Universal Grief

Light and dark, impossible to have joy without sorrow, rich without poor, beauty without ugliness….this is a Balinese saying.

Rain is trickling on the large thick tropical palm-leaves. It is hot and humid today. It feels cozy and safe. I arrived to Bali 4 days ago to visit my eldest daughter. Being in her midst twenties, she chose to live a different and free life instead of bonding herself to a full-time career. Very wise I think. You can only do that one time in your life before settling. That’s now.


The island welcomed me with ceremonies, the smell of incense, smiles full of love, incredible hospitality, a calming atmosphere and inspiration as well.

I wonder how the Balinese survive or deal with grief. Having visited this island many times, I have never ever seen a person crying or being depressed. So how do they do that?

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Of course grief is a universal thing. No one is happy when they lose a dear one. The pain, the emptiness, the words that haven’t been said, the things that haven’t been done, the one that will never be there again, it shatters your life. The future that becomes a past.


The Balinese people do that in a different way. Depending on the community they belong to, the temple, the ranking of a dear one they lost, they are grieving. But they get help from a spiritual counselor, a Dasaran. A unique service for bereaved people. The Hindu-Balinese people have a complex belief system with the possibility to communicate with the lost souls, get reassurance that they are alright and believe they garner the power to fix any problem through offerings. And what is most different: grief will last forty-two days maximum.


Then life goes on. That belief is completely different than our western one. But the needs of family members are the same. We ALL have a universal desire to maintain hope in challenges of grief. Within the complex emotions of loss, there is a general desire by everyone to maintain hope.


The Dasarian’s role as a spiritual caregiver provides hope and meaning to families experiencing loss. They help provide meaning behind why and when the person died and why sadness in a family might continue. However, there is hope that the family can still communicate with their loved-one, hope that the person is in a good place in heaven, hope that the grief will stop within the forty-two days and hope that the family can make their own sadness, or the sadness of the spirit better through offerings.


While thinking about this different belief system, I got word that a dear friend of my son had died in an accident in Australia. Dead in an instant, at the tender age of 19. I am shocked and cannot stop thinking about the his family back home in my hometown. Their dead son at the far end of the other side of the world. No goodbyes. How many words haven’t been said? How devastating will this be? I am sure this is shattering and will last longer than fourty-two days, most likely a lifetime. Everyone is asking why, why him, what happened, was he alone, who spoke to him for the last time? What’s the meaning of this loss? Which God is doing such a thing?

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People want answers and are only guessing as to the real one. No Dasaran, no communication, no spiritual help, no offerings, no temple, no community. Will he be in heaven? No REAL answer, a western loss.


Because of the difference in time, we have to wait to be able to talk to our son. Living in a different timezone, time is confusing me all the time. Our son is feeling guilty not having met up with his friend a couple of months ago. Starting his new week at university, he is having to deal with death instead. With emotions going around like a rollercoaster. As well as my husband and daughter sitting next to me.


I hope this family will find the power to arrange the transport of the body and the huge funeral afterwards. I hope this family will find love and peace in their hearts as well as the strength to be and stay together. I hope for the two brothers of this friend, they will find happiness and prosperity to live their lives as was supposed to be.


Time will alter all of them.


So, is grief a universal thing? Yes, but everywhere a different ‘thing’ with one general core: Hope! With all that you can lose, never lose hope….. While putting away my laptop I see the sun came out.


Chantal Visser de Mol

January 2019, Bali






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