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Grief, Bereavement, and Coping With Loss (PDQ®)

Cultural Responses to Grief and Loss

Cultures have different ways of coping with death.

Grief felt for the loss of loved ones occurs in people of all ages and cultures. Different cultures, however, have different myths and mysteries about death that affect the attitudes, beliefs, and practices of the bereaved.

Individual, personal experiences of grief are similar in different cultures.

The ways in which people of all cultures feel grief personally are similar. This has been found to be true even though different cultures have different mourning ceremonies and traditions to express grief.

Cultural issues that affect people who are dealing with the loss of a loved one include rituals, beliefs, and roles.

Helping family members cope with the death of a loved one includes showing respect for the family’s culture and the ways they honor the death. The following questions may help caregivers learn what is needed by the person's culture:

  • What are the cultural rituals for coping with dying, the deceased person’s body, and honoring the death?
  • What are the family’s beliefs about what happens after death?
  • What does the family feel is a normal expression of grief and the acceptance of the loss?
  • What does the family consider to be the roles of each family member in handling the death?
  • Are certain types of death less acceptable (for example, suicide), or are certain types of death especially hard for that culture (for example, the death of a child)?

Death, grief, and mourning are normal life events. All cultures have practices that best meet their needs for dealing with death. Caregivers who understand the ways different cultures respond to death can help patients of these cultures work through their own normal grieving process.

  • Updated: March 6, 2013