Stud­ied tra­di­tions of death and dy­ing in black cul­ture

RON­ALD BAR­RETT, 1948 -2015

Los Angeles Times - - OBITUARIES - By David Colker david.colker@la­ Twit­ter: @david­colker

When his mother was dy­ing in a hos­pi­tal crit­i­cal care unit, Ron­ald Bar­rett — a Loyola Mary­mount psy­chol­ogy pro­fes­sor spe­cial­iz­ing in African Amer­i­can death and dy­ing is­sues — was told that she could have only two vis­i­tors at a time.

It’s a com­mon rule, but one that Bar­rett be­lieved in­sulted many African Amer­i­can fam­i­lies who feel it’s ex­tremely im­por­tant to gather in large num­bers when a rel­a­tive is near death. He bris­tled at the edict.

“I de­cided to pay it no mind,” he said in a 2002 in­ter­view with the Jour­nal of Pal­lia­tive Medicine. “I am tremen­dously grate­ful to the evening nurs­ing staff for their sen­si­tiv­ity in al­low­ing a col­lec­tive of about 20 fam­ily mem­bers to gather in my mother’s hos­pi­tal room dur­ing her fi­nal hours.”

The group qui­etly gath­ered around her bed, prayed, then left as to not disturb the unit. “When the death did oc­cur,” he said, “we were tremen­dously re­lieved in feel­ing that we had been there.”

Bar­rett, 66, who ad­vo­cated more sen­si­tiv­ity of cul­tural dif­fer­ences in deal­ing with death, died May 31 at St. John’s Health Cen­ter in Santa Mon­ica. The cause was can­cer, said his friend Claude Jay.

Bar­rett taught at Loyola for 36 years and was head of the psy­chol­ogy depart­ment from 2010 to 2014. Early in his ca­reer, he was drawn to his spe­cial­iza­tion.

“I be­came in­ter­ested ini­tially when I taught my first course in the field of death and dy­ing,” he said in a 2009 in­ter­view recorded dur­ing an Assn. for Death Ed­u­ca­tion and Coun­sel­ing con­ven­tion. “I was struck by the fact that there was so lit­tle re­search in the lit­er­a­ture about African Amer­i­cans.”

Bar­rett trav­eled widely in Africa and the Caribbean to study the topic and wrote for sev­eral schol­arly jour­nals. He wrote that fu­ner­als are “pri­mary rit­u­als” for many in the African Amer­i­can com­mu­nity, with im­por­tance be­yond pay­ing re­spects to the dead.

“Fu­ner­als and fu­neral rites are im­por­tant oc­ca­sions to re­new re­la­tional ties and mend so­cial net­works,” he wrote in an es­say for the 2006 an­thol­ogy “Death and Reli­gion in a Chang­ing World.”

Grow­ing up, Bar­rett saw first­hand the im­por­tance of fu­ner­als among adults in his own fam­ily.

He was born Aug. 17, 1948, in Brook­lyn, N.Y., and grew up in Florence, S.C. “Grow­ing up as a child within the black ex­pe­ri­ence, fu­ner­als were very much a part of my life and my ear­li­est mem­o­ries,” he said in the jour­nal in­ter­view.

He was brought to his first tra­di­tional wake when he was about 6.

“The cas­keted re­mains were set up in the living room of some­one’s house. I can vividly re­call the emo­tions of that ex­pe­ri­ence. I can also re­call on many oc­ca­sions my mother and grand­par­ents hav­ing to leave us to travel great dis­tances to go to fu­ner­als.”

The im­por­tance of the fam­ily as a col­lec­tive unit can be mis­un­der­stood by doc­tors and oth­ers who want health­care de­ci­sions made quickly.

“Health­care providers of­ten do not ap­pre­ci­ate that th­ese im­por­tant de­ci­sions can­not com­fort­ably be made un­til the fam­ily gath­ers and every­body has made their views known,” he said in the in­ter­view.

Bar­rett also said that the long his­tory of dis­crim­i­na­tion against African Amer­i­cans can lead to dis­trust of med­i­cal in­sti­tu­tions, and that in gen­eral, blacks are less likely to agree to cut­ting off life-sus­tain­ing treat­ment.

Ex­cept for a brother, Nathaniel, of Brook­lyn, Bar­rett had no im­me­di­ate sur­vivors.

Tra­di­tions that had been so much a part of his study and writ­ings were car­ried on by sev­eral friends when his own time came.

“On Satur­day night, the night be­fore he died, we gath­ered in his room,” Jay said.

“The hos­pi­tal chap­lain came in and gave a Scrip­ture, then we sang about seven or eight songs. His room was filled with song.

“The next morn­ing, when he did pass, I looked back and thought, ‘What a time we had that evening.’ He was given quite a cel­e­bra­tion.”

Loyola Mary­mount

PI­O­NEER SCHOLAR Ron­ald Bar­rett said black fu­ner­als are “oc­ca­sions to

re­new re­la­tional ties and mend so­cial net­works.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.