Posted by: kulanjiyil | July 4, 2009

In times of loss and grief


I just returned to States from India, attending the funeral ceremonies of my mother, who suddenly passed away after a brief period of illness. The two consecutive trips in four weeks to India got me exhausted physically, emotionally and financially.  As I continue to grieve the loss of my mother, I am consoled and encouraged by the following:

  1. My personal faith in Christ is a concrete source of comfort and strength during these days of loss and grief. Christ assures me that death is not the end of life, but rather the beginning of a new phase of life with God. At death, all believers go into the presence of Christ. Paul reminds us in 2 Cor. 5:6-9 that “to be absent from the body is to be present with Christ.” Further, the Christian faith promises us a reunion with our loved ones at the time of resurrection. St. Paul explains this beautifully when he writes, “We believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him…and with the trumpet call of God and the dead in Christ will raise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with him in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever,” (1Th. 4: 14ff). 
  2. I have wonderful memories of my mother to cherish. She lived a purposeful, meaningful, and complete life. She devoted her life in the service of others. Her acts of kindness and charity were praiseworthy. She left for us a wonderful spiritual legacy. 
  3. The emotional support and encouragement that I continue to receive from extended family, friends and community, is amazing. Their words of comfort have a healing effect, and they are more meaningful and valuable than anything else. I get to experience the constructive side of the community-oriented, interdependent Indian culture.
  4. I also have the satisfaction that I and my family had the opportunity and privilege to take care of my mother while she was ill.  My children, who are raised in this country, got to see and experience for themselves what it means to fulfill filial duties in the Indian cultural tradition.  They understand that, in times of crisis, our physical presence is more valuable to our family members, than our American dollar.

As I continue to reflect on this personal experience, I realize that all immigrant families are to deal with this kind of situations as long as they have their parents, siblings and other close relatives living in India or elsewhere. Living thousands of miles away from one’s kin and kiths is painful, and this is especially hard for those who have aging and ailing parents living there.  By way of practical advice, I would suggest the following for all immigrants:

  1. Have a current passport and a visa to your home country
  2. Have an extra budget or bank account for emergency travel
  3. In the event of critical illness of a family member, make use of family leave from your employer to travel to your home country.
  4. In the event of the death of a family member, take advantage of the bereavement leave from your employer
  5. Be able to explain to your employer/supervisor the cultural norms of grief and bereavement, and the reason why you may need an extended leave beyond what is normally given for bereavement. 
  6. When possible, have your family accompany you, especially your children, so that your children can preserve family ties with their extended family. This should form part of our family value.

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