More Than Meets the Eye, True Stories about Death, Dying, and Afterlife covers many aspects of the dying and grieving process and sheds light on euthanasia, suicide, near-death experience, and spirit visits after the passing of a loved one. ___________________________________________

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Diversity in Death Rituals

If you’ve been following this blog recently, you know that I am taking a sociology course on death, dying, and bereavement. I’ve been posting responses to the questions our instructor poses. Here is some information on mourning practices and burial rituals in other cultures.

1) Why is it important to learn about mourning and burial practices of other cultures and religions? Be sure to fully explain your response.

When I found that this was the question for the week, I was surprised and dreaded answering it. While reading the material, I kept asking myself “Why do I need to know this stuff? What difference does it make how someone else deals with death? Grief is such a personal and private affair.”

It will be interesting to see the answers my classmates give to this question. I had to think about this to come up with any answer at all, but I have decided that it is important that we understand one another in our ever-changing global society. Our neighbors, co-workers, friends, extended family, and society in general now include people from every background, race, and nation.

If I were to go to the funeral of a New Orleans friend or someone from west New Guinea, I would probably leave when the wailing started (unless rum and revelry were promised next). If the family began cutting themselves, but I wouldn’t offer them any Bandaids or tourniquets! I wouldn’t call the police either.

The purpose of a funeral is to provide a social way to accept the reality of death, express grief, dispose of the body, acknowledge the absence of the deceased, draw the community together, comfort one another, and give meaningful to the life and death of the deceased.

In my opinion everyone is welcome to practice his own mourning and death rituals. Though I do wonder if it is legal to burn a dead body on a public riverbank. The health department and media would be all over the case.

2) How might learning about the diverse mourning and burial practices be personally and/or professionally useful to you?

Page 342 of our text speaks of death rituals as a rite of passage. Each culture has its own way of expressing the rite of separation, the rite of transition, and the rite of reincorporation. All the rituals we learned about this week address these three rites of passage.

Learning about the mourning practices and death rituals of other cultures helped me find an appreciation of diversity that helps me understand and accept others. It also gives me compassion to help support the reincorporation of the bereaved back into society without the presence of their loved one.

3) How does learning about these diverse practices help in your understanding of your own mourning and burial related beliefs and practices?

The text caused me to think about how I would like my body disposed of when it dies. I have stated in my will that I would like to be cremated, but after reading about so many cultures that burn the body on a pyre, I think I would prefer that method to cremation in a mortuary. It’s so much more celebrative and less expensive to barbeque the dead body in your own backyard.

I’m not being facetious. As Pagans, my husband and I frequently conduct new/full moon and sabbat rituals using a fire to offer flora sacrifices to the gods and goddesses. (No animals or humans are ever harmed in our rituals.)

I didn’t realize that my husband’s wishes for a bonfire were actually in line with Hinduism. Here is a section of text from my book More Than Meets the Eye: True Stories About Death, Dying, and Afterlife that I wrote and published in 2005:

My husband has planned his own funeral. To save money, he wants to be cremated in the backyard fire pit and have his ashes used to fertilize our garden. He has asked me to throw a party in his honor. Everyone should bring their own six-pack of beer or a bottle of liquor, some party favors, and a lot of food that I can freeze so I won’t have to cook for a while (Randy is the family chef, not me!) There will be dancing to 60s and 70s Rock-n-Roll classics, and our sons have been instructed to set off a huge display of fireworks in the cul-de-sac after dark. The media and the fire department will be notified in advance.

Now, I’ll ask you to respond to my question. Please type your answer as a comment below this post.

How would you like your body to be disposed of when you die?
For more information, you might enjoy reading the complete book More Than Meets the Eye True Stories about Death, Dying, and Afterlife. Purchase on


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