Bereavement and Coping of South Asian Families Post 9/11

Article excerpt

Eleven first-generation South Asian family members who lost a relative in the World Trade Center attacks on September 11, 2001, were interviewed about their loss and their coping strategies. Data were analyzed using consensual qualitative research (CQR) methodology. Participant responses clearly delineated bereavement reactions and coping within a cultural framework.

Once miembros de una familia surasiatica de primera generacion que perdieron a un pariente en el atentado contra el World Trade Center el 11 de septiembre de 2001 fueron entrevistados acerca de su perdida y las estrategias que emplearon para soportarla. Los datos se analizaron siguiendo una metodologia de investigacion cualitativa consensuada (CQR, por sus siglas en ingles). Las respuestas de los participantes delinearon con claridad sus reacciones ante el dolor sufrido y como lo sobrellevaron dentro de un marco cultural.


The death of a loved one is considered to be the most disruptive of all of life's experiences (Holmes & Rahe, 1967), with the mode of death having a significant impact on the grieving process. When a death is sudden or violent, the griever not only has to process the loss (Horowitz, 1990) but she or he also has to deal with the traumatic nature of the loss (Redmond, 1996). When coupled with immigrant experiences and contrasting worldviews (Marsella & Christopher, 2004), the mourner's capacity to grieve and cope can become challenged.

The World Trade Center (WTC) attacks on September 11, 2001, had a profound impact on the South Asian community. Nearly haft of the 184 Asian and Asian Americans who perished in the attacks were South Asian immigrants (defined as people from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indo-Caribbean, Sri Lanka, and Burma). As these victims' families struggle to recover from deeply personal losses, they are challenged on multiple levels (e.g., emotional, financial, immigration-related). This study sought to understand the culture-specific bereavement and coping methods used by South Asian family members who lost a relative in the WTC attack.

Cultures have their own sets of beliefs about bereavement and death. For example, how emotions are felt and expressed, the meaning attributed to loss, types and length of death rituals used, extent to which others are involved in the death rituals, and disposal of the body vary across cultures (Rosenblatt, 1997). When death or loss occurs outside of one's community of origin, there is a heightened need to apply beliefs and practices that are culturally meaningful. Furthermore, when the death is a traumatic one and there is no social structure to assist with cultural practices, the bereavement process can become complicated.

Traumatic loss frequently disrupts fundamental assumptions of personal security and sense of world order, resulting in prolonged stress. The literature suggests that although psychological and biological responses to prolonged stress (in the context of disasters) are universal, the specific stress reactions related to reexperiencing and avoidance of emotions may vary across cultures (Marsella & Christopher, 2004). Thus, understanding how culture may influence bereavement reactions and coping among South Asians who lost a relative in the 9/11 tragedy becomes integral to understanding their experiences.

Understanding how individuals cope with traumatic loss has been the topic of significant empirical research (e.g., Galea et al., 2002). However, researchers of coping with trauma (Yeh, Inman, Kim, & Okubo, 2006) have noted that previous research has focused primarily on an individualistic, traitlike conceptualization of coping that is believed to remain relatively stable regardless of the situation or culture. Such studies minimize the role that a culture's symbolic structures play in coping with loss. Coping strategies must be understood according to a cultural group's values, norms, and orientation (Lee & Lu, 1989) and must be recognized as being situated in a specific event or trauma. …