Understanding and Respecting Cultural Differences in Mourning

When I laugh, I laugh in my mother tongue; When I cry, I cry in my mother tongue;

When I scream my pain, I do so in my mother tongue; When I speak with the spirits,

I do so in my mother tongue.

~Author Unknown

When we leave our native country, we also leave our way of life, our customs, our history until that moment in time, our friends, and perhaps even part of our family. All of these things have been our source of wisdom, survival, and support. We know that saying goodbye means absence and distance. Later we begin a new life with the personal tools that we brought with us; we gradually begin to adapt by adding to our tools from the community around us. However, when we face the pain of losing a child, we remember and miss what we left behind.

Cultural heritage, especially beliefs and rituals, becomes deeply important and necessary during those painful moments and celebrations of bereavement. Our heritage accompanies us in our life journey through grief, healing, and reconciliation. In our language, our so-called “mother” or “native” tongue, we learned about our culture, how we relate to others and air our emotions and feelings. We speak the same language; we share and are united by the same culture; and we recognize the importance of our feelings, our pain, and our grief being understood by others.

We cry in our native tongue, even if we speak more than one language because we need to speak in our mother tongue when we are overcome by a great emotion. We laugh and cry, we feel our pain, and our soul aches in our language.

We dreamed of this project . . . a workshop and a sharing session totally in Spanish. And for the first time, we had the opportunity of presenting both at The Compassionate Friends 35th National and 5th International Gathering held in Costa Mesa. The workshop, titled “Nuestros Hijos e Hijas en Nuestros Corazones para Siempre,” addressed issues on the grief of mothers and fathers as individuals and as couples, surviving children, siblings grief, and cultural diversity related to mourning. It was an emotional encounter, where for more than three hours we, attendees and presenters, learned, remembered, and shared our views, our stories, our grief, and our emotions; read poems, sang, swayed to the rhythm of the music, and even felt the presence of our children. Indeed, it was an exceptional experience, and we hope that this workshop gives way to future ones.

Diversity is a broad concept that includes race, ethnicity, religion, gender, spirituality, the different ways of seeing, understanding, and facing life and death, grief, and the beliefs of the spiritual life after death. These are the reasons we need to be conscious and aware of the diversity that is found in our support groups: That the word compassion, which identifies us as an organization, signifies an obligation to learn and know about this diversity will ultimately sensitize us to accept and respect. In this way, we all will feel accompanied and will not have to walk alone because we are different.

Truth resides in every human heart, and one has to search for it there and be guided by the truth as one sees it. But no one has the right to coerce others to act according to his own view of truth. ~M. Gandhi





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