Hames, Carolyn [faculty advisor, College of Nursing
children; death; grief; education; culture; Khmer
The emotions that come with death and dying, such as grief, sadness and anger are experienced by everyone at some point in their lifetime. Because death is such a sensitive subject, many people are hesitant to explain the process to children. Children, like adults, experience loss and it is important that they understand how to cope with the issue if and when it affects them. Soon after the death, mourning begins. The mourning process serves as an opportunity for individuals to express their emotions after a loss through their own traditions and rituals. For many individuals, it is an important part of saying good-bye and it helps them adapt to life-changing events. These traditions and rituals can sometimes correlate with cultural beliefs and values. Because of the correlation, one’s culture and social support systems play an important role in the mourning phase as many of the mourning traditions rely on cultural beliefs and values.
Culture is an important concept because it encompasses attitudes, beliefs and values that people use to define themselves. During the mourning period, specific ceremonies, customs, and religious traditions serve as guides for people to help deal with the loss of a loved one. Culture is the foundation that many people rely on during a time of tragedy because it brings families, friends and acquaintances together.
In Cambodian (Khmer) culture, after the death of a loved one, there is an elaborate process for the funeral rituals and traditions. Similar to other Asian cultures, Cambodians are collectivists and identify themselves with a group which often consists of family members. Many Cambodians are Buddhists who, unlike the Western culture, view death as the end of a cycle and not the end of life. Buddhists believe that all living things evolve in a cycle of birth, illness, old age, death, and reincarnation. This cycle is also known as Samsara. Buddhist monks play a significant role when mourning a death. More importantly, they play a more critical role by helping to guide the soul after death.
My project, involved creation of a fictional children’s book designed to help children and adolescents learn how to cope with the passing of a parent. The main character, a Khmer-American girl, must learn to cope with the loss of her parents, specifically the death of her mother from a chronic illness. The book is designed to reflect many of my own personal experiences during a time in my life when I had to cope with similar losses. After these losses, I was encouraged to learn more about my own culture and traditions. It has helped me to view loss, grief, spirituality and bereavement from a different perspective. I also believe it is important that children and adolescents to learn how to cope with the passing of a parent, or a special person. Growing up with a bicultural background (Khmer-American), I wanted to emphasize the importance of one’s culture and the significant role it plays during a time of tragedy. The purpose of the project is to aid children who have suffered through similar tragedies as they journey through the healing process. To my knowledge no similar book has been published.