By Roanne Samuels | Filipino Culture and Language | Filipino Mental Health
In Philippine movies, it’s a common scenario for someone to wail in grief during funerals. The Filipino language paves way to theses types of wailing sounds- hikbi, ungol, tangis are a few.
These scenarios are not a far cry from the many funerals I’ve attended in the motherland.
Growing up, I wondered why I don’t see funerals with these type of emotionality in American movies I’ve watched and when I immigrated in America, I understood why.
We grieve differently.
LOSS & GRIEF IN THE PHILIPPINES
American culture gives permission for expression of individuality. In school, those who ask questions are encouraged, thereby, given positive feedback. In the Philippines, you’re expected to raise your hand and reserve your breath for the finest question to ask while hoping you won’t pee in your pants for a deemed stupid question asked.
Perhaps the emphasis on (kapwa) reading hierarchical position, timing and how we can either burden or benefit another person’s space can create this analytical decision-making: to express or not.
In both places, American and Filipino culture there is something to learn.
Self-expression is multi-dimensional and is molded in many ways by culture.
Although Filipinos may not use verbal assertion as their main approach to get their points across, in many ways, Filipinos are very expressive in their non-verbal cues, facial expression and bodily movements.
Grieving is especially a communal event.
Vigils last for days in which (unless its a modern-day funeral service home) loved ones and friends do not leave the side of the dead.
I remember my lola’s vigil, her favorite disc of Placido Domingo was played 24 hours. Biscuit, coffee, rice cakes, even lunch was served. Food kept coming in and if a foreigner passed through, the inference that we we’re having a birthday party sounds passable.
But most of all, I remembered how my mother grieved. How she wailed and rolled fetus-like in her bed, her heartbreak poked into my own feelings of grief loosing my lola.
In many ways, it was beautiful to be connected in sorrow. Watching adults grieve taught me the invaluable lesson to love deeply and to mourn openly.
HOW WE LEARN TO GRIEVE IN AMERICA
In my blog, Collective Co-Regulation: Anatomy of Filipino Affection, I talked about how self-regulation (self-soothing techniques) are emphasized over co-regulation (seeking warmth/comfort from others in America.
In the Filipino culture, the emphasis is the opposite: co-regulation and in the bigger umbrella of our culture, Collective Co-Regulation. Watch this, my presentation in U.C. DAVIS Bulosan Center to learn more.
Self-regulation is an important skill to learn in America. If a child is dropped off in daycare and seeks out adult comfort throughout the day, this child may be labeled -clingy, too attached or having separation anxiety. In addition, it is also uncomfortable for the child to continuously seek out comfort so either the child has to build self-regulation skills, learn to detach or be anxiously preoccupied.
In the Philippines, children especially young children are pacified in their crying until they eventually stop (there may be variance in socio-economic status and age here). In essence, children lean towards co-regulation to sooth themselves.
This is probably why a cry can easily be met with irritation-
Itigil mo yan.
Because the Filipino adult feels that it’s her duty to make the crying stop and if it persists- a bad reflection on her.
But when crying becomes collective as in the wailing tears while mourning a loss, roles become blur for a moment. The young and the old seek each other out for comfort , co-regulating collectively.
In America, we hold our own emotions and grief. Adults are expected to carry on.
Learn more about the difference between American and Filipino culture in the FREE Webinar, Speak the Pinoy Love Language, access instantly.
If you watch the news, the anchor can report someone dying from a gunshot to the next holiday of the month in a few blinks.
There is shame in stopping to mourn, in crying and experiencing a myriad of loss expressions.
It’s interesting to observe how children in America are encouraged more to be independent and express their unique personalities than in the general Filipino culture. We often forget that we are social beings; connected to each other no matter how separate we believe we are.
The beautiful thing about the Filipino culture is this reminder.
Shame usually happens in a personal space and dissipates when cultural practice embraces a particular way of expression. Grief and mourning in the collective space makes the Filipino forget how crying can be perceived because everyone else is doing the same.
THE MANY FACES OF GRIEF: HOW NOT TO GRIEVE
I used “crying” as a cultural expression of grief but it’s important to highlight that grief has many faces.
How are you dealing with your own losses?
Losses can be tangible and intangible: death, loosing your house are tangible. Loss of dignity, loss of function are examples of intangible losses (Hardy, 2021).
Are you able to sit with grief in your life? Share stories with others of good and heartbreaking memories? Do you feel rushed to get back on your feet?
There is no specific look or a 1-2-3 step on how to grieve. Grieving is personal and yet in the Filipino culture, communal grief is an acceptable form of mourning.
As with the Kubler-Ross’ work on the stages of grief, you may experience emotions difficult to make sense of while in it. Know that this is part of the process-anger, confusion and even more anger. All these are ok.
Here’s some HOW NOT GRIEVE pointers:
Start learning about the Filipino culture as it relates to the American culture in this free webinar, watch instantly: Speak the Pinoy Love Language.
There is something fundamentally enlivening in experiencing a live birth. So is witnessing a loved one grasping for his last breath. Each brings a different enlivening experience; the latter with echoing sorrow that can feel like a death sentence. You become your pain and thus, it’s not uncommon to preserve oneself through numbing.
I’ve seen both in my life; different and yet profoundly similar. Both reminds us of the vibrating life force that the best moments of life is in the here and now.
Grief and mourning can be immensely painful. In your search to move on, you might be immobilized by grief manifested in your daily life. When you hurry grief like a task to accomplish, it can show up like a visitor that keeps knocking on your door.
When you open your door to grief, a surge of emotions can take hold of you and it can be excruciating. Be a witness to it until grief turns to loss. In a collective culture, someone else can be a surrogate witness (in the beginning) until you can muster enough strength to witness the grief on your own.
In observing my mother’s grief, she taught me that hearts can be broken and mended. In many ways, it allowed me to be have my heart broken for traumatic stories I hear from from my practice . But even more important, it taught me that the most resilient hearts have been torn and broken.
If you’ve experienced loss and need support, you can consult with me here.
Article title: How Not To Grieve: The Lost Art of Mourning