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“Mom, Mom, something is wrong with Cookie,” my daughter yelled from downstairs. On November 10, 2023, Cookie was found unresponsive and was rushed to the veterinarian hospital. They performed CPR and intubated her in attempts to stabilize to no avail. The doctor recommended euthanasia due to the poor prognosis. Cookie was our 15-year-old Terrier mix/ Chihuahua who we had since she was born. Just a few months earlier, we celebrated her Quinceañera (15th birthday celebration), where 99% of the attendees were humans. As we continue to grieve the loss of our furry friend, it is a reminder of how complex the topic of grief is. In our household alone, three of us are grieving entirely differently. It is essential to understand that this is not a “one size fits all” process. 

Photo by Dr. Maritza Bojórquez

Understanding Grief and Loss

The grief process is unique. Everyone experiences some loss in a lifetime. Even “Jesus wept,” as noted in John 11:35, where he mourns the death of his friend, Lazarus. To better understand grief, there is some terminology I would like to share. Anticipatory grief is expected loss, which can stem from terminal illness or job loss due to the agency closing. There is prolonged grief, now recognized in the DSM-5 TR as an illness. Prolonged grief occurs when a griever’s daily function is impaired long-term, and there is difficulty adjusting to life without the person or thing (usually six months after the loss). There is also disenfranchised grief that is invalidated by culture or society (i.e., suicide, miscarriage, pet, overdose). 

Further, there are various levels of grief: primary, secondary, and multiple. Primary is a death or a significant life-changing event (i.e., death of a loved one, losing a limb, or a job). Secondary grief refers to the consequences of primary events, for example, a change in a family role, companionship, or freedom. Lastly, multiple losses are several primary losses, such as the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job, and the loss of a relationship (Cleiren, 2015; Haley, 2013; Zhai & Du, 2020). A recent example that affected millions was the multiple primary losses witnessed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some clients experienced the loss of loved ones, housing, employment, and health.

These layers of different kinds of grief are further compounded by cultural influences on grief. From a clinical perspective, understanding the grief someone is experiencing will be incomplete without sufficient cultural humility. 

Photo by Dr. Maritza Bojórquez

The Cultural Aspect

Trying to unpack the cultural influence on grief is as complicated as culture itself. Consider Latino culture as an example. The Latino culture is not homogenous in the way they go through the grieving process. Some are heavily rooted in religion and spirituality. For example, Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) originally stems from an indigenous custom. However, I have noticed that family and friends who practice Catholicism tend to celebrate it more. Dia de los Muertos takes place annually on November 1 and 2, and surviving relatives commemorate the loved ones that have passed by creating ofrendas (altars) with their loved one’s pictures, favorite foods, and marigold flowers (think of the Pixar/ Disney movie Coco). During this time, it is believed that the spirits of those who have passed come to visit, thus being celebrated by the surviving family. Others tend to honor their loved ones by praying a Novenario (rosary for nine days) upon their passing and on the anniversary of their death and hosting a misa (mass). During this time, it is a remembrance and honoring their loved ones. 

As I began to write this blog, it became challenging because it forced me to stop and think about my feelings regarding the loss of my four-legged companion. The day Cookie passed, I cried and then “got it together.” Being “strong” (for others) became an expectation growing up in my Mexican family, which has followed through adulthood. 

Photo by Dr. Maritza Bojórquez

As a social worker, I learned about the five stages of grief from Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. However, there is still that disconnect between knowing and doing, also known as the action paradox, further highlighting the importance of cultural pressure. As I examined examples of lived experience, I thought back to when my older brother passed away. At 18 years old, I was in charge of helping my mother with the burial process for my older brother, hence the “keep it moving” attitude. Further, in the burial process in Mexico, there seems to be no time to process the passing of the loved one. The burial process in Mexico happens so quickly compared to my experience in the United States. When someone passes in Mexico, they are buried within 48 hours, which is broken down by having a vigil for 24 hours followed by the immediate burial. Lastly, the Latino culture has a machismo foundation, and it is less accepting of males crying than females. These are a few examples of what I’ve experienced that show how the grieving process may be interrupted due to a lack of time or cultural acceptance. If grief is not processed, it can lead to prolonged or complicated grief. 

We have delved into grief and loss, but let’s address some common misconceptions and myths along with some coping skills and tips to support others experiencing grief.

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Misconceptions and Myths

  • Stages of grief happen in order from denial to acceptance.
  • Grief has a timeframe.
  • The stages of grief only take place once.
  • If you don’t cry, then you’re not experiencing grief.
  • The first year is the hardest.
  • “If you keep crying for them, their soul will never rest.”

Coping Skills

  • Seek support or counseling.
  • Acknowledge your feelings and emotions (all are normal).
  • Find ways to express yourself. These can be done in various ways, such as journaling, writing poetry, or drawing.
  • Engage in mindfulness/ grounding techniques – breathing exercises, walking, meditation.
  • Celebrate their birthdays, visit their favorite restaurant, or make their favorite dish. 
  • Pray and press into God.

Tips to support someone experiencing grief – Do’s and Don’ts 

  • Don’t say things like, “I understand what you are going through.” Although there may be similarities in grief, every experience is unique.
  • Do engage in increasing cultural humility. It is essential as you begin to support others experiencing grief. Others include clients, students, friends, family members, anyone going through grief and loss.
  • Don’t tell the person grieving to let you know if there is anything you can do for them. During this time, they may not have the mental capacity or energy to think of ways you can help. Instead, drop off a care package, send a card or a heartfelt text, invite them for coffee or a walk.
  • Do let them know you are there (they may or may not reach out soon).
  • Don’t encourage people to ignore their grief during this time. 

In closing, grief is a complex process and different for everyone. As we interact with others inside and outside of CBU, we can increase the level of openness to understand other’s grieving process. I encourage you to be empathetic to any loss a person is experiencing, whether it is a loved one, the loss of health, a limb, a job, home, marriage, or even the death of a pet – like our experience with Cookie.

Support and Resources

Websites/ Articles
CBU Counseling Center:

  • Mon – Fri 8am-5pm; call (951) 689-1120

Dial 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline

Dial 211 local resources in your area website is created by, David Kessler, grief expert –

El duelo: Cómo sobrellevar la muerte de un ser querido – APA

Books/ Podcast

Notes on Grief – by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Finding Meaning by David Kessler and On Grief & Grieving Dr. Kübler-Ross and D. Kessler

The Grief Recovery Handbook – by John W. James and Russell Friedman

El camino de las lágrimas – Jorge Bucay

Déjalos ir con amor: La aceptación del duelo – Nancy O’connor

The Invisible String – Patrice Karst (Children’s Book)

You’ll Always Have My Love – Jennifer Lim Chobar (Children’s Book)

Te Extrañaré: Un libro ilustrado para niños para ayudar a los pequeños a lidiar con la Muerte de un Ser Querido – Ben King (Children’s Book)

Podcast: Terrible, Thanks For Asking by Nora McInerny