Despite a growing interest in bereavement in cross-cultural perspective, few reports have described a comparative analysis of bereavement. By examining the social contexts in the transformations of Western bereavement practices, structures common to bereavement in a range of cultures can be identified. The paper compares the contemporary bereavement practices of several ethnic and cultural groups in North America: Blacks; ethnic Chinese; Southeast Asian refugees; Haitians; Italians; Greeks; and Spanish-speaking groups. Consideration is given to the state of widowhood in different cultural systems. The impact of modernization among traditional societies demonstrates that even though Western technologies are incorporated into the procedures followed by these modernizing societies, the deep cultural code remains intact. Five questions require further clarification: is bereavement an illness, or a rite de passage and a normal life event? How widespread and useful are protective factors, such as group support, that facilitate successful resolution of grief? How effective are mourning practices of various ethnic groups in preventing "bad grief", and might some of these practices be beneficial if taken up by other ethnic groups? How can the Western health practitioner know that a bereaved person from an unfamiliar cultural group is suffering "bad grief"? How acceptable is Western grief counseling to non-Western clients?