Mourning and Grief - The Personal and Public Signs
By Lisette M Laval
Grief usually refers to the personal inner feelings of an individual but in some cultures, when someone dies, family members and close friends express their grief outwardly by weeping and wailing.
The onset of grief is from the moment a person becomes aware of the death of a loved one. At this point they begin the process of grief, which has not set time, as grief affects everyone in different ways. The intensity of the feelings associated with grief depends on the circumstances of the loss, the closeness of the relationship and the conditioning of the person who has experienced the loss.
Mourning is the outward expression of grief through signs and rituals which include special behaviour and clothing of the bereaved, in keeping with family traditions, religion and culture. There is no set period for the process of mourning, which extends from the onset of grief to the time when the bereaved has come to terms with the loss and adjusted to the changes that occur in their lives as a result of the death. This period is different for everyone.
Expressions of mourning differ according to culture, religious beliefs, and family traditions of the bereaved. Many Religions have strict rituals that have to be followed during the period of mourning. Some rituals begin from the time of death and continue up to the first anniversary of the death.
Some of the external signs of individuals in mourning are:
Wearing dark clothing or special mourning jewellery
Withdrawing from social activities like parties, dances, etc.
Not listening to music or participating in entertainment like concerts, movies, etc.
Postponing family celebration like birthdays, engagements or weddings for a period of time after the death
Visiting the grave on a regular basis.
When a prominent figure in society dies or when there is another significant loss that affects the community, there are common public signs of acknowledgement of the loss and respect to members of the family who are in mourning. Some of these are:
Giving right of way to the hearse and cars in a funeral procession
Players of a sporting club wearing black armbands during a game when a member of the club or someone closely connected with the sport dies
Observing a period of silence in honour of the deceased person prior to a public function; and
Flying flags at half-mast.
It is important to be aware of the personal signs of those who are in mourning and grief and to understand the public signs of acknowledgement and respect when someone of prominence dies, so that those in mourning and grief can to be supported and treated with respect and compassion during this period when they are in a vulnerable state.