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There are different mourning ceremonies, traditions, and behaviors to express grief, but the concept of permanent loss remains unchanged in cross cultural setting. With this paper I will identify cross-cultural perspectives on death and dying, and will analyze multiple beliefs relating to death phenomenon. Furthermore I will identify different cultural mourning ceremonies and will analyze their impact on grieving process and coping mechanisms. Death is a universal phenomenon, but individual responses to death vary widely from culture to culture.
In effort to explain the concept of death, many different cultures bring a significant symbolic meaning to the dying process in terms of rituals, ceremonies, and bereavement practices.
Grieving and funeral rituals vary greatly across cultures and, in most cases, are associated with religious practices and beliefs. People tend to look at the death phenomena through the scope of their religious beliefs and often relate their personal experiences with death to cultural norms and traditions.
Our culture affects the length of grieving process, mourning ceremonies, and even influence the way we cry during funerals.
The mystery of death is often associated with fear and anxiety, thus it is easier for people to relate indefinite death concept to something that makes sense and brings comfort. Death in Latino culture According to Lobar, Youngblut and Brooten (2006), Latino death rituals are heavily influenced by religion, especially Catholicism, which underlines an importance of connection between the living and a deceased person, through prayer.
Death is not something the majority of Hispanics fear, because many of them perceive death as a journey.
The dying process is closely related to religious practices, such as prayers, hearing the confession of the dying, communion, and a blessing. Ongoing support is essential element of dying and grieving process, and in this particular culture it is unacceptable to let people die alone. The loyalty to a dying person and care that ill person receives during the last journey is very prominent in Latino culture.
Death concept in Hispanic culture is closely related to family obligations, which is evident by the care that Hispanic family renders to a dying person during last moments. After death occurs, the family still prefers to stay with the body during burial preparation to pray and to watch over the body. Prior funeral a wake is held, which is a very social event where an extended family has a chance to get together, serve food and drinks, and enjoy each others’ company. Candles and flowers are essential decorating attributes of wakes and funerals.
A funeral follows a wake, and during funeral family has a chance to say last goodbyes to their loved one. Emotional expression of grief is important attribute of Latino cultures which is often evident during funeral ceremonies where women cry loudly and use their body language openly. It is not unusual to put personal items into the casket with the person who has passed away for their journey in the afterlife, which also serves as an example of a finial gift from a family (Lobar, Youngblut & Brooten, 2006).
Burial follow a funeral, because majority of Hispanics oppose cremation, which is also related to their religious beliefs and importance of placing a body in the ground. Most Hispanics believe that someday the dead will arise and return to life, which significantly influences their burial preferences. It is crucial for Hispanics to be buried next to other family members to keep them company and to arise together someday (Lobar, Youngblut & Brooten, 2006). Spiritual connection with the dead is also one of the important elements of Latino culture, which is demonstrated by frequent gravesite visits and praying to spirits.
Death is always associated with separation, which leads to sorrow, and grief; however cultural perceptions and beliefs help to look at death from a different perspective and perceive death as a natural state that can be approached with love, respect, dignity, and tremendous family support. Latino culture supports their dying people during the last journey, and believes in afterlife, which gives them hope and helps to overcome unbearable grief of permanent loss. Death rituals in Africa African culture demonstrates a strong connection with deceased person, and believes that only a correct burial will bring a dead person peace. People n Africa strongly believe in spiritual life, thus their main goal during burial ceremonies is to address a spirit of a deceased person. An African funeral begins with removal of the body from home, which is done through a previously made hole in the wall of the home. Africans remove a dead body through the hole, instead of a door, to confuse a spirit and make sure that a spirit of a deceased person will not return back home, as a hole in the wall is immediately closed after removal of the body. In effort to confuse a spirit even more, they place thorns and sticks in a zigzag pattern along the way as body being taken to the place of burial. Blackely et al, 1994). In the religions of Africa, life does not end with death and people tend to believe in power of the dead, thus many families often pray to spirits and ask them not to come back and cause any trouble. Death is perceived as the beginning of connection with visible and invisible worlds. One of the funeral rituals include special preparation of a home, such as smearing windows with ashes and turning pictures and other reflective objects face down to ensure that deceased person is detached from a living, and to promote smooth transition into different world.
