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10th International Conference on Grief and Bereavement in Contemporary Society (ICGB

June 11-14, 2014 in Hong Kong
“Grief Is Love”: Criticism of Professional Grief Care by
Self-Help Groups for Family Survivors of Suicide in Japan
Tomofumi Oka, Ph.D. (Social Work)
Sophia University, Tokyo, Japan

Tomofumi Oka, Email:
The purpose of my presentation is to tell the story
of a mother, Ms. Sachiko Tanaka (see the upper
picture, courtesy of Ms. Tanaka) who lost her son
to suicide. A second and equal purpose is to help
people understand the message of self-help
groups for family survivors of suicide in Japan:
“Grief is love.”
Japanese families traditionally have a Buddhist
altar in their houses (see the lower picture), and
they believe the altar connects them with their
deceased family members. I will talk about how
Sachiko has maintained her relationship with her
late son.
Ms. Sachiko Tanaka, as an active leader of civil
movements for family survivors of suicide, claims
that Japanese local government should
acknowledge the great potential of self-help
groups for family survivors of suicide. In reality,
however, some government officials work only
with professionals who provide grief care services
to families. Both officials and professionals often
consider the families powerless and troubled by
mental health problems.
Self-help groups for family survivors provide an
alternative perspective on grief. Because their
perspective is based on indigenous cultural
values, professionals can learn much from self-
help groups in a given culture about how to help
family survivors of suicide.


1. Oka, T. (2013). "Grief is Love": Understanding grief through self-help groups organised by the
family survivors of suicide. In A. A. Drautzburg & J. Oldfield (Eds.), Making sense of suffering: A
collective attempt (pp. 75-86). Freeland, Oxfordshire, UK: Inter-Disciplinary Press.

2. Oka, T., Tanaka, S., Ake, H., & Kuwabara, S. (2011). Self-help groups for family survivors of
suicide in Japan: For empowerment, not grief care. Proceedings of the 21st Asia-Pacific Social
Work Conference, 526-533. Available from

3. Oka, T., & Borkman, T. (2011). Self-help groups, self-help supporters, and social work: A
theoretical discussion with some case illustrations of family survivors of suicide in Japan.
Studies on Social Work, 37(3), 168-183. Available from

4. Oka, T., Tanaka, S., & Ake, H. (2010). “‘We don’t need grief care,’ say some family survivors of
suicide.” Chiiki Hoken [Community Health], 41(3), 21-25. Available from