needs.
I face the south and thank you for your love
I thank you for the lovers in our midst
Who inspire us to show compassion the broken.
I face the south and thank you for those in the south
Who have taught us about the power of the people.

I face the west and thank you for the adults in our midst.
I thank you for their stability, their service, and their journey towards wisdom
I face the west and thank you for the waters
I thank you for energy that comes from the waters to give us light in times of darkness.
I face the west and thank you for your hand in our lives
I thank you for the workers in our midst
Who inspire us to serve others and to get our hands dirty
I face the west and thank you for those in the west
Who have taught us about growth and innovation.

I face the north and thank you for the elders in our midst.
I thank you for their wisdom, their discernment, and their journey towards a good end.
I face the north and thank you for the wind.
I thank you for the warning of the cold days ahead.
I face the north and thank you for your teachings
I thank you for the thinkers in our midst
Who inspire us to understand you and your ways, and us and our ways.
I face the north and thank you for those in the north
Who have taught us about sustainability and the care of your creation.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

THe Dance of Sara Wiens

Hi Everyone,
I just wanted to invite you to my play, "The Dance of Sara Wiens" which is playing at Femfest '07 on October 21st and 27th at 7pm in the Colin Jackson Studio at Prairie Theatre Exchange on the 3rd floor of Portage Place Mall. Suggested donation of $8 but please come even if you can't afford that. Just a warning, if you come after 7pm they won't let you in.

Friday, July 27, 2007

A middle name

Neko Eidse is now officially Neko Sebastian Vaughn Eidse. Sebastian is from a Bruderhof story called Sebastian, Saint of the Slums in their book "Stories of the Sun.". Vaughn is a play on the Eidse family's original name which was VonEitsen.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Neko Eidse

Hello Everyone,
Here at long last is the official announcement that we (Derek and I) have had a son. Neko was born July 7, 2007 at 9:29pm in Winkler, Manitoba (it's a long story) weighing 8 lb 12 oz. We were out in Rosenort at Derek's parent's place for Derek's grandmother's funeral and then stayed an extra day because Derek was videotaping a wedding in the area. I figured I'd be able to give him a couple hours notice if labour started so he could call his assistant to come and replace him if need be and we could make the 45 min drive back to the city and have our home birth with our midwife. Things took off pretty quickly and Derek's parents ended up calling an ambulance, (Derek got to the house right behind the ambulance) and we drove in it to the nearest hospital which happened to be Winkler, where Derek was born. They couldn't get ahold of the on-call doctor so they took the doctor from ER until my midwife arrived (she was out at Folkfest but got the page and drove out to Winkler). She didn't have privilages at that hospital but there was no one else and the ER doctor had to go back to ER so she took over. All in all things went very well and we left the next day for home.
Neko is doing well and we are still pondering a middle name (we have 30 days to come up with one).

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

communicating grief

I know I've severely neglected this blog. I have been writing a lot, just not for this. So to make up for it, I'm posting my gigantic research paper on grief. That should cover a couple of months worth of writing. Enjoy. (Sorry the format is kind of messed up, paragraphs, etc.)

Communicating Grief


A woman gives birth to a stillborn baby. The nurses quickly take the baby and cover it up, whisking it out of the room before the mother has a chance to see it. When the mother asks for the baby the doctor says, “It’s better if you just forget all this and try for another one.” The doctor advises the husband not to talk about the baby once they are home but to quickly pack up the nursery and get on with trying again. The husband takes the wife home and, once she is settled into bed, discretely calls a few family members to tell them of the loss and asks them to inform others so that there will be no awkward questions. Over the next week, the woman is distraught and tries to talk to her husband about her feelings but he dutifully changes the subject and encourages her to look to the future. After several months, the woman does not seem to be any happier. The husband calls the doctor who prescribes anti-depressants. Eventually, the woman stops talking about the baby and manages to hide her grief from all those around her who might be disturbed by it. The husband does not seem to be affected by the loss but his drinks with the boys, after work, become more and more frequent, and, each night, he gets home later and later. Years pass, the couple have other children, and the children grow up. The first baby is never mentioned. The husband’s drinking reaches a crisis point and the couple divorce. One day, the church the woman has been attending, announces that there will be a memorial service for anyone who has lost children through miscarriage or stillbirth. The woman decides to attend and, 20 years after the loss of her child, finds that the grief is no less intense than it was 20 years before, as she finally releases it in the company of a caring community.

