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Our Culture Doesn't Know How to Handle Grief!
By Jane Galbraith

Does the term "stiff upper lip" sound familiar to you? In our North American culture, it is how we get through difficult times. We were brought up to show strength in times of adversity and not to outwardly show our despair, sadness, and sorrow.

Many examples show us how to deal with these situations. Jacqueline Kennedy kept it all together throughout the funeral of her husband John F. Kennedy. She was held up as a shining example of courage in the most challenging situation. Even John F. Kennnedy Jr., only 3 at the time, will always be remembered for his stoic salute as his father's casket passed by him. In a way, you can understand them not showing their feelings openly, as they were so much in the public eye. They have however, served as an example that people tend to emulate.

Our culture does not do grief well! This is an understatement in my opinion. Our present culture does not allow us the freedom to grieve. Grief is a difficult topic to discuss. For all our emphasis on communication, we still don't do well in this area. Mourners don't have to wail to show their grief. The issue is the atmosphere in our culture that a mourner faces when they show a display of grief. We don't feel safe to grieve openly in our culture. There are times that this becomes less accepted. The result is many people are walking around carrying the pain of grief on their shoulders. I guess I would call them the "walking wounded".

As baby boomers are hit with this wave of grief, we need permission to express our grief in a healing way. Right now, our society does not readily grant us this privilege.

I hope we will show more empathy and compassion when so many will go through this experience at the same time. Doing this will assist ourselves, our friends, spouses, family and our children to react to grief in a new and different way. We have the opportunity to change a cultural norm.

There is a widespread ideology that discussing and openly expressing our feelings would be a sign of weakness and would be embarrassing, especially for men.

It is too bad that fear and shame often keep us from sharing our feelings. When emotions are expressed, it allows the other person to understand what you are experiencing and offer their sympathy. A deeper understanding could help each other be more supportive when we need it. We will all need it eventually.

Coping has been the buzzword for the baby boomers. We have been conditioned to think that coping is how we need to live. Certainly, it is good to cope with what life throws us.
"How to" and "self help" books fill the bookstores. Why would we need to talk to someone and share our feelings if a book can solve our problems? Books are great resources, but only one of many resources available to you.

More baby boomers will be seeking out professional help. The professionals available help tremendously to sort out our feelings. Seeing a professional either is seen as a "cool" thing to do or a sign of weakness. In actuality, many of the counselors will tell you that they don't often have patients asking for help with their grief. However, it frequently becomes apparent that a current loss in their life has brought to the surface an unresolved grief from their past. Losing our parents may trigger a past grief that has not been dealt with. This may magnify our loss. Counselors say unresolved grief can surface in many unexpected ways.

If our grief is not dealt with, the baby boomers will create some unpleasant life experiences for themselves. This only shows that we can't escape grief no matter how hard we try. Moreover, nor should we want to, as it often changes us into a better, more fulfilled person.


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