How Culture Stops Mourners From Healing

photography of monument valley arizona Our death denying culture continues to send the message to mourners that the healthiness of an individual’s grief is to be measured by how quickly and proficiently the mourner “gets over” the loss and moves into a productive life. I remember a co-worker who was supported by our employer while her husband went through months of chemotherapy to fight cancer. Once her husband died and weeks passed, she was fired because of a lack of productivity.

The wells of compassion for that mourner had gone dry when her grief continued too long. Unfortunately this example is typical of our culture and the corporate, bottom-line world. In our competitive, achievement-oriented culture, grief and mourners are seen as inefficient.

I am sorry if my views seem a little harsh and pessimistic, but too many mourners starting their life path into healthy mourning and healing have their grief short-circuited by our culture. The problem is that our society considers talk about death and grief as morbid and taboo. Living in an atmosphere where grief emotions and mourning are stifled we mourners sometimes feel forced to carry unexpressed grief and unresolved issues concerning a loss throughout our lives.

Most friends and advisors around the mourner give advice with one of two goals in mind. First, well-intentioned advisors want to comfort the mourner out of his or her grief. Everyone hates to see another person in pain. We naturally want to fix the person and make everything all right. Mourners are not broken, and they cannot be fixed or set straight by platitudes, inspirational thoughts and unsolicited advice. Often mourners are in too much pain to be able to hear the comfort in these attempts to influence their grief. Mourners want to be heard and have their stories and experiences affirmed rather than solved or judged.

Second, advisors around the mourner actively seek to shut down the grief process because they do not understand or empathize with the mourner’s need to remember, to experience grief, to adapt to a new reality and to heal. These advisors include the well-intentioned and the uninformed that simply do not know what to do with mourning people. These advisors also include those who do not want to be reminded of the harsh truths of dying, death and bereavement. The majority of our society knows that they all will die and that they all will say good-bye to loved ones in this life. They simply do not want to be reminded of those facts. The open expression of grief reminds them of death’s inevitability.

The truth is that life lived with the end in view can lead to a more fulfilling and meaningful existence. Just ask philosophy students about Existentialism which builds upon that fact. The wisdom writings of the Old Testament talk about living life with Death in mind by saying, “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart.” (Ecclesiastes 7:2 NIV).

Experiencing the death of someone we love causes us mourners to review our beliefs and our personal understanding of death, dying and loss. Our loss experience can cause us to prepare for our inevitable end and for the life which still lies ahead for us. When our grief is short-circuited, we are robbed of the possibilities of navigating grief in a healthy fashion and of seeing life and death with a meaningful perspective.

Written by Larry M. Barber, LPC-S, CT author of the grief survival guide “Love Never Dies: Embracing Grief with Hope and Promise”  available online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble or

The grief survival guide is also available in Spanish as “El Amor Nunica Muere: Aceptando el Dolor con Esperanza y Promesa” on

Larry is the director of GriefWorks, a free grief support program for children and their families in Dallas TX