At the 2015 Association of Death Education and Counseling (ADEC) conference, Dr. Gloria Horsley discusses cultural differences in grief with Dr. Andy Ho. He notes there are tremendous differences in grieving within the Chinese culture, with older generations in particular thinking many elements of death are bad luck. This has led to a communication meltdown between cultures, with younger generations unsure of how to proceed with death. Planning the logistics of death, sharing your wishes (organ donation? Cremation?) and other necessary conversations are often avoided in the Chinese culture.
In the Mandarin language, the words “four” and “death” sound very similar, so the number four is avoided (kind of like the number 13 in the US). If someone sees a funeral car down the road, people will turn around and go the other direction. However, he believes it’s possible to remove these superstitions. Plus, Ho notes that the Chinese honor and worship their ancestors. This is important because sometimes older generations get more willing to discuss death and dying. It’s the middle generation that’s very resistant.
Advanced Care Planning
Dr. Ho has noticed that many in older generations are changing their perspective on talking about death. They want to make death plans, but their middle aged children don’t want to talk about it. This leads to a disparity that causes extra trouble and even grief when someone dies. “We need to open up some minds about what life and death is really about,” he says. It starts with the public education process, and needs to start at a very young age.
He’s seen that at universities, during the first foundational year, discussions about death are taking place. However, he wants to see that in high school and elementary school, too. Luckily, there are many organizations popping up around China that are making it possible to facilitate these talks, but there’s still a long way to go.