An introduction to death, dying and grief
An introduction to death, dying and grief

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An introduction to death, dying and grief

5.1 Public and private grief and popular culture

Described image
Figure 12 This Japanese Silk painting is from 1086 shows mourning and grief has a long history. In this painting, a demon and lion grieve at the death of Buddha.

There may be differences between how grief is portrayed in the public sphere (in front of others) compared to the private sphere which can be interpreted as expressing internal feelings, thoughts and behaviour behind closed doors (Howarth, 2007).

Described image
Figure 13 Students and teachers in Heverlee, Belgium pay their respects at the school gates during a national day of mourning on March 12, 2012 to remember the 28 individuals who died in a school bus crash carrying many 11-12 year-olds who were returning from a skiing trip.

Distinguishing between public and private grief is important since it is a way of understanding the way people express grief. This is the focus of the next activity.

Activity 6 Private and public expressions of grief

Timing: Allow approximately 50 minutes.

Spend some time filling out the table columns, one which is marked public expression and the other private expression of grief. Make notes in the columns about:

  • a.Moments when you have observed people grieving in public: who were they grieving for, and how were they expressing grief?
  • b.What are some of the ways people might grieve more privately?

Table 4 Public and private expressions of grief

Public expression of griefPrivate expression of grief
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An OU academic who did this activity completed the table as follows:

Table 4 Example answer

Public expression of griefPrivate expression of grief
The Bataclan attack in Paris in 2015 saw people come together and hold vigils while they lit candles, left flowers and messages as they cried openly in response to the event.Engaging in silent prayer or personal memorials to those who have died might be a private expression of grief.
The suicide bombing at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester in 2017, which resulted in the deaths of 22 fans and over 100 injuries, led to a tribute concert in which several well-known singers gathered to raise funds for the victims of the event.Memory or reflection on important personal occasions might constitute private grief.
Many people witnessed the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower in London in the same year (2017), which showed a community shocked, saddened and in despair as people responded with donations of clothing for those who had lost their homes in the tower.Eulogising to close friends and family is a common private expression of grief.

Is it so simple to discern between the private and public domain of grief? You may have observed more private outpourings of grief with people you know who have been bereaved or know that a piece of music acts as a ‘trigger’ for them as it reminds them of the deceased. In work with bereaved parents, Dr Kerry Jones reported that several parents discussed a particular piece of music which reminds them of the deceased. Others have talked about certain films which remind them of their own journey through grief.


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