How do different cultures honor and remember their person after death?
Culture is a mix of beliefs, values, traditions, and rituals that certain groups share. Culture helps us define evolutionary identity, gives meaning to life, helps preserve cultural heritage, and strengthens our sense of belonging and unity.
However, grief is a personal journey and a natural response to a death loss. It can be messy and unpredictable, and emotions may occur at the strangest times and places.
Across the globe, many different cultural rituals are involved when honoring and remembering a person after death. Rituals play a significant role in helping people who are passing on and bringing comfort to the bereaved family members.
Every culture has a unique set of beliefs that describe how the world works, our roles in society, and perhaps even how to be and usually what to do when death occurs. These values and beliefs inform people on how to approach death and cope during and after loss.
Culture and Grief
Culture informs how we handle life-related matters, and people often adapt to these beliefs and values to be part of a particular group. It’s important to understand that grief response differs from person to person despite specific cultural practices.
Individual responses to grief may appear odd or different from the expected cultural norms. For example, someone who is usually quiet and reserved may not be comfortable expressing their feelings in public, even though that is what their culture expects. On the other hand, there might be a high level of desperation that goes beyond cultural expectations in addressing a person’s grief.
Christianity believes in life after death, which gives the family hope when death occurs. The Christian faith offers spiritual guidance and support to anyone struggling with grief, with specific scriptures providing comfort. Prayers, congregations, and special services are dedicated to the spirit and the family during grief.
The religion offers continued support to families and communities through prayers, congregations, customs, and death rituals lasting throughout the year. In addition, the outstanding belief in Christianity of the promise of the afterlife may offer ultimate comfort and hope of reuniting with loved ones in the afterlife.
In Mexico, grieving traditions involve expressing grief in the open and honoring the dead while paying the last respects to the deceased and their families. Funerals precede a wake or vigil that begins the day before the funeral and lasts through the night. These practices usher the dead into the afterlife. Unlike other cultures that believe in life after death, the Mexican tradition views death as a permanent phase of life. Yet, the belief is that the dead come to visit the living, which makes the grieving process an enduring event.
There is no right or wrong way to grieve. Instead, we each need to mourn the death loss of our person in the ways that feel right to us despite the cultural norms and expectations. When supporting someone from a different cultural background during grief, consider the following questions for guidance.
What emotions and behaviors are culturally traditional?
What are the family beliefs surrounding death?
How can you express your messages of condolence?
Who attends the mourning ceremonies, how can the attendees dress, and what role can they play?
What kind of ceremonies are performed during the mourning period?
Here are some suggestions that transcend cultural boundaries:
Keep sentimental items to remind you of your person to remember their presence and what they meant to you.
Set a date aside for their remembrance, like an anniversary.
Pick a cause, an opportunity to help others, and honor their memory through charity and the support of a nonprofit organization.
Create a living reminder, like planting a tree or bed of flowers in memory of a loved one.
As a family, start a new tradition to remember someone dearly missed.
Share photos and stories that will keep your loved ones’ memory alive generation after generation.