As we have come to the end of National Grief Awareness Week which was from the 2nd to 9th December we reflect on aspects of grief and loss that are too often overlooked. Covid 19 shone the spotlight on disparities in the health and social care system and the way in which people from Black and racially minoritised communities have had to and, in many cases, still continue grappling with social injustices when it comes grief and loss.
Grief is part of our experience as human beings, it is a real emotion that rises when we are faced with loss – whether that loss is of a loved one, a relationship, a job or another significant loss. It is multifaceted, complex, and individualised and is influenced by gender, race, class, family power dynamics, social, cultural and religious beliefs.
There is no denying that even though grief is a normal human reaction it can be a very painful experience which for some people manifest as intrusive thoughts and physical yearning for company, odd sensations in the body, disbelief, shock, guilt, and anxiety. There can be sadness, loss of appetite, sleeplessness, lethargy and a feeling that the world is moving in slow motion while you wade through mental treacle. When those are intersected by structural inequalities, bias and perceived socially acceptable norms it is no wonder that people from Black and racially minitorised communities feel invisible and disenfranchised.
There is no one size fits all when it comes to support around end-of-life care, grief, loss and bereavement, and even though post pandemic there has been considerable growth in organisations and individuals providing support services there continues to be a huge gap in the quality of that support and its appropriateness to certain communities.
Our Grief: which is a short impactful film shares perspectives on grief and loss through the voices of 7 Black British women with agency in all their nuanced existence. They speak movingly and with open honesty about their personal challenges accessing palliative care, managing their emotions, seeking help, and how gender, culture, class, and race have shaped their thoughts and experiences.
The nature of the work that we do around Grief and Loss have enabled us to hear first-hand from communities of the many perceptions and responses to grief that take no account of spiritual and theoretical practices at end-of-life. We have been told that when families have asked for particular music or prayers to be recited as the person is at end of life they are dismissed as frivolous wishes instead of respectfully acknowledging the importance of the rituals. In some communities, rituals such as those are thought to help the soul of the deceased onto the next realm beyond their earthly existence, and they also play a part in how the person processes and responds to grief.
That lack of respect, understanding and acknowledgement in service provision is one of the reasons for the reluctance of the Black community to seek help. Because of this we have been advocating for social justice in grief and loss and supporting movement building to rebalance the injustices and inequalities. We have also been doing our bit to raise awareness of social and cultural manifestations that negatively influence bereaved individuals.
The Ubele Initiative has been offering immersive grief workshops and community conversations to therapists, counsellors, end of life doulas, and anyone who wants to gain more knowledge and understanding around social, cultural and religious rituals at end of life.
If you are an individual or organisation working in any of these areas do remember the importance of taking a compassionate humanistic approach to those that you are helping and if you are interested in participating in The Immersive Grief Workshops, Hosting a Conversation on End of Life, Grief and Loss (as it relates to Black and Racially Minoritised Communities) or to book a screening and Q&A of the film Our Grief please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr. Yansie Rolston