There is no right way to grieve. Grief is a unique process, as unique as each loss and as unique as each individual who faces it. Everyone, at one time or another, will face the loss of a loved one. Each society, throughout history, has had its own traditions, rituals, and ideas about how to deal with grief. Anglo-Canadian society, today, has many rituals and taboos surrounding grief. It is considered politically incorrect to judge another’s way of grieving, and yet, the messages given to the bereaved, ‘get over it,’ ‘move on,’ and ‘keep it private,’ are all too commonly heard by those who have experienced loss. These messages are reaping a rotten harvest of psychological trauma.
The expectation to keep grief private can only be accomplished by maintaining a state of denial with oneself and others about the impact of the loss on one’s life. Processing grief in today’s death-denying society often results in complications when society fears the expression of grief and calls it pathological. This paper will examine the history of our current attitudes towards grief, and look at the way current theories and therapists understand healthy grieving processes. This includes the concept of being completely honest with oneself about the impact of the loss as an important first step in combating the ‘death denial’ which is so prominent in today’s society. This paper will consider the prospect of moving beyond psychotherapy, currently one of the few safe places to express one’s grief, and examine the ways in which Western society can communicate grief to others outside of a therapy context. It will also look for alternative models that might be used to facilitate further communication, both indirect and direct, between the bereaved, his or her community, and society.
Although literature on grief and bereavement is plentiful, its focus is limited, primarily, to therapy within a client/counselor context. There is little information available within the field of grief and bereavement concerning the social context of grief and ways in which to communicate the grieving process more broadly. In order to examine possible models of communicating grief outside of a therapy context, it was necessary to look into other areas of study such as Restorative Justice and group trauma studies.
Conquering the fear and denial surrounding death can only occur when the bereaved are given permission by the rest of society to express their loss and its impact honestly, without fear of being ostracized or pathologized. Challenging the individualistic ideals that characterize the way people deal with strong emotions in Western society is crucial if attitudes towards grief are to change. Western society needs alternative models in which to express grief, in a broader social context, in order to break the silence and isolation currently surrounding grief. This change cannot rely solely on those who are grieving but needs to be prioritized by researchers, educators and practitioners.


The systematic study of death and dying began in 1959 with Feifel’s book The Meaning of Death. Rothaupt and Becker (2007) refer to Feifel’s analysis of Western attitudes towards death and mourning as being one of avoidance at all costs. Twenty-five years later, in 1977, Death Education (later called “Death Studies”) Vol.1 Issue 1, was published - an academic journal which focused on death and everything associated with it. Leviton (1977) proposed a list of goals for Death Education in the first issue. He offered that very first goal of Death Education should be, “[To] [g]ently remove the taboo aspect of death language so students can read and discourse upon death rationally without becoming anxious“ (p. 5).There is little evidence that the anxiety surrounding death has lessened significantly among the general public over the past 30 years. Western attitudes towards death and mourning weren’t always steeped in fear and denial. Packman, Horsley, Davies & Kramer (2006) cite Neimeyer in Devita-Raevunr’s article (2004), which describes a time when mourning was understood to be long-term. It was not uncommon, in that era, to see public displays of grief (such as wearing black) and to hear of individuals remaining cloistered for years and sometimes the remainder of his or her life following the loss of someone close. According to Neimeyer, the advent of the World Wars resulted in millions of deaths and “…almost overnight there was a new posture toward loss. It became a patriotic duty to repress one’s grieving, and to distance oneself from it. This model of self-constraint, rather than self-expression, became the approved way of reacting to loss” (p. 818).
A study done in England in 2000, examined old people’s attitudes towards death. Field documented responses of the elderly to questionnaires about death and noted that, “Despite the many graphic accounts of deaths encountered or experienced in the second World War, the way in which these correspondents seem to have responded was to ‘detach themselves’ from these occurrences” (p. 284). Field surmises that “…the experience of large-scale violent deaths during the second World War, in the first half of the twentieth century, significantly affected attitudes towards death among the populations of those countries involved” (p. 286). The survivors of the World Wars passed their stance of emotional detachment towards death and mourning onto their children who, in turn, passed them on to their children. The ‘don’t talk, don’t feel’ dictum resulted in the anxiety surrounding the taboo topic of death described by Leviton in the 1977 issue of Death Education.
It was during the time of the two World Wars that psychotherapy began to establish, what it considered, healthy models of grief and mourning. These models were based on what was considered normal in society at that time. Rothaupt and Becker (2007) look at the various models of grief developed at that time, beginning with Freud. Freud’s model of grief involved a process of relinquishing bonds with the deceased with the goal of helping the bereaved detach themselves, emotionally, from the deceased (p. 7). This concept of emotional detachment and relinquishing bonds is still generally thought to be a normal and adaptive response to grief by many in general society. Current studies on death and grief are not exempt from these attitudes. Davis, quoted by Becker (2004) claims that “Most studies published in United States journals reflect the Anglo American cultural perspective [individualistic stoicism] including the new models” (p. 11). Mc Bride and Simms (2001) warn those in the helping professions, who work with grieving families, to be aware of the influence of the ‘death-denying and death-defying’ context in which they live and work. “By failing to recognize this influence on the therapy process from the larger context of denial, the therapist can inadvertently miss the bereavement issues as the essential focus” (p. 60).
Although attitudes towards death and grief have not changed significantly among the general public since the two World Wars, evidence within the literature on bereavement, suggests that, at least at a research level, there has been some change in attitudes towards grief. Current research acknowledges the impact of death on our lives as an important part of the grieving process. This research is beginning to inform the practice of therapists who are now encouraging this self-honesty with their clients.

