Background

Although death is universal the expression of grief varies greatly between different cultures and religions. It is important to acknowledge how this shapes an individual’s perception and experience of death. Cultural and religious beliefs about death help people cope with and express their grief, providing a sense of structure and routine in a chaotic and confusing time. When supporting a bereaved person of family, it is helpful to ensure you have an understanding of their particular customs and funeral rites. If you are unsure whether a bereaved individual has any religious or cultural beliefs that may affect their process, funeral arrangements or mourning, it is always best to ask rather than evade the questions.

Buddhist

Buddhists believe in rebirth and that when they die they will be reborn again. Therefore, they believe that an individual’s state of mind at death is very important so that they can find a happy state of rebirth. They practice bird scattering (using one’s own body to feed wildlife), cremation, water burial or grave burial.

Muslim

Muslims believe that the soul of the dead rises up to god, the body resides in the coffin until the final day, the day of judgement. On that day everyone will be resurrected to face final judgement. Since Muslims believe in physical resurrection, a burial is the most common method. A burial usually takes place as soon as possible. The body is washed and wrapped in a white shroud. Muslims are buried facing towards the holy site of Mecca.

Jewish

In Judaism, the dead person’s soul is believed to be with God. Because of the belief of resurrection, a burial is preferred. Burial takes place quickly following death. The body is not left alone between the time of death and burial. Families observe Shiva for seven days following the funeral. A week of mourning in the home of the deceased. Friends and family often visit with food and share stories of the deceased.

Roman Catholic

Roman Catholic take part in the Sacraments of the Sick prayers that are said as the person is dying, and involve confession and communion. If a person dies before the sacraments are given, the priest will anoint the deceased conditionally within three hours of the time of death. There is often a wake and, if so, the priest will conduct the service or say the rosary. There are distinct phases to “The Mass of Christian Burial”: Prayers at the funeral home; Welcoming the body to the church; Covering the casket with a white cloth; Sprinkling the casket with holy water; The Eucharist is celebrated; Prayers are said after the Mass; Casket is escorted to back of church; At the cemetery, the grave is blessed. Consecration is a reaffirmation that the person will rise again and prayers address not only the dead but the survivors so that their faith in eternal life is encouraged. The one-month anniversary of the death is often celebrated by a Mass, as are those of other anniversaries.

Protestant

There are a wide range of Protestant observances, including: A family gathering at the family home or funeral home; Caskets, open or closed, are part of passage; Memorial items may be placed in the casket; Cremation is an accepted option for some; Black dress is a part of mourning. Funeral services include music and testimonials. Music may include traditional hymns and/or songs of praise celebrating the Christian experience and the hope of everlasting life. Gravesite visits may be made and memorial services are common, and sometimes replace funerals and other immediate observances of death. Flowers and donations are given. Church members and friends will usually assist in providing the food. There is no formal structure to observe the death, month after month or year after year.

cultural factors to consider

How a person grieves is unique to the mourner, but will often be informed by cultural and religious beliefs.

  • Age – Different cultures grieve differently depending on the deceased’s age
  • Children – Similarly different cultures have varying customs about including children in the mourning and grieving customs
  • Gender – The roles that men and women play in grieving can differ in different cultures and religions
  • Behaviour – Public displays of grief and expected in certain cultures and frowned on in others
  • Partners – How widows and widowers are expected to behave can be culturally different, from how to dress through to remarriage
  • Memorial – How anniversaries and relevant dates are recognised, celebrated, respected and marked

The Grief Encounter helpline, grieftalk can be contacted from 9am – 9pm Monday to Friday. The grieftalk helpline number is 0808 802 0111, or you can chat online or even email us now, we are here to listen.