Dealing with Loss and Bereavement

We will all face the loss of a loved one at some stage in our lives. This can be a time of deep sorrow and grief, of emotional distress, and difficulty coping. Many of us can benefit from guidance in dealing with the associated emotional and physical trauma.

The non-profit organization Mental Health America: talks about coping with loss:

“The loss of a loved one is life’s most stressful event and can cause a major emotional crisis. After the death of someone you love, you experience bereavement, which literally means “to be deprived by death.””

They provide an excellent discussion on important topics such as: knowing what to expect, mourning a loved one, dealing with a major loss, living with grief, and helping others grieve. helps us understand the grieving process:

“Losing someone or something you love or care deeply about is very painful. You may experience all kinds of difficult emotions and it may feel like the pain and sadness you’re experiencing will never let up. These are normal reactions to a significant loss. But while there is no right or wrong way to grieve, there are healthy ways to cope with the pain that, in time, can renew you and permit you to move on.”

Their guide to grief and how to cope with it is really worth reading.

In addition to this grief and loss, as is the case with many immigrant and ethnic communities across the world, South Asians in the Bay Area have the desire to follow specific cultural, religious and social norms and traditions that reflect their values and beliefs. In the moment of crisis and bereavement,  individuals and families often do not know where to turn for help in these matters.

An article Rites of Passage by Kalpana Mohan that appeared in India Currents in 2012 is exactly on point:

“Indian Americans will routinely discuss their political leanings, trade notes on wily ways to gyp the taxman, tell one another about the cheapest grocery store for buying almonds, and argue about the best cruise deal for Alaska. However, if there’s one topic they’re not exactly dying to debate—it is death.”

The author also addresses several important issues in this article that we also cover in our Planning and Preparing for Life’s Transitions page.

A group “The Final Journey based in San Diego, CA offers free seminars for the Indian community about end of life medical choices, religious services, cremation, legal issues, and financial planning. We encourage you to contact them if you would like to arrange such a seminar for your community or group.

Temples and other Houses of Worship in the community typically offer solutions  and support for the needs of the bereaved. Friends and family are also able to come together to help with arrangements, logistics etc.  Organizations like the Bay Area Youth Vaishnav Parivar provide information on funeral services for the Hindu community.

In addition to these resources, Sukham offers the following information that could be useful.

Bay Area Mortuaries catering to South Asian needs

The following mortuaries in the Bay Area have experience in meeting the needs of South Asians.  This is not a complete list, or an endorsement of these facilities over others in the area:

Spangler Mortuaries, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Los Altos and Menlo Park

Alameda Family Funeral & Cremation Saratoga

Fremont Memorial Chapel, Fremont

Fremont Chapel of the Roses, Fremont

Transporting the ashes or remains of a relative to India

Many have the need to transport the ashes or remains of a loved one who dies in the United States back to India or to another country for completion of religious ceremonies.  Mortuaries in the Bay Area experienced in handling cremation and services for South Asians are also well versed in arranging for all the paperwork, and meeting all rules and requirements – packaging, labeling, etc. of the ashes so that they can be safely be carried to India on board airlines by passengers without any customs and immigration issues.  We recommend that these details are thoroughly discussed and agreed upon with the selected mortuary.

We also recommend reviewing related information at the following links:

Consulate General of India San Francisco – Attestation of Death Document / Carrying of Ashes

Ministry of Exeternal Affairs, Government of India – Transfer of Mortal Remains

Consulate General of India Houston – Carrying of Mortal Remains

Support and Grief Counseling

Marty Tousley, an experienced Grief Counselor in Phoenix, AZ writes about finding grief support that is right for you in  her Grief Healing blog:

” Reaching out to others is often very difficult when we’re struggling with grief, but experience teaches us that the more support and understanding we have around us, the better we will cope.

You may wish that friends, family and co-workers would just “be there” for you without your having to ask, but that’s not likely to happen. It’s not that these people are uncaring; there simply is no way for them to fully understand the significance of your loss and the depth of your pain. Unfortunately your friends, family members and co-workers may not fully understand or appreciate the attachment you have with the one who has died and the pain you may still be feeling weeks and months after the death. What is more, your need to talk about your loss may outlast the willingness of others to listen.”

Contrary to what most South Asians feel, there is no shame or indignity in reaching out to others for help, whether it be to a support group, or for professional psychological help! It is all part of the healing process.

If you feel you need such help, or believe a loved one could benefit from it, we urge you to be proactive and seek such help. Start by contacting a local hospice (refer to our section on Palliative and Hospice Care).  The Palo Alto Medical Foundation (PAMF) maintains a list of community and support groups around the Bay Area.

Psychological Services

Your primary care physician or other trusted doctor should be able to refer you to a trained psychologist if needed. In addition, there are a number of agencies that can arrange for grief counseling and therapy, including the Institute on Aging.  Psychology Today provides a listing of therapists in California sorted by County and City.

The Hume Center with clinincs in Fremont, Hayward and Pleasanton provides health promotion services geared towards South Asians in the Bay Area, in several languages including English, Dari, Farsi, Hindi, Punjabi, Tamil, and Urdu.  Their mission statement reads: “The Hume Center’s mission is to provide high quality, culturally sensitive, and  comprehensive behavioral health care services and training. We strive to promote mental health, reduce disparities and psychological suffering, and strengthen communities and systems in collaboration with the people most involved in the lives of those we serve. We are committed to training behavioral health professionals to the highest standards of practice while working within a culture of support and mutual respect.”

Other organizations experienced in the cultural and social mores of South Asians may also be able to help.  One such is the Sabh Foundationoperated in the Bay Area by Dr. Harmesh Kumar. The Foundation is “a Non-Profit California Agency with goals to provide residential and mental health services to seniors, mentally & developmentally disabled and new immigrants.