Should Grief Be Expressed?

IN HER book On Children and Death, Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross states: “Many, many adults suffer from never having resolved the hurts of their childhood. So children need to be allowed to grieve without being labeled crybaby or sissy, or hearing the ridiculous statement ‘Big boys don’t cry.’”

This approach contrasts with the philosophy in some lands of not allowing oneself to betray any emotion.

A Funeral Director’s Experience

This contrast is illustrated by the remarks of Robert Gallagher, a New York funeral director interviewed by Awake! He was asked if he noted any difference in grief reactions between American-born individuals and immigrants from Latin countries.

“Certainly I do. When I started in this profession back in the 1950’s, we had a lot of first-generation Italian families in our area. They were very emotional. Now we are dealing with their children and grandchildren at funerals, and much of the emotion has gone. They do not display their emotions so much.”

Hebrews in Bible times expressed their grief and emotions. Note how the Bible describes Jacob’s reaction when he was led to believe that his son Joseph had been devoured by a vicious wild beast: “Jacob, tearing his clothes and putting on a loincloth of sackcloth, mourned his son for a long time. All his sons and daughters came to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. ‘No,’ he said ‘I will go down in mourning to Sheol, beside my son.’ And his father wept for him.” (Genesis 37:34, 35, The Jerusalem Bible; italics ours.) Yes, Jacob was not ashamed to weep for his lost son.

Different Culture, Different Reaction

Of course, cultures differ. For example, in many parts of Nigeria, although families tend to have many children and death is a constant visitor because of various sicknesses, “there is an outpouring of grief  when a child dies, especially if it is the first child and more so if it is a boy,” stated a writer with 20 years of experience in Africa. “The difference is that in Nigeria the grief is short and intense. It does not last for months and years.”

In Mediterranean or Latin-American lands, people have been raised in an environment where spontaneous reactions are considered normal. There, joy and sadness are manifested publicly. Greetings are not limited to a handshake; they include a warm embrace. Likewise, grief is usually openly expressed in tears and lament.

Author Katherine Fair Donnelly says that a bereaved father “endures not only the psychological impact of losing his child but the fear of losing his masculine identity by publicly displaying his distress.” However, she argues, “the loss of one’s child transcends the barrier of do’s and don’ts for emotional behavior. The honest gut emotion of cleansing the soul with tears of grief is akin to lancing a wound to drain the infection.”

So when it comes to grief, expressing it is more common in some lands than others. But it is not to be considered a sign of weakness to grieve and give way to tears. Even Jesus Christ “gave way to tears” over the death of his friend Lazarus, although Jesus knew that he would shortly resurrect him.—John 11:35.

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Jacob was not ashamed to weep for his lost son