Question

In what ways do the rituals of your tradition help to provide consolation to mourners?

David Arnow Jewish

As with all other aspects of life, the practices of mourning are governed by Jewish law that Jews observe with a range of stringency. The laws of mourning apply to the loss of parents, siblings, children and spouse, with variations in each category. Judaism’s mourning customs align well with contemporary mental health practices, emphasizing the importance of grieving and of mourning as a process of multiple stages.

When learning of a death it is customary to recite the following:” Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of the universe, the true judge” (or a shortned version, “Blessed is the true judge.” Shafiq describes a similar practice among Muslims.

The first stage of mourning is the brief period between death and burial. This period of bereavement is so raw that consolation is inappropriate: “Do not comfort a person when his dead lies before him,” says Judaism’s oldest law code.* During this time the mourner is exempt from positive commandments such as daily prayer. For information about washing the dead and washing hands after leaving the cemetery see link to “As ritual washing occupies”

At the burial (or sometimes upon learning of the death), mourners rend their garments (or sometimes tear a ribbon affixed to their shirts or jackets), and recite the Mourner’s Kaddish (‘sanctification’). This prayer praises God’s mercy and asks for peace, but curiously makes no mention of death. The deceased is traditionally buried in a plain pine box and those attending the burial fill the grave with earth. The simple pine box and the sound of the earth and stone falling upon it bring home the reality of the loss with stark clarity.

The next phase, shiva (which means ‘seven’) extends for seven days after burial. Mourners typically stay at home or gather at a family member’s home and receive visitors. Visitors console the bereaved and share memories of the deceased. Mirrors, said to be a symbol of vanity, are covered and the mourner sits on a low chair or box. A minyan, a prayer quorum of 10 Jews, gathers twice daily at the shiva site. A minyan is required for the recitation public prayer, including the kaddish. Friends customarily supply the mourners with meals, so they are not distracted by the need to cook.

Shiva encourages mourners to concentrate on mourning. During shiva Jewish law prohibits going to work, using cosmetics, having a haircut, shaving, listening to music or partaking in other forms of entertainment, wearing new clothes and engaging in sexual relations. On the Sabbath during shiva , mourners attend synagogue and are formally welcomed back into the community. When shiva ends, mourners take a walk around the block, as if to demonstrate that an element of normalcy has returned. If participated in fully, shiva can be such an intense experience that when it ends, one is ready to move to the next level of mourning. The sense of being embraced by family and community helps give mourners the strength to go on.

Next comes the shloshim (which means ‘30’), a stage extending for 30 days after burial. Mourners return to work, may engage in sexual relations, but refrain from entertainment. Men often don’t shave during this period. During the shloshim mourners attend the prayer minyan and recite kaddish in the three daily services, morning, afternoon and evening. For the loss of siblings, children or a spouse, formal mourning ends after 30 days. For the death of a parent, mourning is extended for eleven or twelve months and includes kaddish and the avoidance of entertainment.

On four holidays throughout the year a congregational memorial service takes place. Everyone who has ever lost a parent, sibling or spouse recites kaddish. Kaddish is also recited on the anniversary of a relative’s death.

Many benefits flow from Judaism’s approach to mourning. It confronts the mourner with full reality of the loss and encourages the expression of grief. To counteract the tendency to withdraw in the face of suffering, it assures that certain elements of mourning will take place within the community. In many communities, the daily prayer minyan includes persons who have come to say kaddish. Mourners are thus surrounded by others at different stages in the process of mourning and witness its healing power.

Mary C. Boys Christian

While the various Christian traditions differ significantly in worship styles, several common features are notable. A community comes together to mourn the loss of one of their members, showing compassion and care for those closest to the one who has died. The Scriptures are proclaimed; most frequently, Christians draw upon Psalm 23 (“The Lord is my shepherd…”) and upon sayings of Jesus, such as “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25-26). Often, music enhances the service, whether a selection from one of the great Requiems or beloved hymns such as “Precious Lord, Take my Hand.”

