In Haunt

By Michal Sadza

While walking through Manchester, you may notice graves with the names of Polish descendants engraved on them. Notably, West Didsbury's Southern Cemetery is a burial ground for many Polish people who lived in Manchester. This includes well-known figures such as Polish poet Maria Pawlikowska-Jasnorzewska: “In a country where we were taught to cry our eyes out by the birches, By the robins in the park, by Chopin, by black cherries. From a land with a culture of tears, a land of melancholy…I raise a toast to you with a cup of tea, I serve you with my grief – my country’s natural resource.” Recently, a psychology research report was developed at Manchester Met focusing on first-generation Polish immigrants' experiences of death, dying and bereavement in the United Kingdom. As part of this study, Polish immigrants were interviewed regarding their experiences of grief. Numerous participants were based in Manchester.

Southern Cemetery, Manchester

Many interview responses indicated the importance of having a cemetery burial and necessitated specific requirements for such burials. Following a funeral, a burial site becomes much more than a tombstone. Although the experience may still be distressing, frequent visits enable the bereaved to experience different forms of mourning. When a burial place is physically impossible to reach, difficulties can arise, such as grief feeling 'incomplete'. In many cases, distance elicits a diminished sovereignty of grief for people in the Polish community as they feel powerless in their ownership of grief and life after death. This sense of 'eternal life' is deeply embedded in Polish society, with religion and culture being intertwined for many Polish immigrants.

In our study, Polish immigrants close to Polish culture expressed the significance of religion in death, dying and bereavement. The spiritual support provided by the church includes the engagement of a catholic Priest, who plays a pivotal role in the decisions made surrounding a funeral, such as the context of the eulogy or the hymns chosen for a funeral mass. The value of the spiritual bond between Polish culture and religion is reflected in the many Polish churches in Greater Manchester, such as the Polish Roman Catholic Church of Divine Mercy, located nearby to Whitworth Park. Findings of the research project highlighted that Priests provided social support and that they were regarded as knowledgeable figures. When individuals feel lost or helpless, many turn to the church as a source of help in understanding their emotions. Other participants chose to place value on their communities and friends who play a critical role in their grief support systems. These differences in social support were evident when individuals' cultural 'balance' differed. For those who prioritised Polish culture as their primary identity, ideals such as religious grief and rituals were important. Those who embraced English culture, as their own, adapted their grief culture which minimised their need to feel understood as an outsider living in a dissimilar culture.

Roman Catholic Church of Divine Mercy

Being understood within their community was essential for participants. When there was a lack of understanding, participants experienced feeling incomplete during their grief. Many participants chose to wear black for a full year as a visual aid to communicate their mourning to others, similar to Victorian British grief culture. Still, issues arose when community members outside of Polish culture did not understand or respect these values. Consequently, participants experienced a sense of insensitivity as they were forced to explicitly state why they were practising grief in a non-mainstream way. The relationship with the deceased and the capability to create 'healthy' grief responses can be limited when people do not share the same values as their families. Specifically, if participants adapted their cultural 'balance' to prioritise British values, their Polish family did not always support their grief. When family support was absent, a sense of disappointment was present, which led to difficulty accessing support and created doubt within relationships.

While there may be additional factors implicating Polish grief, the Manchester community has provided brilliant support for its residents. This includes local Polish community centres across Manchester providing support for those experiencing grief through in-person and phone aid. In turn, Manchester not only embraces multiculturalism but places people at the core of its identity. I would like to thank Manchester Metropolitan University, which facilitated and supported this research project. Also, thank you to the Greater Manchester Polish community, which provided findings and raised awareness of their grief experiences. Awareness of such experiences may help those living in Manchester to understand the differences individuals endure through their grief.




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