Grieving is a deeply personal experience, but how do different cultures grieve and has the grief process been westernised?
Read Time: 4 Mins
Within the western world, death and grief are presented in specific, culturally normalised ways, that represent the westernised ideals of how grieving and death should look, and to a point, feel.
For many people living in western countries, who are also from varying cultures, this has led to a division between what others view as acceptable and a normal grieving/funeral process, and what is culturally right for them. This division has resulted in limited access to the tools needed to arrange appropriate funerals and even emotional misinterpretation as western norms are pushed onto the grieving person.The current world we live in holds a beautiful collection of different cultures, religions and people, who all mourn in varying ways and who should be able to feel comfortable mourning in a wa that is suitable for them.
Most of the western world, unfortunately, has restricted itself into viewing grief singularity in line with western ideals and this way of mourning has often been viewed as the only right way. This can be referred to as colonised grief – a process in which any alternative way of mourning or grieving is either rejected or made more difficult to perform due to a lack of tools or opportunities.
What is the normalised western way of grieving?
To start understanding the scope of how grief has been westernised, we first need to understand what westernised death and grief look like.
Within the western world, death is viewed as something that should only occur in old age once a full life has been lived. Any other death not caused by old age is seen as a tragedy and something that holds more emotional heaviness.
If someone passes before their expected time then the western world mourns what could have been instead of focusing on what happened, using phrases such as ‘taken before their time’ by agnostic people. This could be due to the fact that 53% of people within the UK for example identify as non-religious, where no emphasis on after-life is included (religious countries often show more emphasis on funeral culture than some non religious countries).
Compare this to countries such as China, who has the largest number of Buddhist believers or Bali where 84% of the population are Hindu and a great difference can be seen. For Buddhists there is an emphasis on the fragility of life, making every day count so that life is never wasted nor taken from us. And Hindus view death as another stage for the eternal soul to progress through – the death of the body does not result in the loss of life.
Both of these religions and cultures view death before old age as another cycle for the soul to go through. The loved one is never lost nor gone, instead they are on their own journey, that is separate from our current world. This way of viewing life and death can bring a sense of eternal love and company for those grieving the passing of a loved one, which greatly differs from many western perceptions.
It can be hard for those who follow such religions and cultures that share these beliefs to relate to and be understood by the western world. A person can experience a sense of isolation when discussing grief and death as their views can be disregarded or misunderstood by those who are not part of their culture.
The next steps
One of the largest impacts colonised grief has on other cultures occurs during the funeral/after death arrangements. This contrast is shown in multiple ways including clothing. Traditionally black in western countries , but white/neutral within the Sikh religion or perhaps length of the mourning period. Within the Buddhist religion the mourning period can extend over 49 days as this is the longest amount of time a soul can be within the intermediate phase between journeys. All of these differences to western people can feel odd or unusual, but the fact is that cultures and people from different ethnic backgrounds will continue to mix not only in the western world but around the world in general and visa versa – it is important to be aware of different cultures and practices when grieving or addressing bereavement.
We as a grief community need to provide an open platform for people of all cultures, backgrounds and nationalities to talk and share in their own personal grief journey. Every person feels a sense of grief during their lives and by opening up a conversation that includes not just the practices of the West but of all the different countries and their cultures we can begin to understand and help each other in more important and beneficial ways.
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