Since losing my Dad I’ve spent sometime talking to a counsellor about bereavement. It’s been a good way of talking through my thought processes and relieving some of the stress and tension.
She made a comment to me very early on which a couple of months later I wanted to explore. “In Britain we don’t do grief very well, we don’t deal with death and losing someone in the way other cultures do.” We don’t talk about it as openly and can be quite morbid towards it. But is this due to our culture or simply individual peoples’ reactions?
At first I noticed the stark obvious differences in cultures, planning a semi-Hindu funeral had highlighted to me key things, there was was traditionally more colour incorporated, lots of yellow, red and white flowers. Traditionally people would wear white not black and the event was seen in a slightly more positive way, that they were praying and wishing the lost person well as their soul moves on the the next stage so to speak. They also are traditionally more open about seeing the body, having it with them at home, having an open casket and family going through to the cremation room to start off the cremation themselves. They are a lot more open and part of the process.
At first I found this unnerving and couldn’t get morbid thoughts out of my head, finding the whole thing a bit too close for comfort. However, now I can see why, they talk more openly and spiritually about death, the afterlife and what happens to us. Making grief part of their religious beliefs and ongoing prayers and rituals. Maybe this helps the grief process, maybe having a firm belief of where your loved has moved onto helps you come to terms with our loss.
The stark two differences in how both cultures I’m from process grief has been interesting and in someways taught me some life lessons. Recently, I’ve reflected on how as soon as the news of my father’s death traveled to India, I had relatives of my Dad’s side from all over the world getting in touch to offer their love and prayers-some of which I’d barely even met before. Yet in contrast, there have been a lot of our British friends or relatives who didn’t even acknowledge the loss or pain we were going through, people who are meant to be close friends, who met my Dad and have known me and my husband or family for many years. Haven’t been in touch, even via other people and have not shown any indication they know or care.
I’d like to think it’s more because they don’t know how to react to death, what is the right or wrong thing to say. How do you comfort someone in this difficult situation without sounding cliche or insincere? Or is it just a demonstration of their personality, I don’t know. Personally, I would have to offer my condolences, I wouldn’t wish this on anyone and feel that politely offering my thoughts is the right thing to do, but not everyone thinks the same way as me. After all, it is also difficult to know how to approach someone when they’ve lost someone so close, especially if you’ve not been through it yourself.
Maybe it’s me being selfish and should I really care about other people’s reactions when my family and I have enough emotions going on-as I previously blogged about-it’s not all about me and how I feel about losing him.
On the other hand, there were some of us Brits that were (and are being) ready on hand to lend a tissue, shoulder or stiff drink when needed. Some of us Brits (who don’t do grief) are being a fantastic support, offering notes of advice and generally being there quite regularly, some of which I wouldn’t necessarily have expected to be so supportive.
Friends of friends who I don’t know as well as our closest have offered thoughts and kind words. Even at a close friend’s birthday party, some of the guests who I’ve not seen for months or years offered they’re kind words, sensitively approaching the subject.
So do the British really not do grief very well, or is it just how each of us chooses to react to someone’s loss. And should this reaction be criticised, after all it’s the one of the most difficult things to go through (yet we all have to at some point) and knowing how to deal with it is even harder. Maybe it should be talked about more and become less of a taboo subject over here in Britain. Maybe it shouldn’t. I don’t know and don’t think it’s for me to decide but what I think most importantly, is it just needs to be dealt with on an individual level, however the grieving person needs.
I don’t feel I’m done on this topic yet…I could break it down even further and have so much more to unpick from the counsellor’s comment, but maybe these are for other blog posts.