Understanding Culture

While death is a universal experience, the behaviors associated with the final arrangements for the body include type and location of funeral and burial, practices that honor the life of the deceased, and the roles that family members, friends and the community play throughout the mourning and grieving process are bound by several factors, including culture.

Practices of culture often affect the traditions and rituals that are involved in honoring the deceased. Culture may incorporate a spiritual element into the expressions of mourning and grief, but is not tied to a specific religion. Each culture has its own traditions and mores for grief and mourning. Culture generally dictates how death is viewed and what happens to the body and soul.

Mourning and expressions of grief are examples of culturally bound expectations. In some cultures, grief is shown through intense weeping. The idea maintains that the more tears that are shed, the more the deceased was loved. In several Islamic cultures, the exact opposite is true; women are usually strongly discouraged from crying. Also, in some Asian cultures it is extremely important not to show grief. However, in China, the custom of hiring professional wailers to attend funerals is still practiced.

Below are mourning and grieving traditions that are found in certain cultures:

ASIAN

Asian funerals differ by the person’s place of origin, religious beliefs and customs. All countries and regions have different beliefs and practice different traditions. For the most part, the family will gather together at the funeral home to make arrangements for the funeral and burial. The oldest surviving family member(s) ultimately have the responsibility for the decisions to be made.

There is a great respect for the body in Asian culture. The body is dressed nicely, but not affluently. Warm clothes may be used for the burial to protect the body from the weather. The casket is open when circumstances permit. An open casket is said to show respect for elders, both present and those who have gone on before. Poems and other memorabilia may be left in the casket by mourners. In some areas, a cooked chicken will be placed by the casket to serve as a last meal for the deceased. The chicken will be buried with the body.

Music is often a key element in the time of mourning. Songs or hymns can be used during the service. A band may wait outside the funeral home and accompany the body to the cemetery.

HISPANIC

A vast majority of Hispanics are practicing Catholics. As any Roman Catholic would, mourning family’s hold a Vigil, attend a funeral mass, and end with the burial. At the Vigil family and friends gather to recite the “Eternal Rest”, prayer using a rosary.

The local parish priest is actively involved with the family in the formulation of the funeral plans. The family often looks to the priest to help make foundational decisions about the choice of casket or cemetery for burial.

Family and friends are often an active part of the service. If Catholic, the rosary is said by the survivors. Many have the tradition of reciting the rosary each night for nine nights following the death. Certain parts of the mass can be performed by lay volunteers so close friends can be involved in the memorial time. Sympathy gifts include flowers, condolence baskets, along with gifts of money to help the family with the expenses of the funeral and burial.

NATIVE AMERICAN

There are many traditions and rituals within the Native American culture that will vary with the tribe or location. A common thread among most is the emphasis upon the natural world. Items of the earth, of wind, rain and fire, of animals, and of trees play an important role in showing respect for life in general and the deceased specifically.

The spiritual leader moderates the funeral services. Each service is considered unique, so a set format or plan is not used. Ancestors are often beckoned to join the deceased and make the transition a smooth journey.

In some cultures, it is important that the deceased be buried in the family’s homeland. This assures that the deceased will join the ancestors and will inhabit the family’s land. Because the spirit never dies, mourners will often include gifts to be buried with the body.