Mourning and Grief: A Cross-Cultural Perspective

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  • 0:01 Grief
  • 0:46 Mourning
  • 1:33 Cultural Norms
  • 4:27 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

Grief is a normal reaction to losing a loved one, but people mourn their loss in different ways. In this lesson, we'll examine the difference between grief and mourning, as well as how different cultures approach mourning.


Robin fell in love with Regina the first time he laid eyes on her, 50 years ago. They got married a year later and have been together ever since. But, at age 74, Regina recently passed away, leaving Robin alone.

As you might guess, Robin is feeling very depressed and lonely since he became a widower. He is experiencing grief, which is the inward feelings and thoughts about loss.

Robin is feeling sad and lonely, and he often thinks about how much he wants to die so that he can be with Regina again. These are all internal processes: they are happening inside of him, and from the outside, no one can know what is going on inside of Robin.


But some people might guess that Robin is feeling depressed and lonely. This is because, in addition to his thoughts and feelings, Robin does and says things that others can see. He talks about how much he misses her, and at her funeral, he cried.

Behaviors related to grief are called mourning. Robin's tears or his comments about how much he misses her are part of mourning.

Notice that you cannot observe grief; it is internal and hidden from the outside world; but you can observe mourning, because it is the external expression of grief. Thus, no one can know for sure what Robin is thinking and feeling, but they can guess about his grief based on his actions, which are part of his mourning.

Cultural Norms

Robin is not unusual. Grief is a normal reaction to losing a loved one, and it is universal. People all over the world go through a process of grief when they have lost a loved one.

But just because grief is universal doesn't mean that mourning rituals are. Robin cried at Regina's funeral, but in some cultures, it is not considered normal to cry at a funeral. In fact, in some cultures, singing and dancing are part of the funeral, but crying is considered bad form!

Culture is the society that a person comes from. This could be a person's country, their religion, their socioeconomic status, or another way of grouping people into common beliefs. Different cultures approach mourning differently.

For example, in most American Indian mourning rituals, the focus is on a reunion with nature. Each tribe may have specific traditions (like burying important belongings with the deceased), but almost all of them involve looking at death as a way to go back to the nature we came from.

In many Asian and Asian-American cultures, stoicism is common. Large displays of grief, like crying loudly, are relatively uncommon at Asian funerals. Robin's crying might have been seen as unseemly at an Asian funeral.

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