Grief that comes with losing a loved one is surprising and inescapable. Death and mourning, although universal, are treated differently across the world. Looking at other cultures’ mourning traditions may bring solace to you.
Hindu mourning traditions
While death may not carry the same finality for Hindu people due to their belief in reincarnation, mourning is still important. A common Hindu tradition involves cooking an elaborate meal liked by the deceased and bringing that meal to the temple to be shared with the priest and the community.
Sharing a ritual meal, especially one that was a favorite of your loved one, may offer both a nice memory of the past and a reaffirmation of continuing life. Phaneuf’s podcast, Dying to Talk, has an episode about Hindu funeral rites.
Vietnamese mourning traditions
Vietnamese people believe in continuing communion with their ancestors and as such create elaborate shrines dedicated to those they have lost. These shrines include photographs, beloved items, incense and candles. Whether or not you hold the belief of an afterlife, creating a special space with items and pictures of your deceased loved one can be comforting.
Native American mourning traditions
Native American tribes have varying mourning traditions and rituals surrounding death and grieving. One that holds true across many groups is that of burying items of special meaning along with the body of the deceased. It may be difficult to part with items that your loved one cherished, but it could also be cathartic and a way to attain some closure.
Irish mourning traditions
In Ireland, funerals and wakes are a very musical affair. There is usually a variety of both religious, mournful ballads and more cheerful songs geared at remembering good times instead of bad. Card games are not unheard of. Grief is absolutely a necessary part of the process, but remembering the importance of continuing life cannot be stressed enough—embracing music and fun may be an important step in that direction.
Islamic mourning traditions
Islamic tradition encourages a gathering, however there is never an open casket. During the gathering there is usually a designated person who reads passages from the Koran, while an Imam presides. This is a somber event, and there is usually no recording or photography permitted.
Traditionally, the gathering can last for up to two days before the body must be brought to its burial site by four men, with a procession of family and friends following. During the burial, there is little talking as the guests pray for the soul of the departed.
Chinese mourning traditions
During a Chinese funeral, families are given red envelopes filled with money that must be spent. The idea here is that life must go on and new acquisitions might just move you into that near future where you can look beyond your loss to a lifetime of remembrance.
Eastern Orthodox mourning traditions
For those belonging to the Eastern Orthodox faiths, which includes Greek, Russian and Roman Orthodox believers, funeral rites are closely tied to the church and steeped in tradition and ritual. Shortly after death, the body is cleansed and clothed by the family and friends of the deceased.
In some cases, the clothing may reflect a person’s station in life—for example, veterans may wear their uniform and those belonging to the church wear ceremonial garb. A priest is typically present for this process and blesses it by sprinkling holy water. Once the body is prepared, the family will usually hold a wake, which begins with the First Panikhida, a prayer service.
Although in some cases a wake can last for up to three days, in recent times it is more common to hold it in a single day. During this time, family and friends may read psalms and share in their grief.
Despite our many differences, all cultures share the burden of death. In looking at the variety of mourning traditions surrounding the passing of loved ones, we can take comfort in our commonalities, all the while finding new ways of alleviating our pain.