Literature Review

The need to acknowledge loss and its impact on one’s life, is present in much of the current literature on how to process grief effectively and avoid complications in grief. Acknowledging the loss and incorporating it into a new way of understanding one’s life, has been considered the goal of grief work by many theorists and therapists since the early 1980’s. Within the past couple of years, researchers have begun to explore other cultures’ ways of dealing with grief, specifically in the area of ‘continuing bonds,’(Neimeyer, Baldwin & Gillies 2006) but there has been limited research on how these alternative models might be effectively incorporated into Western society. The idea that it might be necessary to challenge the Western individualistic attitudes toward grief and its process is difficult to find in any of the literature that focuses on grief and bereavement. Beyond acknowledging the impact of loss within a therapeutic context, examining the way in which the bereaved communicate with society about their grief is limited to generalized studies of social norms surrounding grief practices (i.e. obituaries, graveyards, etc.). There is, however, some promise in the growing acceptance of group therapy and the research being done on group trauma studies, both of which examine more collective approaches to dealing with grief and trauma. In order to examine more direct and specific communication models, it was necessary to look at literature outside the field of grief and bereavement in areas such as Restorative Justice which looks at the expression of strong emotions within a broader community context.
It is generally agreed upon by modern theorists and therapists that honesty with one’s self about what has happened and how it has impacted one’s life is the first important step in a healthy grieving process. Professionals in many fields agree that this process is key in combating the damaging effects of denial. Being able to speak about what has happened is considered very helpful in any type of emotionally disturbing event, whether it be bereavement, (Barnes 2006; McBride & Simms 2001) victimization, (Umbreit, Bos, Coates & Lightfoot 2006) or trauma (Davison, Neale, Blanstein & Flett 2005; Zinner & Williams 1999).When talking is difficult, or there is no therapist involved, other forms of communication, such as writing letters to oneself, might be employed to provide a way to find meaning in the experience by externalizing internal dialogue (Rancour & Brauer 2003). Language, as a tool for expression, helps make the event more tangible, measurable and easier to grapple with than when the experience and its impact are left unspoken. Current literature on grief and bereavement encourages some type of articulation, regarding loss and it’s impact, as a part of the grieving process.
Once a person is able to fully acknowledge the impact of his or her loss, the next task is to try and find meaning in the experience in order to begin to integrate the event into his or her life narrative (Neimeyer, Baldwin & Gillies 2006; Barnes 2006). There has been much study on the use of rituals and symbols in that process as a means to connect a deeply emotional experience to one’s present life and to make those feelings more tangible (Sitterle & Gurwitch 1999; Castle & Phillips 2003; Barnes 2006; Dignan 2005; Witztum & Malkinson 1999). It has been found to be extremely helpful if individuals are able to find some way of conceptualizing the intense and very abstract experience of deep emotional disturbances through concrete symbols and rituals.
Research regarding the task of “weaving the loss into one’s life narrative” has led to an examination of the concept of “continuing bonds,” a practice found in many collectivist societies. This concept is in direct opposition to the classical theory of “relinquishing bonds,” originated by Freud. The theory of continuing bonds is taken from the study of cultures who do not cut off ties with the deceased but, instead, maintain attachment. This practice has gained popularity in the helping professions because it appears to line up with attachment theory, a psychological development theory which focuses on the way children connect with their parents at a young age. In attachment theory, if the attachment is secure, the child sees the parent as a ‘secure base’ from which he or she feels free to explore new things. It has been hypothesized that, in the same way a child is attached to a parent, individuals have an attachment to the deceased. If the individual is allowed to continue being securely attached to the deceased, by finding ways to connect with them, (for example through symbols, through communication with the deceased, by talking about them, etc.) then the deceased can offer a “secure base” from which the bereaved can begin to explore the new possibilities and relationships that the loss has provided (Neimeyer, Baldwin & Gillies 2006). Western theorists see this as a way of integrating a loss into the bereaved’s current life narrative. There is much controversy over the idea of ‘continuing bonds’ and research on this theory continues. One controversial aspect of the theory is regarding the fact that this way of processing grief has been essentially borrowed from other cultures and some research indicates that when a client living in