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The ways in which humans grieve can differ wildly between different cultures. Sometimes, that may be as a result of logistics. In South Korea, for example, there’s very little space, so there’s a law against using a burial plot for more than 60 years. The result of this law has been a sharp increase in the number of cremations in the country, with many South Koreans opting to turn their relatives’ ashes into beads that they keep in their homes. Conversely, in Catholicism, cremation is allowed, but burial is preferred, and the remains of those who have been cremated should be kept together and stored in a sacred, church-approved location, not a Church. The reason? The body is a part of the Church and God.
Many Buddhist traditions are quite different. Sky burials, for example, are common in some parts of Tibet. In those funerals, the body of the deceased is left to the wilds, where carrion-feeding birds will consume their flesh. That’s because in some Buddhist traditions, the body becomes an "empty vessel" once the person has passed away. This ritual is seen as an act of charity to use the now-empty body to feed living beings. You might note that while this tradition has almost the opposite approach to the body that the Catholic approach does, the crux of it is still selflessness - the idea that the deceased was a part of something greater than themselves (in this case, a sort of natural cycle and reincarnation, rather than God and the Church).
One practice in a remote area of Indonesia might seem particularly strange to us Westerners. In this practice, the dead continue to live with the living for weeks, months, or even years, their bodies preserved with formaldehyde. They see the dead as simply being sick and continue to spend time with them, cooking them food and conversing with them. Christian practices, imported by Dutch missionaries, have become an important part of these death rites - pictures of Jesus can be found in the rooms of the dead and they are prayed for regularly. Eventually, a large funeral is held, where the entire community, hundreds of people, celebrate the life of the deceased. What do these disparate practices teach us about funerals, death, and ourselves? Truth be told, each different person might learn something a little different from each practice. What is clear, however, is that no matter what religion one practices, death is important. There are important rituals that follow death and almost all of them involve a sense of community, an idea that death is not the end, and a notion that ritual and ceremony are of great importance. That this exists across so many different cultures gives us a sense that humanity is united.
We’re a funeral chapel in Winnipeg and we appreciate the different ways of celebrating life and honouring death in each different culture. Give us a call in your time of need, and we’ll help create the right remembrance for your loved one.