Last week I had a close family friend pass away, while talking to a girlfriend about their death, she mentioned that American’s are more rushed when it comes to dealing with death. Yes, you will cry, and mourn your loss, but it’s expected that you get over it pretty quickly. We’re programmed to say things in response to the news like “I’m sorry for your loss” or “what can I do to help?” but we don’t feel as those comments are truly heartening to the comfort & sympathy for others. More, or less it’s what you’re supposed to say, how you’re supposed to react.
My friends comment, made me think of how other cultures mourn, and celebrate death…yes, you may be thinking, how weird to celebrate death—but people do it. Of the few funerals I’ve been to, one sticks strongly to my memory, and it was a Celebration of Life, instead of a mourning of loss. People shared great memories of the deceased’s life and funny stories, yes there were tears, but a lot of them were from laughing from sharing all the good memories and funny moments together.
Growing up, a close girlfriend’s father passed away, she was Chinese, and their funeral was very different compare to the typical “American” funerals, which I had previously attended. The family wore white cloaks and hats to signify the death of somebody, unlike how Americans typically wear black to funerals. In Chinese culture, the color white signifies death, ancestral spirits, ghosts, and courage versus sadness (Symbolisms of Colour).
So, after doing some research, I decided to share other culture’s styles of mourning and celebrating deaths (Dorsey):
Mongolia: Air Sacrifice
Mongolians believe in the return of the soul, therefore lamas direct the entire ceremony because they keep the evil spirits away, protecting the family that is still living. Mongolians will place blue stones in the deceased persons bed to prevent evil spirits from entering. Only lama’s are allowed to touch the corpse, then a white silk veil is placed over the face of the corpse, and the naked body is laid by men on the right side of the yurt, and women on the left. While incenses are burning, food is left out to feed the spirits passing through. To remove the body, a hole is cut through a window to prevent evil spirits from slipping in while a door is open. Then, the body is laid in open ground surrounded by stones; the village dogs are released to consume the body—leaving the remains to the local predators.
Tibet: Sky Burial (Jhator)
The body is dismembered by a “rogyapa” and left outside to be consumed by nature. To the Buddhist in Tibet, the body is an empty, worthless shell after the spirit has departed.
Northwestern North America: Pit Burial
The indigenous tribe of the northwestern coast, the Haida, would simply cast their dead into a large pit behind the village. However, if the deceased was a chief, shaman, or warrior, the body was crushed until it fit into a luggage sized wooden box, which was then placed on top of the totem pole in the man’s tribe, where the spirits guided them to the next world.
Kiribati – Skull Burial
The deceased are laid out in front of their home for a minimum of three days, sometimes up to twelve days, depending on their status in the community. Friends and family will make a pudding from a local plant’s roots as an offering. After several months pass, the body is exhumed, and the skull is removed, oiled, polished, and offered tobacco and food. The skull is kept on a shelf in the home of the family, in the belief that it invites spirits into the islands.
Have you been to a funeral or a celebration of life? What did you think of it?
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