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What is Mourning?

Grief is how you feel about the death of someone you love and mourning is the outward expression of your grief. Most of us learn how to mourn from cultural rituals handed down through our families and we're often influenced by personal, religious and social customs/beliefs.   


Most religions have traditions for memorializing the dead including songs, dances, works of art, articles of clothing and mourning periods.  These rituals of mourning, when family and friends help prepare for the funeral and burial, provide an immediate sense of purpose for those who are grieving.


  • Many practicing Buddhists seek increased awareness during their lives with the ultimate goal of reaching Nirvana – true enlightenment

  • At the time of death, Buddhists often use special meditations and may limit sedation of their dying loved one so that s/he can remain conscious for the meditation

  • The memorial ritual is usually officiated by a family member

  • Cremation is typical


  • Mourners are comforted by the belief that their loved ones ascend to the Kingdom of Heaven to be with God and other loved ones who’ve died

  • Christians believe they’ll reach Heaven through their strong faith in God

  • There is usually a period after death and before the funeral service when mourners visit the family and view the body to pay their respects to the person who died.

  • After the funeral service, mourners often follow the family to the burial site for a final service and the casket is lowered into the ground after everyone leaves

  • Traditionally dark clothing is worn at the funeral service



  • Each denomination of Protestantism has its own funeral traditions

  • Confession and prayers at the time of death are usually made directly to God

  • There is a strong belief in eternal life 

  • At services and memorials, it’s often stressed that the person who died is in a better place 

Roman Catholic

  • Many Catholics believe that their dying loved ones must have last rites administered by a priest so the loved ones have a chance to make a confession to the priest 

  • A priest officiates at the funeral and burial

  • In traditional cultures, the year following the death is considered an extended period of mourning


  • There are many Hindu sects that have their own traditions surrounding death

  • They typically believe in eternal life through reincarnation, with their fate in the next life depending on their virtue in this life

  • Family members wash the body in a special ritual to ready it for cremation which takes place the day the person died

  • A Hindu priest officiates at the funeral ritual where white is traditionally worn

  • There are 13 days of official mourning when friends and family visit to offer condolences


  • Jewish funerals and burials typically take place within a day or two of death (cremation is usually not practiced among Conservative or Orthodox Jews)

  • A rabbi or cantor officiates at the burial service where family members shovel symbolic soil onto the casket as it is lowered

  • During a seven-day period of mourning, called  “sitting Shiva, ” family and friends visit bringing food, offering prayers and talking about the person who died

  • Though the Jewish faith does teach the existence of life after death, it’s not usually the focus of mourning rituals



  • Death is seen as the return to the Creator Allah who will judge the soul based on how the life was lived.

  • It’s believed that the body is returned to the earth where it originated so burial is the custom and cremation is forbidden. 

  • In order to prepare the body for burial, family and friends engage in ritual washing: women wash other women’s bodies, and men wash other men’s bodies, with the exception of spouses, who may wash one another’s bodies which are then wrapped in a clean white cloth.

  • Only men participate in the burial ritual that takes place within 24 hours of death or as soon as possible. Young children are typically not present.

  • An Imam or Holy Man officiates at both the funeral and burial service.

  • The mourning period lasts for three days for most, 40 days for a surviving spouse.

Native American

  • There are many different nations that all have their own death traditions.

  • Some nations don’t have contact with the dying or advocate a very positive outlook in the presence of the dying. Grieving is done privately.

  • Death is a journey to another world but doesn’t include dualities like heaven and hell and supernatural and earthling. The Creator is in the Earth.

  • Certain spots in nature are important for sacred ceremonies including burials. Personal items are often placed into the caskets.

  • Some groups incorporate Christian beliefs into their practices.


* This information comes from the nationally recognized  Wendt Center for Loss and Healing that has helped people in the Greater Washington area rebuild a sense of safety and hope after experiencing a loss, life-threatening illness, violence or other trauma. 

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