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Public Mourning for the Pope more an Expression of Honor than of Grief, says Expert on Bereavement

Creates strong sense of community bonding, regardless of faith

Release Date: April 5, 2005

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- As an estimated two million people gather in Vatican City this week to mourn the death of Pope John Paul II, their public grieving is less about personal pain and more about honoring the memory of someone they greatly admired, according to an expert on bereavement and mourning at the University at Buffalo.

"When people grieve somebody they don't know, it's very different than grieving someone who leaves a huge gap in their personal lives, which is what occurs with the death of a spouse or a child," says Thomas Frantz, Ph.D., associate professor of counseling and educational psychology in the UB Graduate School of Education.

"Their grief is likely to be less deep and less hurtful, but it likely will be filled with a desire to honor or commemorate the life of the pope," Frantz adds. "It's similar to what we felt when President Kennedy died."

According to Frantz, author of "Death and Grief in the Family," during large, public displays of mourning, like that taking place in St. Peter's Square, there arises a strong sense of community bonding that is very comforting, and even uplifting, for the mourners.

"In this age where so many people feel isolated or alone, and where there's less human contact in our daily lives, public mourning is one way to break out of the isolation and find comfort with people who are on the same wavelength, who have similar feelings," Frantz says.

"It feels good to be part of something that is greater than oneself," he adds. "This may not have a lot to do with grief; for most people it's more about honoring someone they looked up to."

And while the pope's mourners will hail from many different cultures, some with different traditions for mourning the dead, Frantz says cultural differences will matter very little among the throng gathering in Vatican City.

"With public grieving, cultural differences don't come into play as much," says Frantz. "It's more about people coming together to honor the man.

"Of course, there's a very positive aspect to this bringing together of people from different cultures," he adds. "People can see that on some issues we all can be united, because there are some people who are not Roman Catholic who are pausing and honoring the memory of the pope, who was someone that people could look up to regardless of their faith.

"The mourning brings people together and minimizes their differences for a little while."

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