Ila Roy: Culture and Grief

Ila Roy of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) spoke with Open to Hope’s Executive Director Dr. Heidi Horsley during the 2015 Association for Death Education and Counseling conferences about the relationship between culture and grief. As a member of the social work team in the clinical centers of the NIH, Roy is placed in the ICU of the hematology/oncology non-transplant branch of the hospital. “I deal, unfortunately, with loss a lot,” she says. When asked about her experience being born and raised in India, and how that may differ from the grief process in the US, Roy says that with so many states and so much diversity, it varies a lot from family to family.

“I really can’t say that there’s one predominant modality,” she explains. “There are also a lot of religious differences.” Being raised Christian in a largely Hindu environment, Roy comes from a church family and community that was well aware of Western beliefs when it comes to loss. “In my community, we went to Christ to understand death and to cope with death. In Hindu communities, it’s quite different.” There are a lot of rituals in Hindu communities that focus around death, and the deceased is often memorialized for several years.

The Ritual of Loss

Roy explains that in Hindu culture, it’s largely the men that take responsibility when memorializing and ritualizing death and grief. There are numerous set prayers for each week, month and year. “The important thing to remember is not to assume anything,” she says. With so many variances, there’s no way to say what’s “normal” in any given culture or country.

Roy recommends that when seeking help, it’s critical to communicate your preferences. What’s your background? What rituals do you want, if any? Those who are listening can then alter and customize approaches to your wishes. It’s your responsibility to teach others how you want to grieve, says Dr. Horsley.

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Heidi Horsley

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Dr. Heidi Horsley is an international grief expert, licensed psychologist, and social worker. She is the Executive Director and Co-Founder of the Open to Hope Foundation, one of the largest internet grief resources, with over 2 million yearly visitors. She hosts the award-winning Open to Hope cable television show and podcast. Dr. Heidi is an adjunct professor at Columbia University. She serves on the ​National Board of Directors for The Compassionate Friends, the largest peer to peer support organization in the world. She also serves on the National Advisory Board for the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS). TAPS has served over 50,000 military families who have suffered a loss. In addition, she serves on the National Advisory Board for the Elisabeth Kubler-Ross Foundation, and the Children's Brain Tumor Foundation. Dr. Heidi is on the VIP section of Marquis Who's Who in America, Madison Who's Who, and Who's Who of American Women. Dr. Heidi has co-authored eight books, including; Spouse Loss; Fresh Grief; Inspirational Stories for Handling the Holidays After Loss; Inspirational Stories of Healing After Loss; Real Men Do Cry; A Quarterbacks Inspiring Story of Tackling Depression & Surviving Suicide; Teen Grief Relief: Parenting with Understanding Support and Guidance; and Signs and Hope From Heaven. She has appeared on the ABC television show 20/20, has been interviewed by numerous media outlets, and has been a guest on hundreds of radio shows as well as quoted in dozens of media publications, including the Metro World News, Washington Post, Time Magazine, Newsday, Money Magazine, and New York Daily News. Dr. Heidi is also the author of numerous articles and academic book chapters. Dr. Heidi gives keynotes, presentations, and workshops throughout the country, and teaches continuing education workshops for health care professionals on support following trauma and tragedy. For 10 yrs., Dr. Heidi worked as a co-investigator for the FDNY-Columbia University Family Guidance Program; a study which looked at traumatic loss in families of firefighters killed in the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks. Through this 9/11 study, Dr. Heidi provided ongoing intervention and follow-up to firefighter widows and their children, and facilitated groups for bereaved siblings. In addition, Dr. Heidi supervised the school social work staff at Harlem Democracy Charter Schools in NYC for four years. Dr. Heidi's early career included work in a variety of clinical settings, including; Manhattan Psychiatric Center, California Pacific Medical Center Psychiatry Dept., University of San Francisco Mental Health Clinic, St. Lukes-Roosevelt Hospital Psychiatry Dept., and Hope Haven Residential Treatment Center in New Orleans. Her doctoral dissertation was on the sudden death of a sibling. Her academic credentials include a doctorate in Psychology (PsyD) from the University of San Francisco; a Masters degree in social work (LMSW) from Columbia University, and a Masters degree in mental health counseling (MS) from Loyola University, in New Orleans. Dr. Heidi splits her time between NYC and Tucson AZ.

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