Common Customs Surrounding Death, Grief, and Loss

Even with deep cultural awareness, reactions to bad news can often catch people off guard. In some parts of the Caribbean and Africa, intense, dramatic, and loud wailing can be a common reaction to an unexpected death notification. In some parts of Asia, caregivers may be caught off guard by the complete lack of emotion in response. Know that these reactions are a part of their life, and they expect them to happen. Even if they make you feel uncomfortable, they are a comfort to that culture. 

In her book A Hole in the World, author Amanda Opelt describes some of the wildly varying and often intense cultural practices surrounding grief, death, and loss. Caregivers are often caught off guard by practices they have never seen or behaviors that seem outlandish because they are unfamiliar. These customs do not just appear randomly. A practice that has been adopted by a culture has happened for a reason. It is the way a people have learned to process the emotions, and unknowns that accompany loss. Caregivers should be wary of interfering with cultural processes merely because they are foreign.

There are cultural traditions that may be vitally important that you may see as harmful. For example, there are communities in Africa where it is a tradition that the survivor feeds the mourners that come to their home. This can seem counterproductive as it seems harmful to show up at the residence of a survivor and eat all their food. However, these traditions must be kept, reinforcing the survivors’ social support in their context. 

Dealing with the remains of the deceased is deeply integrated with cultural traditions that vary widely. it would help if you were mindful of this as a caregiver in a given environment. Attemt to support the cultural norms in the area wherever possible. 


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