Western culture is encouraged to continue bonds with the deceased, while the bereaved may find the practice initially comforting, their emotional health seemed to be worse in the long-term. Western society’s focus on “getting better” or “finding closure” makes the idea of continuing to talk about the deceased and finding ways of connecting with their memory, over a long period of time, seem unhealthy. The conclusion of many of the writers engaged in this, on-going, debate is that perhaps ‘continuing bonds’ is not culturally transferable and that theorists and therapists should be very cautious about encouraging such practices before further research is done regarding the outcomes on the emotional health of individuals who practice it (Stroebe & Schutt 2005; LaLande & Bonanno 2006). Only one article suggests looking beyond the individual’s process and examining the impact of broader aspects of society such as, community, culture and political narratives on those facing loss. (Klass 2006). All agree that the concept of continuing bonds needs further examining and research.
Research on the ways in which individuals in Western society communicate their grief, both directly and indirectly, with general society is limited. Some of the ways in which individuals communicate their loss directly, with general society, are through such generic means as obituaries, cemeteries and memorial services. There are also some references to the way a new, younger generation is finding to communicate their grief with the rest of society using symbolic expressions such as clothing and tattoos. (Field & Walter 2003; Ashenberg 2003; Leaf 2006; Rieck 2007).
Beyond the idea that individuals need to acknowledge their experience and its impact and find ways to express it, discussion about communication of loss with specific groups of people that make up the community of the bereaved, as a part of the grief process, is limited and often circles lead back into discussion about respecting an individual’s privacy and the uniqueness of each individual’s process (Barnes 2006). Involving others in individual’s grief is generally only considered acceptable within the context of homogenous support groups (Schneider 2006) or when a single tragedy affects a whole group of people, such as an airplane crash or natural disaster. Research on the way groups process trauma has found that groups go through a very similar grieving process to individuals. The decision of a community to acknowledge the event and its impact and then to integrate that into their lives and find some kind of meaning or purpose in it, is just as important to the healing of that community as it would be for an individual. The uniqueness of experiencing grief in a group context is that the group is able to provide support for its members, resulting in a greater appreciation for interdependence, and is more equipped to turn grief into meaningful action (Witztum & Malkinson 1998; Zinner & Williams 1998; Kalayjian 1998; Watts & Wilson 1998).
Models for involving one’s community in an emotionally intense experience, outside of a therapy context, is not present in Western bereavement and grief literature which is steeped in individualism. Finding models for directly communicating intense emotions with a specific community requires looking beyond Western theories and into the practices of more collectivist societies, such as historic aboriginal societies in which the practice of Restorative Justice originated. In Restorative Justice, the victim is given an opportunity to share what has happened to them and how they have been impacted by it with the person who hurt them and then sometimes, in a broader community context, with others who may have been affected by the crime either directly or indirectly. These broader contexts may be limited to members of the victim’s extended family or to others within their community. There are some controversies about how ‘community’ is defined and how decisions are made regarding what part of that community should be involved, within the Restorative Justice community. Nevertheless, this model has had centuries of practice where societies were able to resolve conflict and restore the balance that is disturbed when one member offends against another (Dignan 2005; LaPrairie 1998). A community that takes responsibility for recovering balance enforces a “strength’s perspective” among it’s members when people feel that they have the resources to work through their problems without pathologizing that process by relying solely on trained professionals for solutions (Umbreit, Vos, Coates & Lightfoot 2006). There is considerable evidence regarding the benefits of this more collectivist approach to processing intense emotions.
Overall, the literature on grief and bereavement focuses primarily on the process of helping individuals come to a place where they can acknowledge their loss and its impact on their life but is limited in its portrayal of the scope and context of that communication, restricting it to communication with self, therapists and possibly a homogenous support group. Communication between the bereaved and the rest of society is not addressed to any great extent. Examination of the larger social context of denial and the impact of Western society’s individualistic ideals on the bereaved is left virtually untouched.


