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Dying, Death and Expression of People's Grief in Different Cultures

The world is a home for a great number of people who have different cultural practices and beliefs. The cultural society, in which one lives up in, has an impact on his/her social behavior and attitudes towards some aspects of life, including death. This research paper helps people understand how culture affects their day-to-day lives and actions. Hayslip,2005 states that death and grief are a universal and natural experience that occur in a person’s life and are deeply embedded in each person’s reality.

Most of the times people forget about the impacts the various traditions have on their reaction and expressions about a loss brought by death. People always get an assumption that everybody else feels and thinks exactly the way they do. However, it is not true, as social groups, and members of these groups vary enormously

Cultural situation of human socialization has been researched and documented by earlier scholars. This study takes into consideration the secondary data available in books, other printed journals, and researches performed earlier; and primary data to be obtained through discussion, and interaction with people from diverse backgrounds. It justifies the positive correlation between their cultural beliefs, their perception of death, and the way they express their grief.

The paper focuses on the various cultures, such as the American, Indian, Muslim and African cultures. They point out how the different cultures treat the dead and the dying in relation to the association with family members; preferred place of death, whether in a house or in a hospital, and how the body is to be handled. With the information obtained, it will let one understand why other people react differently to death and the grieving process. The paper will also provide some information on how to behave and support the individuals in their grieving process; which can be achieved through the use of appropriate language when talking about the sensitive issue of death. Kasher 2004 explains that where extreme sadness prevails, it is reasonable to assume that some people suffer that some people might suffer to an extent that calls for professional attention.

CULTURAL PRACTICES

Hayslip and Peveto, 2005, define culture as the unity of values, norms, art, and beliefs of the society. All the societies have rules and beliefs, which affect the members’ relationship with each other and the external parties. In a given culture, there might be some small variations according to groups, clans, and even families. This goes through to the food eaten, the mode of dressing, birth practices and death. Death is universal, and everyone has experienced it at some point during his/her life, through the loss of a close family member, a friend, or a colleague. Hayslip, 2005 explains that the process of dying and grieving is stereotyped as a result of the Euro-American theories about the stages of death across different cultures

AMERICAN CULTURE

Sociologists do agree that Americans have a hard time when it comes to handling death, and expressing the emotions that it elicits. This can be attributed to the fact that the technological advancement in the field of medicine has given the impression that death can be controlled by modern powerful machines. In most instances, the death of a person is perceived to be a failure on the part of the practitioners (Wilkie, 2011). The high involvement in work related issues has sent the aged in nursing homes; because many people do not get the chance to interact with the dying.

American culture highly values youth, health and beauty; the reality of death is more often than not, brushed aside. When a person is going through grief, he/she is expected to be strong. Active grieving is often referred to as “not coping well.” Individuals are expected to hide their emotions and feelings, only to grief in silence and in private.

When President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, Jackie, his wife was affected by the news. She was at the back of the car with blood all over her clothes crying for help. On the burial day, she was so composed; not even a tear could be spotted lingering in her eyes.

This was a complete contrast to her earlier behavior. She was in full control of her emotions within a short time. The First Lady was an example of how people are to behave in times of grief. One person even called her “Queen Jackie.”Being a public figure, she was expected to control her emotions, and was allowed only to express them in private.

On the other hand, African American families believe in public display of emotion. One is allowed to express emotions openly. Most of the times, the dying is taken care of at home, and then later on taken to the hospital, as some believe that death in the house is associated with poor luck.

As for Mexican Americans, some of the patients believe that their spirits may not be able to get home after death, and so they prefer to die at their apartment. Death to them is a significant event. Before the body is taken away, family members and friends request for some time to spend alone with the dead to bid their goodbyes. The bodies of the dead are respected, and any organ is not to be removed from the body; burial must be done when the body is intact.

