Mourning rituals around the world: How they can help us through the pain of grief
By Heather Chapman
Christian Parenting Blogger
I remember well the morning we put my beautiful 8-year-old daughter in the ground. There was nothing beautiful about that day in spite of the bright sun shining through the trees and the sky a shade of blue that would normally make my heart rejoice. Far from my mind were Bible verses, mourning rituals, and the usual awkward sentiments.
My heart was broken and I was sure that I had died too.
In reality, I was very much alive and the next several years have taught me much about that deep pain which suffocates us whether we embrace it or not.
So, whether you are deep in the mourning period yourself, have a friend who is struggling, or can relate to this uncomfortable topic, make a cup of coffee (or tea!), snuggle in your favorite chair, and let’s walk through this together.
How long should you be in mourning?
I think this is such an odd question because how do you put a time limit on something so emotional? But I hear it often.
How long should you be in mourning? As if there is a sudden cutoff date, an acceptable period of mourning and anything outside of it is unhealthy or not normal.
Five stages of mourning in Judaism
I feel as if mourning rituals have been lost here in modern United States. I began to seek out the rituals of grieving lost ones and came across the 5 stages of mourning in Judaism.
Jewish traditions allow for a period of mourning to help us through the process.
- Aninut – Time from the moment of death through the funeral
- Seven Days of Shiva – A week long period in which mourning is embraced. Physical and emotional needs are taken care of by the community.
- Sheloshim – Period of mourning continues as people begin going back to work but refrain from social gatherings
- Shanah – The next 11 months for those who have lost a child. It appears as if special attention is given to grieving parents allowing for a longer period of mourning by excusing them from social events and continued spiritual support.
- Yahrziet – Anniversary of loved one’s death is acknowledged each year with prayers and candle lighting.
The Phases of Jewish Bereavement by My Jewish Learning goes into these steps in more detail.
The practice of excusing the grieving from social events is an important one. I remember how I felt I had lost myself in grief. I was afraid of the usual public small talk because I was empty and broken and talking about the weather felt insignificant. Seeing mothers and their daughters shopping together brought me to tears and home was the only safe place.
40 days after death in Islam
The Islamic faith teaches that death is simply a passing from one realm to another and that death is a natural part of life. They allow for a 3-day mourning period and anything past that is discouraged. The exception being a woman who has lost her husband. She is encouraged to mourn for four months and 10 days.
Many Muslims follow the tradition of having a special celebration on the 40th day after death. What is significant about 40 days after death in Islam?
There is a belief that the soul of the deceased roams the earth for 40 days (some believe they are also fighting evil spirits). On the 40th day, the soul continues to heaven or hell. The family says special prayers and celebrates their loved one continuing onto a better place.
Muslims are not the only ones who observe this. Russian Orthodox have a similar belief and have special prayers and meals on the 1st, 3rd, 9th, and 40th days after a person has died. Each of these days have to do with the soul wandering, overcoming sin, being judged, and then finding its eternal home.
Death rituals are an important part of our religious beliefs. From ancient Egyptians burying their dead with items they would need in the afterlife to those who do not believe our souls live on, the way we handle death is influenced by our faith.
What are Hindu rituals after death?
Although the physical body dies, the individual soul has no beginning and no end. It may pass to another through reincarnation, depending on one’s karma (the consequences of one’s actions over lifetimes). If the soul has realized the true nature of reality, it may become one with the Brahman, the “One.”
Bodies are cremated (it is believed that this is the quickest way to release the spirit) and the ashes spread in sacred waters or a place that was significant to the deceased.
The period of mourning is from 10 to 30 days. On the 10th day a ceremony is held at the home of the deceased in order to liberate the soul for its ascent into heaven. Fruit is brought by the guests.
The first 13 days are reserved for deep mourning. The family remains at home and is encouraged to express and connect with their feelings of pain and loss.
The immediate family of the deceased is encouraged to continue a period of mourning for a full year. They are discouraged from any social events and major decisions such as changing locations or jobs.
On the one year anniversary of the loved one’s death, a special ceremony is held with friends and family invited. A meal is served after.
The Irish and Scottish have an ancient tradition of keening. Keening is a kind of wailing and crying mixed with song as an expression of deep grief. It died out in the middle of the last century, but there are several recordings of these wailing songs.
In various other cultures, this out pouring of loud emotion is not only accepted, but expected. The “death wail” has been documented among the ancient Celts and is still practiced today in parts of Africa, South America, Australia, and Asia.
Buddhist death rituals: 49 days
Many Buddhists say special prayers and perform certain rituals during the first 49 days after a loved one passes. During this time they are also excused from social events and are given time to mourn.
The 49 days have to do with the Buddhist belief that the spirit is reincarnated but not immediately. The spirit goes through a kind of intermediate period, and the special prayers and rituals by loved ones help the spirit to receive a positive rebirth. Most Buddhist believe that this process takes place within or right at 49 days.
This is important not just from a religious perspective but also from an emotional one. Allowing people to focus on their grief and not return immediately to “normal” life is helpful in healing.
Rituals for mourning and what we can learn from them
So, what is the point of embracing mourning rituals?
From a religious aspect, it increases our faith, allowing us to act on the belief that we are spiritual beings and that passing from this life is to be viewed in a positive light.
Emotionally, focusing on rituals for mourning give us a chance to catch our breath so to speak, allowing us space to express the pain and allow for healing.
Personally, I find great comfort in the Bible. You might also find comfort in “She Still Lives: Bible Verses about Heaven After Death”.
Hi, I’m Heather from Lessons from Home. I’m in love with my five kids, homeschooling, and all things chocolate. At Lessons from Home I share my homeschooling and parenting journey along with the lessons God teaches me as I learn to follow Him wherever He leads. Healing from loss is a major part of my story as my family walks the dark path of grief after losing my beautiful 8 year old daughter.