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BorderLore April-May 2015,Special "End of Life" Edition
Continuum, Unframed    
Introducing a web of inter-connected cultural narratives that speak to what guides and comforts us
in end of life.   


How do we approach death? What beliefs and practices provide direction during the upheaval in end of life?


Our pathways during this crucial phase are greatly influenced by culture. The food we cook, the home remedy we employ, the adornment we wear, the memento we clasp or the ceremony we practice - all provide stability when we grieve, mourn a loved one, or face our own end of life. Culture puts the unknown into context.


In May 2014, the Southwest Folklife Alliance received a grant to engage in a year-long project to explore these rich cultural practices involving end of life. The project, called Continuum, was supported by the Shaaron Kent Endowment Fund held at the Community Foundation for Southern Arizona.  Our Continuum team, which included SFA staff and a group of citizen folklorists, attended an ethnographic field school to learn about exploring place-based grief and death as part of the program.

As we studied the interchange between individuals and the practices that help make sense of loss experiences, a "continuum" of nested cultural narratives resulted. A broad picture - of how culture interacts within every level in end of life and endows it with meaning - was constructed.

In the end, the fieldwork helped put into new context how strongly a cultural blend enriches our communities:

Dr. Maribel Alvarez explains Continuum's field work and helps us understand the "democratic pluralism" embedded in the program. Read Maribel's introduction here.

Get the big picture of SFA's year-long project to research, document, interpret and present cultural practices involving end of life here.

Read how groups in Tucson and beyond express their cultural essence in ways that honor the cycle of life and death, here.

Practical & Spiritual Components

There are growing new movements involving natural burial care, human and animal memorials, as well as provider programs to better support cultural nuances in mental and physical health care. Spirituality adds a unique perspective to facing and celebrating death in the universal cycle. Read reports here.

End of life inspires a masterwork of creativity as well as remembrance. Storytelling is illuminated by rich, cultural details. Read accounts by several folklorists, teachers and artists who explore deeply personal accounts and observe local reflections of mourning.

Jim Griffith brings our nesting of end of life and culture full circle, with his account of desert roadside memorials, here.
Check this compendium of organizations, resources and services involved in end of life and advanced care. To be considered for inclusion in this listing, which will be updated, please write to: swfolklife@gmail.com
Editor's End Note... 


We are grateful to a Continuum team, which remained dedicated to ethnographic intentions while enthusiastically embodying a folklorist spirit respectful of culture and end of life.  Glimpsing the traditions of so many, we became guests in varied worlds. We listened and recorded what we heard and saw. We hope this resulting Continuum project finds resonance.

The body of SFA's Continuum Reports/Work resides online at: SouthwestFolklife.org/Continuum

To request a copy of the Journal, write to: swfolklife@gmail.com
2015, Southwest Folklife Alliance. All rights reserved. BorderLore is the monthly e-news magazine of Southwest Folklife Alliance. The study and documentation of folklife involves the accurate representation of people's viewpoints in their own terms; quotes and opinions expressed in interviews with individual tradition bearers do not necessarily reflect the sentiments and opinions of BorderLore editors, the Southwest Folklife Alliance or any specific person or entity at the University of Arizona. 
Managing Editor:   Monica Surfaro-Spigelman 

Thank you for reading this newsletter. We welcome your feedback, commentary and any suggestions or ideas. Write to us at:  swfolklife@gmail.com

Previous issues of BorderLore Newsletter are archived  here and here.