As I research this book, I learn many new things.
I learn that not everyone will need a structure for daily communication or a healing model to guide them through their grief. Some people (because of their cultural heritage, networks, or faith orientation) will have a built-in support system already operating in their lives. During four-plus years of imagining and writing this book, I share my need for a mourning structure with many people. And I discover something interesting.
Rudolf Steiner contends that only in Western societies do we separate the dead from the living: “During even more ancient times, the living were able to look up to the dead with clairvoyant vision and follow the events of their lives. It was natural for a soul having a living relationship with the dead” (Staying Connected, 1999: 60).
Slowly, I came to understand the concept and value of what I call a “spiritual support system”.
In Vancouver, speaking with my doctor, acupuncturist Dr. Alda Ngo, I recognize what I have been missing. Her grandmother has recently died, and Alda is explaining how “the monastics will make the decisions and tell us [the family] what to do and the auspicious times to do it. We have so much spiritual infrastructure around death and grieving in the Vietnamese community here in Canada, Wendy.”
From Alda, I learn about the intensive and extensive Vietnamese family and community involvement, with the immediate family gradually weaned off support of family and friends over a period of two to three years after a death in the community (Hoang, D-H. T., “Death Rituals in Vietnamese Society,” 2000, https://ethnomed.org/clinical/end-of-life-in-viet/).
“Oh, Alda,” I sigh.
“When Karl died so suddenly, I had no support system. Or rather, nothing formal. Nothing that was widely shared or understood. Nothing we could take for granted. My friends were — and are — marvellous. And we had to make it all up by ourselves. I stumbled through the burial and the memorial with a pretty clear sense of what Karl would have wanted. Then I was completely at sea about what to do later.”
Now I understand that many communities have longstanding and well-established processes for staying connected. But in non-religious, middle-class Australia and Canada, we have none of that. I have none of that.
In common with me, most religiously unaffiliated Westerners lack the spiritual support system we so desperately need in times of grief and loss.
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