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Grief reactions in different cultures

When someone close to us dies, we mourn this loss inwardly but we also mourn in a public way, through the customs or rituals of our particular society. As many Australians grew up in different cultural environments, and speak languages other than English, the range of mourning customs across our communities is broad and diverse.

Different Mourning Customs

Mourning customs vary from country to country, within countries, within societies, and even within religions. In some cultures, people wear black during the period of mourning, while in other countries, white is the designated colour of grief. Some Chinese societies observe a period of mourning that lasts 100 days after a loved one dies, while the custom among some Aboriginal peoples is to cut themselves across the arm or the chest as an expression of sorrow and grief.

It is less well known that the inner experience of grief also varies from one cultural group to another.

To understand the grief suffered by a person who comes from a cultural background that differs from your own, you will need to learn from them, or their family and friends, the customary ways of expressing grief in their community. Learning about how their cultural framework influences their individual experience can help you understand and support them in their grief.

Spiritual experts from that culture (the priest, the imam, the rabbi, the monk, the traditional healer, the elder) can often provide a valuable source of guidance in this area.

A knowledge of other people’s cultures not only enriches your own understanding of their emotions, but also helps guard against imposing your own assumptions upon them.

The Importance Of Language

Sometimes emotions are so basic, so influenced by our early experiences and relationships, that they can only be expressed in the language of our childhood. We cannot find the right words to express them in a language learned later in life as the detail of how we feel gets lost in translation.

Feelings of loss and grief are often like this. We may need the language of our childhood to even to begin to speak about them; we may need someone who understands this language to begin to share them.

Other Resources

Relationships Australia South Australia



Page last updated: 29 December 2021