The beds are usually removed from deceased’s bedroom and mourning women sit on a floor or a mattress. According to African culture, if correct funeral is not observed, a dead person may come back and bother the living. The funeral preparation takes approximately from seven to thirteen days, which gives the community members a chance to visit and give the last respect to a deceased (Mbiti, 1969). The funeral ceremony usually begins before the sunrise, because people believe that bad spirits usually sleep early in the morning.
The pastoral care during funeral preparation is very important for comfort and encouragement. According to Blackely et al (1994), African funerals simultaneously mourn for the dead and celebrate life. An animal is usually killed during funerals to avoid bad luck, but it also has a practical purpose, such as providing food for family and neighbors. In many communities women and unmarried adults are not allowed to attend funerals, as well as close family members are not allowed to speak or take any vocal part in the funeral ceremony.
The community involvement during African funerals is a great example of psychosocial and emotional support during mourning process, which draws people together and promotes healthy grief. Jewish rituals There are many different beliefs in Judaism, thus funeral rituals and ceremonies vary greatly. According to Jewish laws, practices, and beliefs, a soul returns to heaven immediately after death, thus the body has to be buried as soon as possible, usually within 24 to 48 hours (Lobar, Youngblut & Brooten, 2006). Mourners show their grief by wearing a black ribbon and by performing only minimal grooming and bathing.
Mirrors or other reflective objects may be covered and family remains with a deceased and talks about a deceased. Prayers, citations of Psalms and learned passages from the Talmud are essential elements of the Jewish funerals (Ribner, 1998). According to Clements et al (2003), a body should be treated with respect due to belief that it is a temple of a soul. There is a special ritual of body preparation, where women prepare a female body and men are responsible for preparing a male body. All jewelry must be removed from the body, and the body is washed twice, and is treated almost if it was still alive.
The prepared body is laid on the floor with candles around it, and the body is never left alone. There is no embalming and the body is clothed or wrapped and put into wooden coffin, so the body and the box can return entirely to earth. Traditional Jewish funerals are symbolic representations of spiritual connection with God. The funeral ceremonies are based on purity, simplicity and dignity. According to Jewish tradition, wealthy and poor are equal before God, thus the body must be buried in the same type of garment regardless of financial and social status.
According to Jewish religion, death is only a part of a process, and after death a soul continues on. Jewish people believe in afterlife, which gives them hope and helps to deal with grief. The importance of family is recognized throughout Jewish mourning ceremonies, which value family privacy during first seven days of mourning process, where close family gets together and have a meal of condolence that include eggs and bread. According to the belief, eggs symbolize life, which is a great example of attitude towards death and strong belief in afterlife (Madsen, 1999).
Cross cultural perspective Death is a universal phenomenon, but funerals ceremonies and rituals vary greatly across cultures and religions. Many cultural groups carry their own beliefs and perceptions, which help them with the grieving process and adaptations strategies. Death carries a feeling of a permanent loss, which is very difficult for people to accept. According to Kastenbaum (2007), bereavement is a universal experience, which carries many painful responses, including depression, distress, fear, and misery.
Our inner state feelings are universal, however or external expressions are different. Our culture and religious beliefs are essential elements of adaptation strategies and coping techniques. Believing in afterlife in Christianity, Judaism, and many other religious groups gives people hope, helps to alleviate grief, and promotes healthy adaptation process. Strong extended family support during mourning process helps to share unbearable grief among family members and serves as an excellent source of encouragement.
Strong community involvement is extremely beneficial during bereavement, which helps to take care of financial struggles and provides psychosocial support. Cross cultural rituals help people express their grief according to their beliefs. Almost every funeral ceremony is family oriented, which is designed to bring extended family together, to celebrate life, and to set the background for healthy grief. There are many similarities and differences in beliefs and practices on death and dying. But for many cultures and religious groups a funeral is a final act of love, respect, devotion, and family gathering.
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