In some Christian traditions, the casket is covered with a white cloth as a reminder of the baptism of the deceased: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6: 3-4).

The power and beauty of such rituals do not eradicate grief. Lamenting the loss of the beloved dead helps mourners to heal and to anticipate that time when God “will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

Muhammad Shafiq Muslim

Muslims are advised to say when they hear about death of any person, relative or a stranger: “Verily, unto God do we belong and, verily, unto Him we shall return”(2:156). The Qur’an stresses patience and returning to God in times of calamity or death and promises great rewards for them. The Qur’an says: “It is they upon whom their Sustainer’s blessings and grace are bestowed, and it is they, they who are on the right path” (2:157). Recently one of my friends lost his young college-age son in an accident. He was driving when he got the message. Upon hearing the news, the bereaved father said: “We come from God and we shall return to Him,” – and continued driving. His friend in the passenger seat offered to take over the wheel. The father’s response: that he was sad but submissive to the will of God. He continued driving.

Mourning in Islam lasts for three days. I went to Pakistan in December 2012 to visit my brother who was very sick. After staying with him for a few days, I asked his permission to visit our native village for a day or so. Upon my return, my other brother accompanied me to see our sick brother. After our visit, he had a heart attack and died in the hospital in my presence. This was the first time I was physically present at a deathbed. In pain and tears, we transported the dead body back to our village. I was amazed to see how our village people took care of the body as well as our entire family. The body was washed properly, shrouded and made ready for burial. Hundreds of people came from surrounding villages to participate in the funeral prayers. As my brother’s body was lowered into the grave, I led the concluding prayers, weeping. The response from our village and surrounding community was very comforting.

The hospitality and the care from our village people were consistent with the religion of Islam. This was my first time in some 20 years to receive people as head of the family and attend the ritual of mourning. The village people brought food and served tea and meals to everyone who arrived to offer condolences. Our own family was not allowed to cook for three days and we were served and kept busy. Concluding the rituals of mourning, we invited all people from our village and others to a lunch on the fourth day and to say goodbye.

Like the Jewish community, Muslims try to bury their deceased on the day of death or the following day. The Rochester, NY, Muslim community organizes the funeral prayers and burial the same way as our village people did. They take food to the family home of the deceased. Close friends stay in contact with them for three days. The rituals are ended on the evening of the third day, with recitation of the Qur’an, supplications and public dinner.

Note: Translation of the Qur’anic verses and many of the Hadith translation with references were taken from Islamicity.com; some translations of and references to the Hadith were taken from ahadith.co.uk.

11 responses to “In what ways do the rituals of your tradition help to provide consolation to mourners?”

  1. mkevinc says:

    From Allyson Szabo, via LinkedIn:

    I don’t have a specific tradition that I follow, so I’m not sure how to
    answer this. The Hellenic polytheistic rituals that I have adopted are
    very comforting. The covering of the hair to show grief marks you as a
    mourner and people know to give you a little bit of space. Because of my
    beliefs about afterlife, I also spend time each month remembering those
    who have passed on that have made an impact in my life. I make
    offerings of water and sometimes wine, and barley groats. In this way, I
    keep alive their memories. :)

  2. mkevinc says:

    From Rev. Elaine Barry, via LinkedIn:

    I’m with Allyson on this one as I’m an interfaith minister and I utilize
    practices and rituals from various religions to help mourners. I’m
    Buddhist in my personal belief, but have not meet many Buddhists in the
    time of their mourning. I’ve used a christian annointing which the
    christian family members found comforting – they’ve shared with me they
    felt their family member was prepared to meet God because of the ritual.
    I’ve done death doula vigils while a person was actively dying which
    helped the family through the way they shared about the patient during
    the hours of the vigil and it also provided comfort for the patient who
    was afraid of dying alone. I’ve conducted prayer services at wakes
    which seemed to help because those attending were able to share their
    common belief and also their experiences with the deceased. Sometimes I
    simply sat with the person mourning so they were not alone – but not
    much was said. I’ve been able to help some through the witnessing of
    their grief and confirming for them that their feelings were normal.
    I’ve suggested anniversary rituals for those in mourning. I mainly go
    with what the person who is mourning seems to need at the time – I let
    them teach me what it is they need on their journey in mourning.