The theories and therapies outlined in the majority of current literature on bereavement and grief agree that there is indeed a problem with the way we in Western society view grief and that this attitude is often detrimental to those who are grieving. The fact that theorists and therapists are encouraging acknowledgment of loss and it’s impact on one’s life demonstrates that attitudes towards death since the post World War era (a time when the impact of grief and loss were minimalized) are slowly evolving (Field 2000). However, each of us lives in a broader social context and, as liberating as honesty with oneself might be, it can feel stifling to have to hide this truth from others under the guise that ‘everything is fine,’ in order to protect others’ sensibilities surrounding the uncomfortable topic of human suffering. People need to communicate their grief beyond the context of therapy. There are many ways in which grief might be communicated: indirectly with general society, directly with general society and directly with specific groups of people who make up the individual’s community. In order to understand the ways that other societies have been able to communicate their grief, it is necessary to move beyond our individualistic ideals and begin to examine the possibility that cultures with more communal values may be able to inform a healthier process of communicating grief. Changing attitudes towards communicating grief with the rest of society must be preceded by a change in society’s tendency to deify individualism, especially in the area of strong emotions. This change cannot be dependent on those who are in the throes of grief, but needs to be initiated by researchers, educators, and practitioners. Acknowledging and expressing the impact of loss can only be truly liberating if one is able to express their feelings about the loss, wherever he or she is, and not have to guard against negative or fearful responses from the rest of society.
If we who are bereaved, or we who study or work with those who are bereaved, continue to support the culture of silence and denial surrounding grief, we will continue to perpetrate and reap the pain. A glance at the risk factors associated with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder sends a clear message about where we are heading if we continue on with in this context of denial and silence surrounding grief. The second Canadian Edition of Abnormal Psychology by Davison, Neale, Blankstein & Flett (2005) describes the risk factors associated with the development of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). One risk factor highlighted is the tendency to “Dissociate… (including depersonalization, de-realization…) at the time of the trauma…[and to] try to push memories of the trauma out of one’s mind” (p. 187). This description of the way in which an individual might respond to trauma, is found in an Abnormal Psychology textbook, not in a book describing Canadian cultural ways of dealing with grief. The practice of depersonalization and ‘pushing the memories out of one’s mind’ is considered maladaptive and can lead to psychological illness. Acknowledgement and expression of intense emotion is a key aspect of PTSD therapies.
Ashenburg (2002) describes how, historically, and in other cultures, dialogue between the bereaved and the rest of society was often indirect, in the form of symbols. In many cultures, specific symbols of grief were understood to indicate that a person was in mourning. Clothing has often been used to mark a person in grief. Black clothing in the Victorian era and armbands in the early post war era, were just two of the ways in which society recognized that a person was grieving. Today, we do not have such signposts but the act of wearing a symbolic marker of grief in public, whether fully understood by others or not, serves the bereaved by allowing self-expression and leaving the control of who and when to share the meaning of the symbol with. Barnes (2006), a grief counselor at the Women’s Hospital, says that individuals find it very affirming and comforting to have others ask them about their situation. Tattoos are one way that many people are utilizing as an indirect, public expression of their grief. Tattoo artist, Zara Leaf (personal communication 2006) claims that she sees clients on a regular basis who ask for tattoos in memory of people they’ve lost. The Rieck family (2007) all got tattoos after their son and brother died suddenly of cancer. Troy Rieck describes what his tattoo means for him:

