The Taboo on Grief and the Filipino Culture

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butterflyA few days ago , a friend ( a member of The Compassionate Friends) and myself agreed to have an interview with Sociology students from the University of the Philippines Diliman . They are currently taking the course Sociology 182 on Qualitative Research Methods. As part of their requirements, they were tasked to accomplish a research paper with a topic of their interest. They chose the topic, “Death and Dying: The Experiences of a Mother at the Sudden Death of her Child“. That’s not a usual topic that students might choose and I was pleased at their choice. Five of us at the Compassionate Friends agreed to help out with their paper. I learned that two members of INA Foundation also participated .

What surprised me is that their professor discouraged them at the choice of their topic. In fact, they were told to drop this topic and choose another one. The professor said that they will not be able to get mothers to talk about their [tag]grief[/tag]. She added that grief is a private matter. But these girls defended their topic and believed that they will be able to get the cooperation of bereaved mothers. True enough, they got the interviews from members of INA Foundation and The Compassionate Friends. In fact they got more mothers than they initially planned.

Unfortunately, we still live in a world where grief is a taboo topic. People who don’t outwardly show grief are said to be ‘strong’ and ‘brave’ while those who show and express feelings are spoken of in derogatory terms such as ‘falling apart’ and ‘going to pieces’ or ‘breaking down’ etc. “She’s not moving on”…In reality the latter are the strong ones, as they don’t care what people think of them when they are responding to grief in a way that is right for them, (crying or being angry etc.) It takes courage to show our emotional pain in public.

Why was it not difficult to talk about our grief? [tag]Bereaved mothers[/tag] (or even fathers) need to talk about the child they have lost. It not only gives us something to do with the energy of grief, but also establishes the continuity of memory and spirit of one who was so much a part of our lives.

Perhaps their professor believed the old school of thought that grief is a private matter and that we should be left alone. That’s what I thought too but it didn’t help me work towards a positive resolution of my grief. There’s a lot to learn about grief. We are not depressed mothers who cry all day and wail over the loss of our child 24/7. There are just difficult moments and that’s when a loving support system is needed. Sometimes families and friends don’t really understand the road we traverse.

[tag]Grief education[/tag] is still at an infancy stage in the Philippines. I know only one grief educator who is none other than my dear friend, Cathy Babao-Guballa. She teaches this course every second semester at the Ateneo College. I don’t think UP Diliman offers this course. There are probably only 3 grief counsellors who bereaved mothers themselves . Grief resources that is peculiar to the Filipino culture is limited. We have the Fallen Cradle book , stories from 22 bereaved parents as a start.

I hope there will more research on grief over the loss of a child and the Filipino culture. The dsicounted grief of siblings and the quiet grief of the fathers is another research topic. I admire these students for being brave enough to pursue a topic that is deemed difficult by their own professor.

Noemi Lardizabal-Dado (1386 Posts)

You may contact Noemi (noemidado @ for speaking and consultancy services in the following areas: Parenting in the Digital Age (includes pro-active parenting on cyber-bullying and bullying) ; Social Business ; Reinventing One’s Life; and social media engagement. Our parenting workshop is called "Prep to Prime (P2P): Parenting in the Digital Age (An Un­Workshop)" P2P Un­Workshops are conducted by two golden women in their prime, Noemi and Jane, who have a century’s worth of experience between them. They are both accomplished professionals who chose to become homemakers. This 180­degree turn also put them on a different life course which includes blogging, social media engagement and citizen advocacy. They call their un­workshops Prep to Prime or P2P, for short, to emphasize the breadth of their parenting experience. They tackle different aspects and issues of parenting ­­ from managing pregnancies, prepping for the school years of children, dealing with househelp, managing the household budget, to maximizing one’s prime life and staying healthy through the senior years.

  • That was a very interesting post; thanks for sharing! I have to say that grief is treated in almost the same manner in Japan. It seems that people are expected to be stoic and to accept what happens, even when it comes to the premature loss of loved ones. Grief education courses, like the one your friend teaches, would probably do well in Japan!

  • Or how about a son/daughter grieving the loss of a parent? I must say that the lack in our culture to provide the means to facilitate healing from a tragic loss would often lead many young men to alcoholism. Thank God, I didn’t succumb to it; instead, I sought out healing methods (on my own initiative) although it took me many years to finally put closure to it.

    Thanks for sharing this with us, Noemi 🙂

  • JV

    I believe that releasing and talking about grief would make us stronger. I know how mothers would feel, because I’ve experienced the grief of my mother when my younger sister died. I was totally depressed and was only 8 years old then. Regarding grief is a kind of taboo, everyone must transcend that kind of idea. It does not necessarily mean that if you would release your emotional pains, you are perceived as a weakling or hiding it either would make you stronger. I believe that when we overcome grief, then and only then we will be relieved and free.

  • @thebizofknowledge- I guess the taboo is in most parts of the world. it’s just that lately, there has been more grief support

    @eric- We do, in our own individual ways, gradually get better at bearing our loss. Mainly, the pain simply softens with the passage of time. However, I don’t believe in closure. The word “closure” strikes me as one of those annoyingly trendy words that came out of the psychobabble of the self-help craze.

    In a newspaper column about the so-called “healing process” of the families of the Oklahoma City bombing victims, Ellen Goodman wrote that the media coverage suggested ‘death is something to be dealt with, that loss is something to get over – according to a prescribed emotional timetable.” She recalled a personal experience of her own: “At a Christmas party, a man offered up a worried sigh about a widowed mutual friend. ‘It’s been two years,’ he said, ‘and she still hasn’t achieved closure.’ The words pegged her as an under-achiever who failed the required course in Mourning 201, who wouldn’t graduate with her grief class.”

    @JV- as long as we live , grief will always be a part of our lives. The pain softens through the years but there will be moments when we miss our loved one. It doesn’t mean we suffer a setback. It means we loved.Death did not remove the love we shared with our loved one.

  • It all depends on the subject if he/she will speak out the grief that he had before. Some people though are not yet accepted the fact that their loved one perhaps are already gone and by this they kept all this grief inside them so that the memory of their loved ones will remain. Others are accepted it easily. It is how the person handles the situation to survive from grief of a loss.
    Healing process takes time and might not be attained by individual if he won’t let go of everything.