Thursday, February 10, 2005

How Does Your Culture Influence Your Grieving?

In a post I wrote last September, called Unseen Sorrow, I casually mentioned that there our cultural differences in the way that people express their grief. Although my comments from that post were lost when I switched over to Haloscan, I recall a reader asked if I would expand on these differences.

This subject could certainly be the subject of a doctoral thesis, so I won't even claim to try to address the subject adequately. However, I will provide brief summaries of what might be expected among certain categories of patient populations. Please keep in mind, however, that people do not always fit into nice, neat boxes. This is only intended to help guide health practitioners and care providers in interpretting and anticipating emotional expressions of grief following a loved ones' death. And to help build an awareness that our culture affects our expression of emotions.

I have not made the following generalizations. All of the following information can be found in the book Culture & Nursing Care: a Pocket Guide edited by J. Lipson, S. Dibble, and P. Minarik. People from each of these respective cultures made these statements for publication in this guidebook.

For simplicity's sake, I will divide cultures by those that grieve more silently and those who grieve more emotively.

Silent Cultures

Cambodians - Death faced by family in quiet, passive manner.

Iranians - may pray or cry softly at bedside but will control noise level to provide patient with peace

Emotive Cultures

Arab-Americans - Family's grief is frequently open loud, and uncontrollable.

Colombians - may cry uncontrollably and loudly; women may be hysterical.

Cubans - public expression of emotion common.

Ethiopians & Eritreans - May cry loudly and uncontrollably at time of death. Women may tear their clothes and beat their chests until they become sick with grief. Men permitted to cry out loud and shed tears.

Filipinos - may cry loud and uncontrollably.

Haitians - may cry uncontrollably and hysterically.

Koreans - may cry, chant, pray and burn incense.

Mexican-Americans - wailing is a sign of respect.

Puerto-Ricans - Loud and unmanageable crying or thunderous talking to God is very common. Some might feel faint, nauseated, or experience physical illness.

Vietnamese - may start crying loudly and uncontrollably

American-Indians don't fall as neatly into either of these two categories. Sadness and mourning are done in private, away from the patient while the patient is still alive. However, once the patient dies, wailing, shrieking and other signs of grieving may also occur.

How does your culture influence your grieving? I would love to hear comments stating your family's cultural identity and how that affects your family's expression of grief.

To answer my own question - that's only fair, right? My family is a mix of European-American immigrants (Irish, German, Spanish, English, Scottish, Welsh, and gypsy most likely of Polish origins). My mother and her side of the family - the Irish/German/gypsy/Welsh - is very emotive; my father and his side of the family - the English/Spanish/Scottish/Irish - is much more reserved for the most part. As for me? Well, I guess I'm one mixed up kid when it comes to grieving. Ironically, as much as the silent grievers at work mystify me, I think I myself prefer to grieve in solitude.

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