Grief: A Community and Media Affair

September 15, 2021

By Ken Barringer

What did your family, friends, culture, or religion teach you about how to manage things that might feel unmanageable? When you think back to one of your first losses be it through death or a psychosocial loss (such as being forced to move) you got some message about what you were supposed to feel, think, say, or not say. Being young and impressionable you perhaps internalized that message. To not carry forward with that message meant to be disloyal. Disloyalty could come at a high price for a child: Will they still have me? Am I allowed to not believe this – even if it feels lousy? 

We think of grief as impacting individuals, which it does. However, death and losses occur within the context of groups; communities and/or families. Groups have power and influence. What are the messages being given? There is a tendency to repeat what we know, even if it’s not effective. We carry it with us and might not even recognize we can think differently. Since grief is such a personal and individualized experience how can the masses be right about our experience?

The media is also powerful and influential. Where do we get our cues on how to act, behave, think, and feel? Those things may be modeled in what we see, hear, or read. Because our culture tells us a “good life” is one filled with more pleasure than pain this becomes something to aspire too. Consequently, many portraits of the grief process end with things somehow working out and wrapping up in a nice package at the end. Short of this, the film or story might not get a good review and thought “too depressing”. The portrayal of grief in the media is that it happens over a brief period as if grief were like getting a cold; you’re down for a little bit but soon your back on your feet and you go on as if nothing happened. This is not realistic. The grief process just doesn’t work like that. If this becomes our expectation, we will soon be demoralized and feel like we are “doing grief wrong”. 

Closure is a word we hear often when describing the grief process. I’d prefer the word “reconstruction”. Closure means something has been completed (as if grief were a real estate transaction) and it’s time to move on. Reconstruction is an active process of something under development. Over time we will need to modify what we have constructed to meet the demands of the times.