When someone close to us dies, expected or not, we don’t tend to think of the etiquette involved for the mourning process of that person’s religion. Many of these rituals or traditions are family and community events and certain rules are expected to be followed, whether you are arranging the funeral or attending to say goodbye to someone you care about.
In today’s multicultural society, we all know someone that is a different religion to ourselves but would you know what was expected from you during the family’s mourning period?
In some instances the family may request that their loved one be brought back to the family home but more often than not the deceased will remain at the Funeral Parlour with set hours for viewing. People may attend the viewing to express their condolences to the family and are welcome to stay for the full viewing time, although it is not expected.
The funeral service may be a private affair for family and close friends although most are a public affair, best to check with the family first. After the service, it is traditional to hold a gathering for attendees to share stories and memories of your loved one as well as providing hospitality to anyone who has travelled to attend the funeral. It is also seen as a way of helping the family deal with their grief.
Sending a note or sympathy card to the family, especially if you can’t attend the viewing or funeral service; sending a mass card (can be obtained from a Catholic church); sending flowers to the family home or Funeral Directors or making a donation to a nominated charity in your loved ones name are all acceptable forms of showing sympathy and condolence to the bereaved family.
As a mark of respect, Jewish tradition believes in burying the body as a soon as possible after the death. After the funeral service a seven day mourning period begins, this is called sitting Shiva and is held at the home of the mourners. The first meal to be served is called the Seudat Havrach and is traditionally prepared by friends and neighbours of the bereaved family. The foods will include eggs and other round foods as a symbol of life, hope and the full circle of life to death.
During the time of Shiva, those closest to the family, will organise and prepare meals for the mourners while friends will bring fruit, cakes, cookies and other foods. This is to eliminate the need for the mourners to think about preparing food and concentrate on their grief. Friends and community members bring prayers, support and condolences, all normal activities are put on hold during the seven days for the mourners so they are prepared to re-enter normal life at the end of the Shiva.
You do not need an invite to visit during Shiva, all visitors offering condolences are welcome, however please do not send flowers as it is not a Jewish custom. Tradition encourages mourning and discourages any effort to “cheer-up” mourners. The sending of flowers are discouraged, however making a donation to a nominated charity in the deceased person’s name, is acceptable.
In Islamic tradition, those of the faith are encouraged to accompany the deceased to their final resting place. It is their duty to offer support, comfort and condolences to the bereaved family, being careful to select words that will help the family accept Allah’s will. Comments should be short and tasteful and in no way cause offence. Excessive wailing and crying are not acceptable.
The mourning period for a widow mourning the loss of her husband is 4 months and 10 days, otherwise, it is three days. It is recommended that visitors leave after offering the family condolences and assistance. Some families may hold gatherings offering food and drink to visitors during the 3 day period.
As with Jewish custom, friends and family will bring food to the family to eliminate the worry of those details. It is best to check with the family or their Imam before sending flowers as opinion varies on the appropriateness of them.
Hindu’s try to hold the funeral service before sunset on the day of death, however, this may not always be possible but will take place as soon as practical. The funeral will be organised by the Chief Mourner, who is usually the eldest son or oldest surviving male relative of the person who has died. The family, wearing white, will gather by the body as soon possible after the death to pray and perform certain rituals. The family Priest will assist in the rituals.
The body will be decorated with Sandalwood, Garlands and flowers, various rituals will take place round the body with a lamp placed at the head of the deceased. Prayers are offered and water sprinkled on the body with care taken to not touch the body. The family then carry the body to the crematorium. Outside of India, there is an adaptation of this whereby the deceased will be transported, in a coffin, to the crematorium stopping at places of significance to the deceased and saying prayers.
The Funeral Service is conducted by the Family Priest and assisted by the Chief Mourner, who is responsible for lighting the cremation pyre and saying prayers for the deceased’s soul.
After the cremation the family will return home, bathe, clean the house and the Priest will purify the home with incense and spices. The family may have a meal and offer prays, mourners are expected to wash and change completely before entering the house. The family of the deceased will grieve for a thirteen day period after the funeral. They will perform rites intended to provide the soul of the deceased person with a new spiritual body for the next life.
During this period, relatives and friends are expected to visit the family to offer their condolences and support.
It is traditional to bring gifts of food, preferably fruit to the family. You can bring or send flowers to the family, although not a tradition, without causing offense. If you are attending the funeral service and are not immediate family you are expected to wear conservative clothing in subdued colours.
There is a general format to a Buddhist Funeral but no exact answer to what to expect during one as each one is unique and varied. As with any religious ceremony it is respectful to remain quiet and to perform any tasks that are asked of you.
Both Cremation and Burials are acceptable for a Buddhist Funeral. If the body is being buried you can expect an open coffin and are expected to pay your respects by bowing your head slightly as you approach the coffin. In the week following the death, several memorial services may take place either at the Funeral Home or at the Buddhist Temple. The services are performed by a Monk, Minister or Priest who will read from the Sutras and maybe lead the mourners in a group meditation. You may be asked to sit on a cushion on the floor so make sure you wear lose, dark, subdued clothing. There may be a reception, upto a week later, after the funeral. This is less formal than the funeral service and more spiritual and meditative.
A sympathy card, funeral flowers or a donation to a charity in the deceased name are appropriate however, avoid phoning, visiting or delivering food the grieving family unless invited to do so.
As with any funeral, plans can range from a low key private affair to an elaborate event but the one thing that they all have in common, no matter the religion or size, is for loved ones to gather together and remember the person they have lost. To talk, laugh and honour the deceased and show support to the bereaved family.