Between May 6 and June 9, 2021, Dying With Dignity Canada hosted a series of webinars on grief and healing, in our first-ever Grief Literacy Campaign.
Topics throughout the series included:
- How we grieve: A national perspective
- Grief and medical assistance in dying (MAID)
- Approaches to death and dying, grief and healing in First Nation communities
- How to be there for someone who is grieving
- Children and grief: Perspectives, support and discussions
- Cultural humility and grief
This blog post will summarize some of the key takeaways from this informative series.
If you prefer to view this content in video format, all of the webinar recordings can be accessed here.
Grief is not something that is often discussed in Canadian society, and grief education in general is often neglected and numerous myths exist around grief. DWDC’s mission is that through advocacy, public education and personal support, Dying With Dignity Canada ensures Canadians have access to quality end-of-life choice and care. It can be argued that quality end-of-life care transcends into grief education, as it is something that affects not only the dying person, but the family and friends left behind. Grief literacy is in no way a clinical offering, but instead is one that focuses on public education.
Grief is a full body experience in reaction to loss. It is complicated – it is not linear. It is the experience of loss that can have physical, emotional, and spiritual components.1
Death Literacy is the know-how to plan well for the end of life.2
Anticipatory Grief is a feeling of grief that occurs before an impending loss.3
Bereavement is the state of having experienced the death of someone.4
Mourning is the external expression of grief.5
Disenfranchised grief is grief that is not acknowledged in society.6
Key takeaway #1: There is no right way to grieve, and grief plays out in different ways for different people
Symptoms of grief can be physical, emotional, or behavioural7 and grief impacts every part of our being.8
Despite Elizabeth Kubler-Ross's Stages of Grieving, which were a breakthrough in the death and dying community, there are no specific stages of grief that take place in a specific order.9
A compassionate community sees death and dying as:
- A normal part of life
- More than a medical responsibility
- A public health and societal issue
- A responsibility of all community members
Key takeway #2: To be there for someone who is grieving, you simply have to be present10
According to Dr. Melissa Melnitzer, a physician who practices both mental health and palliative care, our job as someone supporting a grieving person is to be present, and to honour their grieving process, whatever it may be.
Grief is a very real and natural process, and it is very different for each of us. But in her experience, it runs its course if we let it be what it needs to be for each of us.
Key takeaway #3: Children and adults grieve differently
Where adults often grieve slowly and steadily, children can experience short bursts of grief which can manifest in stomach aches and headaches, changes in sleep patterns, irritation, hyperactivity or lethargy, anger, increase in death play, repetitive asking of questions, loss of confidence, and an increased need for affection.11
After experiencing a death, children often worry that they can catch, cause, or cure death, and worry about who is going to take care of them – something known as the 4 C’s.12
Grief counsellor Lisa Robinson outlined some myths and misconceptions pertaining to children and death, including:
- Children should not be at the beside of the dying
- Pre-schoolers are “too young” to understand concepts related to death
- We need to protect children from thinking about death and/or loved ones who have died
- Funerals/visitations are traumatizing for young children
- If told about death, children will think about it all the time
Key takeaway #4: In First Nation and Indigenous communities, death is viewed holistically13
A holistic view of death encompasses how our mind, body, heart and spirit live, react and endure the process of dying. “We look at life as a learning experience and death as an everlasting blissful life. Many ceremonies and rituals exist around death, as it is a very blessed, sacred time. Death is talked about from the time we are small to help them understand.”14 – Elva Jamieson
Key takeaway #5: We all have a personal culture that impacts how we think, feel, behave, interact and make judgements about the world around us15
There is immeasurable difference in how we grieve, due to something called personal culture. If there are eight billion people in the world, eight billion people will grieve differently.16
There is uniqueness in grief and grieving and we cannot classify people based on what we think their culture is. This is where cultural humility comes in. Rami Shami described cultural humility as a process of self-reflection to understand personal and systemic biases and to develop and maintain respectful processes and relationships based on mutual trust. Cultural humility involves humbly acknowledging oneself as a learner when it comes to understanding another’s experience. One expression of humility is being okay with not knowing all the answers.17
These are just a few of the insights gathered from our Grief Literacy Webinar Series. To learn more, watch the recordings here.
- "Talking about Death Won’t Kill You: The Essential Guide to End-of-Life Conversations." Katherine Kortes-Miller
- Celeste Roberge’s “Rising Cairn” sculpture
- Canadian Grief Alliance
- Rami Shami Consulting
- Andrea Warnick Consulting
- Living My Culture, Elder Elva
- Kids Grief