    For myself, I’ve used candles in remembrance of family and friends who
    have died. I’ve dedicated chants to particular persons. I think a
    forgiveness and release ritual might be of help for those who mourn.

  3. Guest says:

    From Rev. Debra Morwood, via LinkedIn •

    I am an Interfaith/Interspiritual minister. My personal path is New
    Thought. I am also a hospice volunteer since 1999 so I have had the
    experience of accompanying patients and families as they travel the path
    at end of life. We do not have any specific rituals other than those
    stated above, but I have started, at my Religious Science Center,
    performing a “Day of the Dead” service once a year (the day after
    Halloween). I have attendees bring pictures and stories of the people
    they wish to remember. We put in place an alter with those pictures or
    other objects along with bread and fruit to symbolically representing an
    offering to those loved ones who are being remembered. It is a very
    moving experience of the love we shared with people who are no longer
    here with us in the physical.

    • Guest says:

      From Allyson Szabo, via LinkedIn •

      Debra, I’ve done something similar with a UU church I was working with a
      few years ago. The full time pastor and I filled the baptismal font
      with water, and pulled a huge table up to the side of it. People were
      invited to bring in photographs and memorabilia of their loved ones, and
      as they did, we lit a small floating candle and put it in the font
      (it’s a HUGE font). At the end, there were about 75 candles bobbing
      away, and we turned the lights off to say a prayer. It was just
      wonderful, and as you say, quite moving.

    • Guest says:

      From lightheartedfaith InJesusname, via LinkedIn •

      Yes,Debra,….I think scripture reading and prayers along with Holy
      water,could bring an element of spirituality that’s beneficial in a
      positive uplifting light,Along with your guidance and acceptance. God is
      still on the throne. May the spirit of God be with you.

  4. Guest says:

    From lightheartedfaith InJesusname, via LinkedIn •

    By offering comfort and support and.by submitting prayers along with food

  5. Guest says:

    From Minister Allyson Szabo, via LinkedIn •

    Food does play a large role in almost all grieving rituals, it’s true.
    Whether it’s the Lutheran casserole or the Catholic frozen meals or the
    Jewish challah, when someone passes we all chip in to help the family
    get through the rough patch without having to worry about a lot of
    cooking and cleaning.

  6. Guest says:

    From Swami Purnananda, via LinkedIn •

    African traditions have wonderful mourning traditions that encourage very vocal wailing and expression that have no inhibitions.

    Hindu ritual stresses the ephemeral nature of physical death and
    connections through thankful offerings to ancestors that assists in
    keeping memories alive within the context of cycles of birth life and
    death as a continuing phenomena

  7. Ali Mahjoub says:

    From Ali Mahjoub, via LinkedIn:

    The founder of the Unification Church, the Reverend Sun Myung Moon had
    established “Sanghwa” ceremony where death is treat as a joyful farewell
    and a rebirth ceremony into another life in the spiritual world. There
    are three stages to life. First in water in the mother’s whom, second is
    in air after birth and third in the spiritual world. In the physical
    life on earth we learn love and in the spiritual world we live in God’s
    love.

  8. Lisa Nofzinger says:

    Via LinkedIn from Lisa Nofzinger, Experienced Administrative Professional & Writer:

    I draw from many sources in my spirituality. Wiccans observed Samhain Oct. 31, which is a time to honor and possibly connect with the dead. An uncle of mine passed this year so I remembered him. I do some ancestor work every day.

  9. Moderator says:

    Via LinkedIn from Lisa Nofzinger, Experienced Administrative Professional & Writer:

    I draw from many sources in my spirituality. Wiccans observed Samhain
    Oct. 31, which is a time to honor and possibly connect with the dead.
    An uncle of mine passed this year so I remembered him. I do some
    ancestor work every day.

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