AFRICAN CULTURE

Africa is a continent of various cultures, and this study will consider only a few of them. In West African countries, when a person dies, he/she is believed to have joined their ancestors. There is room for public expression of grief through wailing, though such behavior is acceptable only for women. The men do operate with sculptures, costumes, headdresses and even masks to ensure further communication with the dead. They believe that the spirits influence the world of living; for instance, if there is a problem within a clan, the elders will consult a spiritual man who will, using his supernatural abilities and special objects, try to contact the spirits to find out the cause and the solution of the problem.

The ancient Egyptians believed that there was life after death. Death was a stage, through which people were transformed for the purposes of the afterlife that lied ahead of them. Their beliefs influenced their behavior in that they buried the dead together with all his belongings. The deceased was believed to undergo through a series of tests, which would determine whether he was to be eaten by the crocodile-headed monster or granted permission to enter the Reeds Field. These beliefs made them act always right to avoid a situation whereby the weight of their sins would outweigh that of a feather. This meant for the ancient Egyptians to be able to survive.

In East African culture, people often view death as a substantial loss, and, therefore, public expression of grief is a normal occurrence. Normally the wishes of the dead are respected. Upon death, the burial arrangements are made, and the corpse is laid to rest.

The family and the members of the public are allowed to view the body before it is lowered into the grave. This is considered as a way of bidding goodbye to the deceased. They always observe anniversaries of the dead, and they are usually considered to be necessary events that one has to attend to pay their respects to the passed away.

HINDU CULTURE

The Hindus do believe that after death a person is reborn in the future. The living form they will take when reborn is based on their thoughts and actions during the period they were alive. They believe that the soul of a human will continue to hang around, and their names will be given to babies of the lowest casts and this will make them get stuck in death. These beliefs have led to the practices of cremation aimed to release a person’s soul from its existence on the earth. They do believe that cremation benefits the soul spiritually. If a body is not cremated, the soul will be still hovering around. The lighting of fire is a representation of the offerings to the heavens, and when the body is almost entirely burnt, the eldest son cracks the skull with a bamboo stick so as to release the soul from the body. The ashes are then poured into the River Ganges, and the mourners go back to their homes without looking back on their way. During the eleven-day ritual rice balls are offered; this is to help the deceased arrive at his destination. On the twelfth day, he/she is believed to either go to the heavenly or dangerous realm; considering his/her thoughts and actions during the life period. The journey to the dangerous realm is always coupled with torture, which comes after the soul departs, and the body takes another form. The evil person is believed to be born an animal of the class of insects, mosquitoes, or moths. He/she can also be reborn as an elephant, trees, cow and even the womb of the evil (Wilkie, 2011).

In the city of Banaras, death is not feared rather it is seen as an overdue guest, and is always welcomed. Most people travel to Banaras when they approach their death, because they believe that death is a gateway; it is the most difficult yet the most precious spiritual goal for one to achieve. For those who fail to make their way to Banaras, the cremation of their buddies is performed on the Ganges riverbanks, and their ashes are poured into the waters of the river. Its source (the Himalayas) is considered to be sacred, so even a drop of its water is capable of clearing a person’s sins instantly.

The Jain community has a different perception on the pouring of the ashes into the river. They believe that the ashes can pollute the water, and so they opt to put the remains in a hole and then sprinkle it with salt to ensure faster dissolution. Observations of anniversaries and wailing loudly are not part of their tradition.

As for the Sikh community, they also ensure that cremation is done before sunset and the people head to a place called Gurudwara, texts are read and then they serve sugar and water. Desighee, contrary to the Jain community, sprinkle sandalwood powder, ghee and camphor on the deceased. The relatives of the dead person on the third day after cremation go and collect the remaining bones, clean them using milk, which is not boiled. Then together with the ashes, they are put in a bag, and are immersed in the River Beas. They do not also observe anniversaries but do mourn for up to a period of ten days, during which holy texts are to be read daily.

