National Grief Awareness Week 2020 begins on 2 December. I thought it was important for me to write about how difficult it can be to deal with grief in a community that’s often known to be pretty close-knit but who often find talking about these things so hard.
As a British born Hindu who has been in London my whole life, I know all too well how the Asian communities within this country can often suppress important conversations around mental health. This is not only because there’s a lack of understanding so much but often also no willingness to understand. It’s safe to say that a generational gap and a drastic difference in upbringing between a parents’ or grandparents’ generation can be described as the reason for that. However, the biggest factor to this is that most individuals or families are still, even to this day, quite absorbed with the embarrassment or awkwardness that any conversations around the subject could cause. It’s this very stigma that can often lie in not openly talking about the affects of grief – especially after the “mourning period” (according to any given religion).
It’s really easy to have someone randomly tell you that talking makes the world of difference, despite it being the most obvious thing to do. What is actually needed, in my opinion, is an ongoing awareness of a variety of different factors once a loved one or someone you know passes away. I’ve listed some of these factors below in the hope that they might help someone somewhere and could make even a fraction of difference to someone.
Grief can consume you months or years after, often more so during special occasions
What could possibly be something different for an Asian community as opposed to a totally Western thinking society is that there’s togetherness during religious festivals and other occasions (such as weddings) which is on a larger scale. This means big weddings, big parties and big extended family gatherings. I don’t know about others but, for me, it’s during these times that I miss someone I’ve lost more than other times. However, I’ve found that we never really talk about this. There’s hardly ever an understanding that happy occasions with the absence of someone close can be such a huge struggle. Yes, you might remember them and think how they’d be behaving if they were there, but realistically, is that enough? I think it can make a big difference if someone feels the onset of these feelings before such an occasion to talk them through with someone – someone who is their confidante and can listen even if they don’t understand. Very often, identifying and talking about these feelings before an occasion may help you deal with the feelings much better.
Grief is not the same for everyone
As mentioned above, there’s an even bigger stigma (arguably) attached to conversations about mental health in the Asian community than any other. As such, it is also likely to be a difficult thing for many to comprehend that grief consumes people in different ways and in different lengths of time. There’s no shame in taking a longer time than you think you might take or that what’s expected of you. Again, try to have these conversations when you can with those you love. The more you have these conversations, hopefully the more the understanding will increase and could help those around you. But, even if others don’t, make sure you accept in yourself and let yourself take as long as you need. Grief, as said above, takes different forms and noone should be made to feel that the way they feel is incorrect.
Let how you feel out, however you feel comfortable to do so
I remember when a close one passed a good few years ago, there was almost an expectation for certain people to act a certain way or “pull themselves together to support others”. This wound me up no end. If you’re asking someone to take care of others then who takes care of them? How do they deal with their own feelings? I firmly believe that you can choose to bottle up feelings to please or put others first and that’s your choice but you must also understand that if you don’t release your own feelings at some point, they will come out in different ways and could very well affect other parts of your life later on. Try your best to let yourself feel how you feel but I know many Asian families always think sticking together is better. I agree that it is but also giving yourself individually time and space you need is also equally important. Never forget or be embarrassed by that. It’s not wrong.
Anger & withdrawal are a part of grief
Yes, this might seem obvious but anger is a different emotion to associate with grief. Having said that, it’s a part of the grieving process. Some people feel anger as a feeling is more acceptable to them than sadness. In most cases, this will pass as it’s part of the journey of grieving for someone. Again, this may not be something that Asian family members or friends may understand. If it is something you’re feeling and you feel not many will be able to identify with it or you, do not hesitate to talk to a professional, who will not know you and will probably be able to help you open up more. There’s no shame in taking up counselling if you feel you could benefit from that kind of support. It takes a very strong person to realise they might need this kind of support and then to seek it.
Don’t force yourself
The final point I want to make is please don’t force yourself to feel any differently than you do at any stage. You are entitled to feel how you do and life will have changed. It takes time to accept and move on when there’s any big change in life so don’t beat yourself up or force yourself to feel a certain way in a certain timeframe, no matter what anyone says. You do you.
These are just a few of my thoughts about dealing with grief in the Asian community in Britain. I know every family is different, as is every community. However, I think we generally need to get better at having these conversations, especially at a time where so many could be grieving after such a turbulent year.
If you’d like to know more about National Grief Awareness Week (2-8 December), click here.
Look after yourselves and always remember it’s good to talk.