03/26/2014 02:02 pm ET Updated May 25, 2014

Flight 370: Culture and Grief

During the past several weeks Malaysia Flight 370 has been missing, I have heard a number of psychotherapists interviewed about what the Chinese majority of families are going through. Most therapists interviewed have been Caucasian Americans. While in the psychotherapy world of which I am a member, there is emphasis on culture when helping families that I have not heard here. We are comforted knowing that therapists are on hand because in the United States we are consoled to hear that bereaved people are receiving talk therapy, where as the Asian culture is not of the same mind.

A Mourning Chinese Grandmother

As a Caucasian-American grandmother of two adopted Chinese grandchildren, I can't begin to imagine what the Chinese grandmother was suffering as she responded to the statement that the plane went down in the Indian Ocean and that all had died -- or even possibly getting a text message imparting the no survival message. This grandmother's response was reported to have been that her son, daughter-in-law and grandchild were on the plane, and what would she do now? Losing an only son could mean losing the help of her daughter-in-law and possibly her entire financial support and security throughout her old age.

Culture and Malaysian Women

There also could have been a Malaysian woman on the plane who was the oldest daughter. As opposed to China, where sons are the caregivers, in Malaysia the oldest daughter is the one to give support and comfort to her family in times of death, crisis and old age. With each person on the plane there will be a unique story seen through the lens of culture.

Flight 370 Response Time

With the 24-hour news cycle pundits expressed concern at what they deemed to be the lack of "immediate response" by Malaysian authorities. They also voiced admiration for the quiet early response of family members while they waited for reports from those in charge. This could be seen as another cultural difference from Western responses. In America, according to Dr. Gerry Cox, people tend to be more outspoken with their opinions regarding government and the federal response, and are quick to demand answers and an immediate all-out investigation. It has currently been two weeks and the families are only now voicing their anger and demanding answers and explanations. Even using words such as "murder and lyre."

Grieving Is Cultural and Unique

The downing of Flight 370 should be a reminder to us that grieving is unique and that each family has a cultural and a personal history related to loss. With our multicultural population Americans should be particularly sensitive and supportive to those who have not only suffered a personal loss but also to those who are in charge of the investigation.

If you would like to hear more about the cultural aspects of loss, please watch the YouTube below where my daughter Dr. Heidi Horsley and I interview Gerry R. Cox, Ph.D., and Professor Emeritus of Sociology at University of Wisconsin- La Crosse. He has served as the Director of the Center for Death Education & Bioethics and has published numerous articles and 17 books.