When we speak of bereavement and grieving within Western Society people often feel uncomfortable and tend to avoid the subject. Clients often report to me that they find they cannot talk of the dead person to friends or colleagues. It is almost as though they are not allowed to carry on thinking of the deceased person to the point that if they do, other people find it embarrassing.
Grieving in Western society feels it is behind closed doors.
In Western Society there is social pressure for the bereaved to grieve quickly and quietly. These pressures, as Harris (2010) says, constricts the experience of grief rather than support it. These restrictive ways of dealing with grief can create further stress to clients as they are worried to how they are perceived by family and friends.
Grieving at the beginning
I feel we could learn a lot from other societies who place family and community at the forefront of their values. When I worked in Cameroon, a member of the village where I was staying died. Immediately the women started wailing. They were allowed and encouraged to openly express they sadness at their loss. This continued for 3 days. People from nearby villages and relatives from afar visited the village to see the deceased body. The funeral was held with over 500 people attending. The family were never left alone during this period or for a long time after. Our workers openly spoke of the dead person and told us how we could as ‘Westerners’ (who were visitors to the village) could support the family through their grief. What a different experience compared to our country. In UK you are allowed up to 3 days bereavement leave from work. It feels as though people prefer you not express your grief in public and society prefers you step back to ‘normality’ after the funeral.
And a year on….
Whilst in Cameroon I also experienced the one year after death party. The villagers held a massive party and toasted the dead person. They poured alcohol at the dead person’s door to let the dead person’s spirit drink it. They then spent all evening talking fondly of the dead person and supporting the grieving family. It was a touching experience. What a different experience towards grief compared to our society. On anniversary death days in Western Society, people outside of the family do not want to know. Some outsiders cannot even understand why it is a difficult day to get through. ‘It’s just another day’ I have heard in the past.
Talking therapy helps
There is no right or wrong way to grieve. It is a personal experience. From experience with clients, I would say the first year is worse. Yet for some the first year is just the beginning of their grief journey and it can get worse for them. It is common after losing a loved one is that you need to find sense of what you are feeling and need to talk and talk about the same thing. Few people are willing to hear. You can experience numbness, low self-esteem, anger, sadness. If you are suffering from grief, counselling may help you to come to terms with your grief. Sometimes talking to someone who is not involved in the bereavement can be beneficial.
What can we learn?
We could learn a lot from other cultures on how to deal with grief. Let’s start by allowing people to express their grief. Accept their sadness not criticize it. Let’s learn how to carry and support our family and friends rather than asking them to conform to our way of grieving or society’s way.Let’s listen to them and not be irritated that we have heard that story before. Let’s be compassionate friends to each other and help our friends and family through their grieving process. It’s only a start but an encouraging one.
If you would like to learn more how to support a grieving person through a bereavement, have a look at this blog post. It includes things not to say!
Hazel Hill can provide support through online counselling or counselling 1:1 in Sheffield. She has a specific expertise for those who need support for bereavement.