The first tattoo I got after he died… was the little cross with a flame
beside it. It is the same symbol on his grave. …Our whole family has one similar. Mine is on my left wrist (inside visible if looking at the palm of my hand). I guess for me it is there because it is close to my veins – yes, I contemplated suicide after he died- and the tattoo covers my wrist. It is more that I thought of Joel as half of who I was. He was the more conservative one (out of the two of us), I was the trouble-maker. So him leaving made me feel like I lost half of who I was. …I think the saddest thing is that there are memories that I am going to forget. Some of my tattoos serve to assure that I keep some memories and wear them on my sleeve so to speak. (personal communication 2007)

Rieck has many tattoos symbolizing different events and ideas that are important to him and he claims that they have provided him with many opportunities to share about deep emotional experiences that would, otherwise, never be acknowledged.
Direct communication with general society about grief is usually limited to such venues as obituaries, eulogies, memorial services and memorials or grave inscriptions (Field & Walter 2003). These things may be useful, as one-time expressions, but are limited in their ability to provide a meaningful outlet for those who are grieving. The context of these kind of communications often occur very early on in the grieving process before the bereaved has time to fully process the extent of the impact of the loss. The stage of grief that many people are in, during this culturally appropriate time of emotional expression is, according to the Bowlby, Parkes (1970) & Kubler-Ross (1969) model, a time when many are feeling numb and are still in a state of denial about the death. For many, the death will have been unexpected and for others, because of the context of denial that we live in, even if the death was expected, it may have been difficult for the bereaved to fully acknowledge and process his or her feelings about the impending loss, prior to the actual death. In this early phase of bereavement, planning, articulating, and expressing one’s grief is very difficult to do because the bereaved are often in shock and not able to think clearly. Very often, prewritten, standardized services, eulogies or obituaries are provided by funeral homes and churches in an attempt to alleviate the strain of trying to plan such a deeply emotional event at a time when many people are still in shock over the loss. By the time the bereaved have begun to come to terms with the impact of the loss, the time allotted for personal expression and communication with the rest of society has passed and others expect them to have already “moved on.”
Direct communication with a specific group or community is limited within bereavement literature, primarily, to homogenous bereavement support groups. Support groups are probably the safest place in today’s society to express deep emotional pain because the members of the group will, at the very least, be familiar with the experience of the individual. Schneider (2006) quotes Lieberman and Yalom (1989) who describe the significance of a group in which one is able to share one’s grief with others who have had similar experiences:
Group participants often experience relief through intimate sharing, feeling accepted by a group, realizing that others share their dilemmas, developing new social skills, feeling useful to others, being inspired by others who have found ways of surviving, coping with and even growing from bereavement. (p. 261)

