Grief is Invisible in the United States

Nearly one in seven people at any given time are grieving in the U.S. That’s a lot of folks. To make matters worse it’s almost impossible to tell who is, and who is not grieving. This makes grief invisible and when it’s invisible it makes it very hard to know who or how to help. Our culture hasn’t always been that way. Only 150 years ago we had bereavement handkerchiefs that alerted others to the fact that the person was in a state of grief. The man’s bereavement hanky was flat black and the woman’s was a shiny silky black with lace. The depth of the lace told others how long she had been bereaved. Each time the person pulled out the handkerchief others could see that this person was in a state of grief. We have no such indicator in today’s world. In our culture grief is simply invisible.

During the same time period in the U.S. people used bereavement stationary which was paper with a thin black line around the edges. All of the grieving person’s writing and communicating with this special stationary would tell others that they were bereaved. There were black arm bands, funeral wreaths for doors, and jewelry made of the hair of the loved one worn to honor them. Basically, grief was much more visible. Not unlike a tribe in Africa that actually paints their grief history on their upper arms. This alerts everyone in their tribe to their situations and makes their losses visible. I wonder sometimes what it would be like in our culture if we had bereavement bumper stickers that told people of their losses. Would you drive differently and be a bit more patient if you knew the car in front of you had just experienced a significant death?

Webhealing has been active in trying to make use of the internet to help those who are bereaved and invisible. The webhealing forums are a good example of a way to make grief more visible.  This blog is another example and will highlight different aspects of grief and also offer resources online that can be of help to those in the midst of grief. You probably know someone who is presently grieving. Pass this on to them. Let them know that their grief is not so invisible and that you are thinking of them. Bereaved people tend not to be upset when others ask about their pain, they are much more likely to be upset when they or their loved ones seem ignored or forgotten. Let those you love know you care.
By Tom Golden

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