From the spring of 2018 into the summer, the community of Kenyans living in Ontario has experienced a higher than usual number of bereavements within families. There are families still grieving the recent passing of their loved ones, some of whom died right here in Canada and others back home in Kenya.
In light of this, the Kenyan Community in Ontario (KCO) Board planned a “Healing Day 2018” event, for the purpose of bringing the community together to support each other and facilitate healing among its members. Sunday July 7, 2018 brought together families united by grief (Scroll to bottom for photos).
Participants had the privilege of having our very own Rev. Florence Juma, a Registered Psychotherapist and Certified Spiritual Care Specialist, as the keynote speaker. In sharing on grief, Florence drew from her research on the African Oral Traditions’ therapeutic approaches of song and stories in addressing grief.
In her own words:
Oral traditions are the method in which history, stories, folktales, and religious beliefs are passed on from generation to generation. These oral traditions take a therapeutic approach when employed to facilitate healing at times of grief and/or trauma. Therapeutic story-telling is a prevalent practice among many communities in the African continent and we can recapture that practice to incorporate it into our lives away from home.
Grief impacts a community in general, but it impacts individuals in particular ways. Individuals experience grief in unique and personal ways. As much as a community can grieve as a unit, individuals in the community journey through grief in distinct ways. On an individual basis, grief impacts the whole person: body, mind and soul. An effective approach to healing through grief aims to restore the individual and family’s physical, mental and emotional health and wellbeing, bringing each one and the whole unit back to a balanced whole.
The event by the wider members of the community served to recapture a valued oral tradition of coming together to remember and celebrate the lives of the deceased loved one, support and pray for the bereaved and together take the simple steps forward into the new phase of life without our loved one.
Some five helpful processes:
Spiritual practices – spirituality is at the core of healing. Attend to your spiritual well being by engaging meaning-making practices that feed your soul. Africans tend to value spirituality. It can either be one’s personal faith beliefs or participation in a religious community.
Grief is as personal and unique as the individual experiencing it – Even within a family, each member will experience grief in their own unique way. There is no schedule or pattern for grieving. Grieve at your pace and in your time.
Grief waits for you – Sometime the role or status of an individual dictates that they shelve their grief to protect and care for those who depend on them. Grief is patient and can wait for as long as possible, but it will resurface. Don’t put it off too long. It may resurface at the most inconvenient time. Engage grief as it comes and seek professional help if it becomes necessary.
It helps to share stories of a loved one – If opportunity presents itself to share stories and remember your loved one, do so. I applaud the KCO Board for offering a safe and supportive environment for bereaved families to share their memories of their loved ones. Through their stories, community members get a glimpse of who their loved one was and what their loved ones meant for them. This is a therapeutic process and very helpful for the family.
Sing and dance if you can – Within the Afro-Indigenous context, stories and songs were utilized to socialize communities in maintaining health and wellness in mind, body, and spirit. Songs were employed to enhance certain aspects in the narrative and provide a rhythm for both the story teller and the audience. The body responds to emotions and people move to the beat of the music; this can be the clapping of hands, stamping of feet; or playing of percussion instruments. Singing and dancing is a mode of transmitting feelings, and attitudes.
I also encourage the bereaved to seek opportunities of integrating such approaches as part of their healing process when processing their grief far away from home. Consider the Kenyan Community in Ontario your extended family.
Finally, take to heart the words of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8; Everything Has Its Time.
1 To everything there is a season,
A time for every purpose under heaven:
2 A time [a]to be born, And a time to die;
A time to plant, And a time to pluck what is planted;
3 A time to kill, And a time to heal;
A time to break down, And a time to build up;
4 A time to weep, And a time to laugh;
A time to mourn, And a time to dance;
5 A time to cast away stones, And a time to gather stones;
A time to embrace, And a time to refrain from embracing;
6 A time to gain, And a time to lose;
A time to keep, And a time to throw away;
7 A time to tear, And a time to sew;
A time to keep silence, And a time to speak;
8 A time to love, And a time to hate;
A time of war, And a time of peace.
Rev. Florence Juma is a Registered Psychotherapist and Certified Spiritual Care Specialist based in Waterloo, Ontario. She is also an author, known in Kitchener-Waterloo circles as an African Storyteller. Florence desires to integrate spirituality as a key resource in the healing process.
Event Photo Gallery
By Essie Wambui for Wakenya Canada