Bereavement, Grief and Mourning: Interdisciplinary and Cultural Perspectives

Bereavement (loss of a loved one by death), grief (emotional response due to bereavement) and mourning (external, social expressions of grief) are distinct and complex human responses to death. While these responses appear universal, how they are understood, experienced and expressed varies significantly and is a product of one’s history, culture, ethnicity, socio-economic status and gender, and one’s religious, philosophical and spiritual beliefs and place in the life cycle. Other factors include whether a death is natural, anticipated, unexpected, traumatic or stigmatized.

Join us over three Saturdays as we review both historical and current approaches to bereavement, grief and mourning. In addition to a comprehensive historical review, we will engage with a wide range of issues impacting our experience of grief in the 21st century, including demographics, medical technology, social media, consumerism, the green movement and developments in end-of-life care such as palliative care, hospice and assisted dying.

We will explore these topics through lectures, assigned readings, film and video, group discussions and guest speakers. Upon completing this course, you’ll have a better understanding of the diversity of grief and mourning responses and how to put this knowledge into practice to communicate with and support people experiencing grief.

Note: Content may be difficult for students who have experienced a recent bereavement. The course will be re-offered at a later date for students who prefer to wait.

Currently not available for registration.

What will I learn?

Week 1: Historical and Cross-Cultural Perspectives

Canadian psychologist Leeat Granek has noted that bereavement, grief and mourning are rites of passage that are present across history and culture. We will review and compare the diversity of responses to and practices around grief and mourning across time and place, focusing on how these diverse practices help people to find meaning in both life and death.

Guest speaker: Judi Arthur
Judi is an author, educator and clinical counsellor of Indigenous African ancestry. Judi’s work integrates traditional healing and meaning-making practices with clinical therapeutic interventions.

Week 2: Theories of Grief

Grief as a topic of psychological study emerged in the early 20thcentury with publication of Freud’s influential essay “Mourning and Melancholia” in 1917. We will examine theories of grief developed by theorists such as Freud, Jung, Kubler-Ross, Bowlby, Becker, Brinkmann and others. We will explore in detail how grief has become increasingly pathologized, medicalized and in need of professional intervention.

Guest speaker: Wade Lifton
Wade has brought his own experiences of loss and grieving into spiritual care work at St. Michael’s Centre, a hospice and long-term care home in Burnaby.

Week 3: Mourning: Rituals, Burials, Memorials

Philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer insisted “burial of the dead is perhaps the fundamental phenomenon of becoming human.” Historian Thomas Laqueur agrees and argues that “an uncared-for body is actually unbearable for humans.” These observations are supported by historical evidence which suggests mourning rituals were practiced by Neanderthals as long ago as 60,000 B.C. This week we will explore how mourning rituals, care of the body, memorials, elegies and obituaries help us to simultaneously maintain continuity with the dead, sustain a sense of community and say goodbye.

Guest speakers: Iris A. Paradela-Hunter and Ngaio Davis
Iris, a death awareness advocate, and Ngaio, from KORU, will touch on the role of rituals in the grief process and the resurgence of the community death care movement.

How will I learn?

  • Lectures
  • Group discussion
  • Readings
  • Papers (applicable only to certificate students)

How will I be evaluated?

For certificate students only:

Your instructor will evaluate you based on an essay, which you will complete at the end of the course. You will receive a grade of “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory.”

Textbooks and learning materials

Required Reading

There is required reading for this course.

Readings will be available online. Registered students will receive information one week before the course starts.

If you're 55+, you may take this course as part of

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