Support groups can be found to cover almost every significant emotional life struggle.
Acceptance surrounding the idea of sharing difficult experiences, as a beneficial process, seems to be growing but it is still limited to a very specific context. The function of support groups is extremely restricted. Support groups are often closed groups, made up of people who are strangers to each other. Their duration is often time-limited. Although the group may provide relief from isolation and silence, and even offer tools to help the individual cope with the ambivalence of others regarding their pain, they do not address or challenge general society’s reaction to those who have experienced loss.
In order to examine other models of direct communication about one’s grief with a specific community of people, it is necessary to look beyond the field of death and bereavement studies. The field of Restorative Justice provides a fascinating model for those who have experienced deep emotional trauma to communicate the impact of the trauma on his or her life with others. Restorative Justice, a victim-centered approach to crime, offers a variety of models in which the victim of a crime might communicate the impact of that the crime has had on them. The primary model is that of the victim-offender mediation where the victim of a crime is given the opportunity to share the impact of what has happened to him or her with the person who has harmed them. This may be done in person, through letters, or through a mediator. It may occur shortly after the offender was arrested and charged, as a part of the process in which decisions are made in relation to the appropriate consequence for the offender, or years later, as a part of the victim’s personal recovery process. As an example of incredible vulnerability on the part of the victim, it is mind-boggling to those who live and ascribe to the pain-avoidance, pain denial dictum of society that anyone would want to put his or her self in such an emotionally intense situation. Not only is the individual opening up and becoming vulnerable by sharing his or her response to a personal, traumatic, sometimes even physically harming offense, they are sharing it with the very person who has already shown a disregard for his or her well-being. The reasons victims have for desiring to engage in a dialogue with an offender are many and varied. Wemmers & Canotu (2002) report that victims find it important “…to tell the offender about the impact of the crime” (p. 14) and “…to release negative feelings” (p. 17). Further on in the report, Wemmers (2002) refers to Umbreit’s 1994 book on the results of victim offender-mediation. In his book, Umbreit acknowledges that not all victims find the experience satisfactory. He refers to the experience of “re-victimization” in this process, but indicates that dissatisfaction with the process was found to be primarily linked to inappropriate mediation and lack of follow-up, not to the actual experience of meeting with the offender. Umbreit’s research indicates significant positive changes in the emotional well being of a majority of the victims who chose to meet with their offender. He describes the victims as being less upset about the crime after the meeting and being less afraid of re-victimization. If the offender was unable or unwilling to acknowledge the impact of the event to his or herself or to anyone else, this process could never happen. Acknowledging the impact of a loss on one’s life, whether that loss occurred due to natural causes, accidental death, or intentional harm, is essential to being able to find meaning in the loss and incorporate it into one’s life narrative in a healthy way. Having opportunity to express the impact of loss with, at least, one other person who has shared a similar experience, even if it’s the expressions of anger (a crucial stage of grief, according to the Kuber-Ross model, as described by Becker (2007)) is significant to the healing process. The fear of expressing anger and what other reactions might be, hinders many from communicating their experience. As many victims who have been through the offender-mediation process will attest, the process can be surprisingly freeing.
Dignan (2005), author of Understanding Victims and Restorative Justice, refers to something called the “communitarian thesis” which is a political philosophy that falls intermediately between extreme collectivism and extreme individualism. He claims that:
The problem with victim-offender mediation, according to this perspective, is that by concentrating solely on the interpersonal relationships of victims and offenders it fails to take sufficiently into account the social and moral implications that crime has, not just for the victim, but also for the whole community. (p. 97)

This is the same problem faced by the bereaved in traditional psychotherapy atmospheres. Psychotherapy is an extremely individualistic approach and even family and group therapy does not respond adequately to the broader impact of loss on communities and extended families. In a report released by the Department of Justice, Canada (2002) Wemmers & Canuto cite Marshall’s definition of Restorative Justice as “…a process whereby all parties with a stake in a specific offense come together to resolve collectively how to deal with the aftermath of the offense and its implication for the future” (p. 7). Various models of family conferencing and group sentencing have been used historically throughout indigenous societies worldwide. In this model, the victim is joined by the extended family and other members of the community who may have been impacted by the crime. All who are present are given a chance to express the impact of the crime on them, with the goal of coming to some conclusion about how balance might be restored in that community or family. This model, though practiced in some communities today, is fraught with controversy. Dignan (2005) acknowledges that this aspect of Restorative Justice has yet to be fully addressed by Restorative Justice literature since this is a distinctly “communitarian” approach which flies in the face of Western individualism. Dignan lists some of the questions that arise from the community involvement aspect of Restorative Justice:
What is the meaning of ‘the community’’ and how is the concept to be understood in the absence of the kind of communities that exist in pre-modern societies?.. Assuming that the term ‘community’ can be satisfactorily defined, how might the concept be operationalized when deciding who, precisely, from ‘the community’ should participate in restorative justice [RJ] processes? (p. 99)