MUSLIM CULTURE

Muslims believe that, at death, a person ceases to live. They are laid to rest as they are waiting for judgment when the faithful will be taken to heaven and the unfaithful to hell. Death is a crucial stage in the life of every Muslim; they compare death to a sleep. Kasher, 2004 states that the relevance towards a corpse signals cultural moral integrity; such deportment is so powerful that it enhances cohesion in a family.The Holy Quran warns about not being prepared at the event of death. Individuals need to ignore their mortality rather be prepared lest they are caught unaware, and, on the judgment day, they are thrown into hell. The body is to be treated with respect, and washing is to be done by the people of the same sex, and in odd numbers only. They strongly forbid cremation (Wilkie,2011, Fagan,2004).

After a final prayer is offered, the deceased is to be buried without coffin. However, they do believe that the dead can still hear; there is always an instructor who will be informing the dead of whatever is happening. He tells the dead that two angels will be coming to him to ask questions; who his Lord is, who his prophet is, and finally, what his religion is. He is to give the answers as Allah, Muhammad and Islam respectively. If he passes these questions, he is believed to have a pleasant experience in the grave. Three days are the normal period before the funeral; however, widows do mourn up to four months. During ten days, they are not allowed to remarry; adorn themselves with jewels or even go out of their home.

When a person dies, he/she is not able to continue to do the acts of goodness like charity acts. Therefore, the Muslim person should perform such a good behavior when he/she is still alive, if he/she aims to get to heaven.

With the development in the modern technology, people are now able to postpone their death dates. Research has shown that most of the patients’ lives have either been increased based on the technological development on the medical equipments. Improvement in technology brings about social change in a society that has an impact on death and the dying. Most of the Western states enacted laws on brain death. This required the physician in charge to refer to a patient as dead at the cessation of the brain electrical activity when he is still under the support of machines for breathing. This is as a result of the advancement in the medical technological advancement. In the 1960s, North America reported successful human organ transplants which have been of help in assisting the needy patients, hence helping in the postponement of death. Though, some cultures did not accept removal of body organs at first, they are now seeing the sense and are now accepting the removal of a body organ though still restricting the donation to a family member only. This is a positive effect of the technology on their social behavior and culture. They are now assimilating some aspects of technology into their cultural practices. Most of the technological changes take time to be accepted due to the various cultural beliefs.  Kasher 2004 The technology of embalming made it possible for thousands of people to participate in transformation of Ellswoth into an icon of emerging Northern cause, it also ensured a very sacred view on mourning. There have been arguments stating that the removal of an individual’s organs at the pronouncement of brain death is murder and this has led to the development of various medical bills in the House of Representatives (Annas and Grodin, 1992).

Moller, 2007, observes that many websites have come up for those who are grieving to be able to express their pain due to global use of internet. This has often helped people to load off their emotions and feel relieved in cases of unapproved public expression of grief.

CONCLUSION

The cultural association has always had a significant influence on people's attitudes towards the dying, death and expression of people's grief. Most of what people do today or how they react is based on how a community or culture views death. In most of the cultures, people do let the dead have their piece of mind by avoiding practices like autopsy, because they feel they are disturbing the dead. In the American and African cultures, observation of anniversaries is a common phenomenon unlike in the Indian culture, where it is not observed. In the two cultures the society does not cremate their dead. However, these traditions are changing as people are starting to embrace the idea of cremation. More often than not, the wishes of the dead are respected, and in an instance where a dead person wrote a will stating that he should be cremated on his death, the family members have no option but to do as the will states

A cultural behavior is normally adapted from the stories of how the earlier generation or the ancestors lived their lives, and this tends to be a part of every person. There is no culture, which is superior to the other; all are unique in their own ways; and one cannot claim that his/her culture is better than the rest. Even at the look of a surrounding, one tends to express his/her feelings based on the cultural socialization. We need to accept the fact that even though people are modernized; culture still plays an integral part in people's lives. It takes a long  time to alter the culture totally, where such a possibility is still questionable; as people tend to assimilate some elements of other cultures into their modern world. .

Technological advancement has made cremation to be embraced by societies. Although tradition does cause a lag in technological acceptance, this cannot prevent the sociological change on perceptions of death and grief.

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