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What we can learn from how people from other cultures cope with grief

How people from other cultures cope with grief

It's widely accepted that the grief you feel after the loss of a loved one is unique to you. This makes it hard for those around you to advise you on how to manage your grief.

Our lack of understanding has contributed to three quarters of bereaved people in the UK claiming that they did not receive the support they needed.

This can have damaging effects long after the funeral takes place. Unresolved grief can lead to depression and cause other psychological problems in later life. And some researchers have even suggested a link between these unresolved issues and obesity and diabetes.

Perhaps part of our problem in the UK is that we sometimes view grief as something we need to recover from. Perhaps by looking at other cultures we can learn how to live with our grief and be healthier because of it.

Giving yourself time to remember your loved one

In the UK, we don’t have an agreed-upon mourning period after we lose someone close to us. Instead, mourning periods are typically a tradition passed down in religious communities.

Eastern Orthodox Christian funerals, for example, include the expectation that loved ones be mourned for up to 40 days after the funeral. This time given to help grief-stricken friends and family members is shared by other groups from different religions. Communities from many Islamic countries also practice a 40-day mourning period.

In some Islamic communities, this period can even be extended to four months and ten days for those who are widowed. But even this lengthy period is dwarfed by the mourning period after the passing of a parent in Jewish funerals, which can last for an entire year.

In addition to the initial mourning period, other days of remembrance are often observed by some cultures. In Judaism, for instance, the anniversary of the death and the last day of the religious holiday Yom Kappur are reserved as days to remember loved ones.

By making time to mourn a loss, whether it be for one extended period of time or every year, it can reinforce that it is normal to mourn the ones we have lost.

This could help you adjust to your loss and remove any pressure you feel to recover quickly and get back to your normal life. It also can encourage you to talk about your experience and your loss.

Communicating how you feel

With the emergence of social media and other communication tools, we are now able to spread tragic news to hundreds of our friends, family members and acquaintances faster and easier than ever before. Despite this, it is not always an appropriate way of telling everyone about your loss or that you are still grieving.

Lack of communication here can really be damaging, especially if you consider that one quarter of people in the UK feel uncomfortable talking about death with their closest family and friends. This lack of dialog can add to a sufferer’s sense of isolation and can be taken as a sign that they should no longer be grieving.

After a Muslim funeral, it is not uncommon for mourners to ask bereaved family members about the details of someone’s death shortly after their burial. More than curiosity, this dialogue can prove therapeutic.

Being able to openly discuss the last days of your loved one or how they passed can be difficult. But some have found that speaking about their loss has helped them accept what has happened and comforted them.

Another tradition shared by many cultures is the wearing of clothing that shows that they’re grieving. Widowed Eastern Orthodox Christians, for example, are known to wear black mourning clothing throughout their 40-day mourning period. By showing their grief in this way, it allows others to anticipate their emotions.

Although visually communicating your grief may not be practical in our modern day-to-day life, being able to openly communicate your feelings throughout your recovery can be beneficial.

Adding to this, communicating your emotional state, whether it be through written, spoken or other means, can be a positive outlet for the sometimes overwhelming emotions you get with grief.

Venting your emotions

In the UK, we rarely allow ourselves to be overcome with emotion, especially in public, particularly with grief. However, this is not the case in other parts of the world.

It’s not uncommon in Judaism for mourners attending a funeral to rip patches of their clothing off as a physical outlet for their grief.

This type of reaction may seem unusual, but providing a physical and controlled outlet for your emotions can help you work through them while coping with grief.

Other violent reactions to grief exist across parts of South America and Africa. For example, it’s common for mourners in some communities to wail uncontrollably after a loss of a loved one. In Egypt, for instance, it is seen as unusual if some mourners aren’t completely overwhelmed by their despair.

These reactions may seem alien to our typically reserved behaviour in the UK. But by allowing ourselves to express the complicated cocktail of emotions that grief causes, we are ensuring that these emotions are vented and not suppressed.

Lessons we can learn

Some people treat the grief that is suffered by others as if it was a sickness that they can heal from quickly by getting back to our day-to-day lives as soon as possible. The truth, however, is that there is no race to get back to your usual self, there are no quick-fixes or remedies. Although some of the practices of other cultures may not fit into your modern day-to-day life, there are some lessons that can help you during this difficult time.

You should give yourself adequate time to mourn and appreciate that grief is not short-term. In fact, it is something that may stay with you for your whole life, requiring you to set aside time to remember and mourn the one you lost.

Not being afraid or ashamed to talk about how you feel or that you have lost someone close to you is important. Whether it is through talking regularly and freely about the one you have lost or by a dignified reminder to those around you that you are still coming to terms with your loss.

Allowing yourself to express your emotions in a physical and controlled way can also help you come to terms with your grief in a healthy way.

It is important to remember that your experience with grief is unique to you. And that we all need support throughout this time in our lives, whether it be from a friend, family member or bereavement support professional.

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