Death is something that is seen by different cultures in very different ways. Most cultures hold services and people pay respect for their loved ones, but then send them on their way and move on. However there are some cultures out there who are holding onto ancient traditions. A lot of the traditional methods for grieving, burial and respect stem from religious beliefs and spiritual thinkings. There are many ways to end someones life, most common in todays society is to cremate or bury the bodies. Although other methods such as Mausoleums (structures/buildings erected to encase the body, such as the Taj Mahal), Tombs, Pyramids, Sky Burials, Sea Burial and Mounds are used or were used all over the world.
Sky Burial fascinates me as it is a very organic and open method of disposing of a body. In the past it was common in Tibet and other parts of China. They would take the bodies up mountains and leave them for the elements and animals such as predatory birds. They saw the bodies as empty vessels and so gave them back to nature. In modern times these burials are not as easily done and so cremation is becoming more popular.
Every nation, culture and tribe has a unique way to deal with bodies. There are hundreds of quirky rituals which most people are unaware of such as space burial (ashes sent into space), hanging coffins in trees and even cryopreservating (freezing). In the modern world with health and safety and our obsession with cleanliness taking over, many of the rituals are being replaced by the Western methods. Cremation and burial disposes of the bodies and gets them out of sight as soon as possible. We are kept away from this final process of life and are unaware of the beauty in decomposition. It’s not often that people even view the body before the funeral anymore. The majority of young people in the UK have never experienced death, other than simply having someone leave. They don’t sit by the person as they take their last breathes and they don’t feel the need to say goodbye to the physical remnants of that life.
In South America there is a different attitudes to death. A number of celebrations and festivals take place throughout Mexico and Brazil. The festivities begin on the 31st of October every year and people come together to celebrate the lives of their loved ones. The graves are decorated with things loved by the deceased such as food, drink and flowers. “Sometimes, when people of other cultures hear for the first time about the celebration of the Day of the Dead, they mistakenly think it must be: gruesome, terrifying, scary, ugly and sad. Nothing further from the truth, Day of the Dead is a beautiful ritual in which Mexicans happily and lovingly remember their loved relatives that have died.” (inside-mexico.com)
As I already mentioned, religion often plays a huge role in the methods people choose to say goodbye. Christian funeral services are normally held in a church and then the deceased is buried in a cemetery. “Christians believe that when someone dies, they are judged by God. The righteous go to Heaven and the sinners go to Hell. Christians believe that Hell is the separation from the love of God.” (bbc.co.uk/religion)
The physical act of death is seen as something quite simple to Christians. The soul leaves the body, we mourn their loss and then do a funeral. Yet that is just the physical body, the soul has an eternity. Muslims have very similar beliefs. Both believe that God/Allah will come back one day (a day known only to Him) and destroy the earth, taking their followers. This day is known to muslims as ‘yawm al-Qiyamah’.
Catholics are much more ritualistic in their grief. They pray for the body and feel the body is important as it will one day be claimed back by the soul. Open caskets and wakes are a key point in the day of the funeral. Prayers are said, candles are lit and people say goodbye to their family member/friend. Sometimes they even keep a lock of hair and make alters to them as this reminds them to pray for them.
No matter how we die or what rituals we go through, death is something we can all expect. One day we will all leave our bodies and move on from this physical land.
“Death is the one thing in life we can be sure about and that is why religions have beliefs about what it means! Everything else ‘might’ happen to us: we might get married, be rich, be happy, have children, open our own business or travel the world, but the only real certainty is that we will die.” (http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/gcsebitesize/rs/death/islambeliefrev1.shtml)