How Will The Haitians Grieve Their Loved Ones
The grief in Haiti is unimaginable; we have all seen the visual images of the death and destruction. CNN has reported that a government official said the death toll from the January 12th 7.0-magnitude earthquake may exceed between 100,000-200,000. The exact number is unknown and may remain unknown.
About 3 million people — one-third of Haiti’s population — were affected by the quake, the Red Cross said.
In addition to the physical suffering, there is the grief. Grief is the normal and natural emotional response to loss. I learned through some research* that the majority of the people are Catholics or Protestants, whose practice is to provide last rites to the dead and a proper burial. The main Cathedral in Port Au Prince has crumbled; there will be no prayer vigils and no funeral masses for the dead.
There is an Afro-Creole view called Vodou (Voodoo) which is also practiced in Haiti. The belief is that people are born and people died and this is simply the cycle of life, death and rebirth. When the body dies the spirit moves on. The belief is that the spirit moves through the water. Looking into the water then, you see the land of the recent dead where the soul goes and it is said they stay there for a year and a day floating and resting. Then they are brought up in a ceremony and released to go on to God.
Vodou is actually helpful in that it functions as a social support network, through community congregations. Every person in the tradition has access to spirits that govern the realm of death. The spirits escort the people into the realm of death. The belief is that death is part of life to be laughed at and death is something that takes everyone in the end.
Rituals are important to healing from grief; they offer a sense of being connected and offer the opportunity to let out emotions. It seems the Haitian’s are being robbed of the basic burial rituals and mourning the dead in traditional ways will not be possible because so many bodies have been buried in mass graves. Many families will never know where there dead lie.
My hope is that they find comfort in their religious belief’s, and with those family and friends that a have survived. What can we do to let them know they are not alone and offer comfort? How can we offer hope to people in a situation that appears so hopeless? Except for offering prayers, I don’t know. But if I find some answers, I will let you know. If you have suggestions, let us know by commenting below.
*Elizabeth McAlister, Associate Professor of religion at Wesleyan University