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Sunday, July 3, 2011


Grief not the same as mourning


When tragedy and loss occur, when people vent their sad emotions, we cannot say that we are witnessing their grief. That is what we commonly say, what is written and spoken in the media, and even what professionals loosely say.

Instead, what we are witnessing is mourning, which is a prepared, ritualized display for public eyes. Mourning is not the same as grief, but the confusion of one with the other is one of the common confusions of life — like confusing school with education, or law with justice, or democracy with freedom, or religion with faith, information with knowledge, etc.

Grief is chaotic and socially dangerous, while mourning applies a structure to the emotional purge that helps channel and contain it for the preservation of society.

So, although Roger Pulvers' assertion in his June 12 Counterpoint article, "Barber's cutting comment denies others' humanity — and hers, too," that people everywhere experience "the very same grief" to "the very same degree" might not be true, I think that it survives William McOmie's thoughtful criticism in his June 30 letter, "Differences in experiencing grief."

McOmie wonders what role culture and environment, personal history and personality would possibly play (if human beings felt the "very same grief" to the "very same degree").

We may say that those things primarily inform one's mourning behavior, rather than one's experience of grief — which may be outside our ken. A better criticism might be to describe the futility of trying to talk meaningfully about people's grief at all, rather than challenge Pulvers' description from the angle of culture.

Regardless of whose position is correct, I think Pulvers' description remains intact for now.

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer's own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.

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The Japan Times
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