These questions are also relevant in the context of grief and bereavement when considering the idea of directly communicating grief with a specific community.
Whether one is addressing direct or indirect communication with general society or direct communication with a specific community, it is clear in the evaluation of current Western society’s attitudes towards grief and the review of the current theories and therapies available today for those who are grieving, that there needs to be a change in the individualistic attitudes surrounding grief and bereavement in society as a whole. The closest that the literature on bereavement and grief came to addressing the role of Western individualism and it’s impact on the bereaved was in the debate regarding the continuing bonds perspective. Klass (2006) addresses the problems of transplanting this practice into Western society by suggesting that the cultural context from which it has been borrowed needs to be examined more closely and broader differences between the cultures which practice continuing bonds and Western culture needs to be acknowledged. He suggests that perhaps Western culture, which is very individualistic and intrapsychic, is antithetical to the communal culture from which this practice is derived. Cultures that practice continuing bonds are often collective cultures and their practices may be related to cultural values such as passing on the family history to the next generation or maintaining connection with the rest of the community. Klass quotes Francis (2005) who observed and interviewed people from cultures that practice continuing bonds and visited the gravesite of deceased relatives regularly. One family said, “to be buried in a community cemetery makes me feel that we are with our own people; here where my parents are buried, there is a small part of Cyprus.” Another man Francis interviewed said, “After all, that’s what it’s all about, closeness; we are one blood. There is no separation between the dead and the living; we are all part of the [Greek] Orthodox community” (p. 853). The concept of community and sharing one’s grief collectively with one’s community is foreign to the Western perspective of individualism. In a sense, those families that Francis interviewed are not only communicating with the rest of their immediate community, when expressing their grief and loss through regular gravesite visitation, but they are communing with them, recognizing shared loss and connection with both the dead and living.
Those who are grieving may find ways to communicate their grief with others in ways that will serve to be therapeutic, but the onus should not be on the grieving to forge their own venues of expression. Society needs to shed its fear and denial and make room for grief to happen openly, as a part of normal life. The change in society’s attitudes can be fostered, by commencing with more research on collective cultural grieving practices in order to provide alternative models for therapist and others. Secondly, death education needs to be broadened and incorporated into the education system in the same way that sex education is. Death can be faced by people of all ages. Children also face loss and need to understand that it is a part of life and learn how to express its impact on them and how to support others who are dealing with grief. In the first issue of Death Education in 1977, Leviton lists some goals of death education which include:
Gently remov[ing] the taboo aspect of death language so students can read and discourse upon death rationally without becoming anxious…[and] educa[ing] children about death so they develop a minimum of death related anxieties. Anxieties are too often based upon irrationality and myth, rather than fact. (p. 44)

Death education needs to be incorporated into our school system, here in Canada. Along
with more research and education on grief, therapists should begin to offer clients examples of different ways to grieve, and help them to understand the social context of grief that they are living in as well as the potential benefits and consequences of expressing grief in diverse ways.
Opening a dialogue about grief between the bereaved and the rest of society is, at this point in history, a scary one to those who are feeling very vulnerable in their grief. The continued practice of respecting private grief and not challenging it is understandable in the current context of Western society’s negativity. Those who are grieving need to protect themselves from harmful feedback from others. Although those in the helping professions may be aware of the benefits of being open about one’s vulnerabilities, society is not ready for it and often respond negatively to those who express grief openly and so, therapists are hesitant to push their clients in that direction.
Over all, expression of grief needs to be normalized and society needs to make room for a much broader diversity of expression than what is currently considered appropriate.


In order to ensure a healthy psychological recovery to loss and trauma, it is essential that society learns to accept strong emotions in response to loss as healthy and normal and provide direct and indirect venues for communication of these responses with the general public and with specific communities. Forcing individuals who have experienced loss to hide their feelings and keep silent for the sake of the squeamish is neither fair nor humane. The movement from individualism to interdependence is a sign of growth and maturation. It is time to challenge the individualism in our society, which demands that those who are suffering keep silent, and begin to acknowledge the fact that we need one another. People are not weak for needing each other: they are human.
If we were to learn to make room for others to express grief and not fear expressing our own, we would discover that we are so much more alike than we dreamed. Isolation falls away when people learn to truly commune with one another at all levels. The loneliness, so prevalent in Western society, could not exist if we learned to express our strongest emotions with each other in a mutually accepting manner. Insecurities about being weak would be washed away in the sharing of humanity together. When we finally allow ourselves to be seen for who we really are and learn to show how we really feel, we will discover acceptance on a level far greater than we could have ever imagined. And what greatness could a society of people who felt accepted and connected to one another accomplish?


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