Funeral Rites Across Different Cultures: Emotional Reactions

Experiencing loss elicits all kinds of emotions.  People of every culture grieve; feelings of sorrow, loss, and despair are universal.  We don’t just do it-we show it in different ways.  While there’s no way to avoid intense feelings of grief, the range of acceptable emotions and the extent to which that grief and sorrow are expressed by mourners are intrinsically linked to the unique values of each culture.

The emotional tenor at funerals in the West is, in the main, relatively contained.  As a norm, it is permissible for relatives and other mourners to cry at funerals; however, excessive displays of grief in public are generally discouraged.  At Jamaican funerals, in contrast, free expressions of emotion, such as “falling out,” fainting, and wailing are common.  In fact, this bursting emotional energy is encouraged to demonstrate closeness to the departed.  Whereas these strong and piercing feelings might be seen as disruptive in the West, they are not merely tolerated in Jamaican culture, but virtually required by custom.

Among Orthodox Jews, being properly lamented over may be almost as important as being correctly buried.  In Jewish thought, great weight is attached to lament and mourning.  As such, expressive grief is demonstrated by many religious Jews.  It is believed that sitting below normal chair height represents a low emotional state, sadness, or depression.  This physical act gives the mourner a tangible and practical way to express inner grief.

Hindu mourning rituals are designed to promote free expression of emotions.  In Hinduism, bereavement is a process that involves learning to accept the absence of a loved one and allowing oneself to experience the full spectrum of feelings associated with that loss, including sadness, guilt, helplessness, frustration, and so forth.  Through this candidness, mourners are eventually able to resume their normal life.  Hindu rituals offer families a way to acknowledge the very real emotions of grief,  accept these emotions, and move on from their grief.  Hindu families gather to share the mourning and relatives will often bring food for the mourners to eat.  The support the bereaved receives from family and friends who care, and share their sorrow makes sadness easier to bear.

Across cultures, people grieve the loss of someone close, but each culture has its own ways of expressing that grief and mourning.

Woodlawn continues to be a non-sectarian cemetery without a specific religious affiliation.