While we all inevitably face losing a loved one at some point in our lives, how we mourn or celebrate that individual varies from person to person, as well as from religion to religion.
Here are some common religions and their beliefs regarding mourning or celebrating the loss of a loved one.
Christians believe their loved ones will go to heaven to be with God after they die. Therefore, they tend to celebrate the life of their loved one. A Christian may be buried or cremated, depending on the preference of the individual. A minister conducts the ceremony, either a funeral or celebration of life, typically in the church or in a funeral home. If the individual chose cremation, then their ashes may be scattered by the family. Otherwise, they are buried in a cemetery with a gravestone to mark the spot.
Catholics believe their loved ones will go to heaven to be with God as long as they have repented any major sins. Those who are sick or elderly can receive the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick on a regular basis if they so desire. A prayer service called the Vigil of the Deceased is held the night prior to the funeral. A Requiem Mass for the deceased is celebrated on the day of the funeral. Following this, the Rite of Committal is celebrated at the graveside. Family members and friends take part in all three services.
The beliefs of the Jewish vary, depending on whether they are Conservative, Reform, or Orthodox. Jews believe their loved ones go to heaven to be with God after they die. After death, the body is never left alone. The deceased’s eyes are closed, the body is covered and laid down on the floor, and candles are lit. Jews cannot be cremated or embalmed. Burial occurs as soon as possible after the death and, according to Jewish law, each grave must have a tombstone. Seven days of mourning, called Shiva, follow the burial. Friends prepare a meal to help the family regain their strength.
Hindus believe that after their loved one dies their soul moves on to another body on its path to heaven (called Nirvana). After dying, the deceased is bathed and dressed in traditional white Indian clothing. However, if a woman predeceases her husband, she will be dressed in red. The procession to the crematorium may go past places that were important to the deceased. At the entrance to the crematorium, prayers are said and the body is decorated with flowers and sandalwood. The head mourner, typically a male or oldest son, prays for the body’s soul. The body is then cremated, as Hindus believe that burning the body releases the spirit. They believe the flames represent the creator, Brahma. Following the funeral, the mourners must wash and change their clothes before entering the house. Shradh takes place a year later, which is when food is given to the poor in memory of the deceased.
The beliefs of the Muslim vary, depending on whether they are Shiite or Sunni. Muslims believe that the soul of the deceased continues to exist. Depending on how they lived while they were alive, individuals can form their soul for the better or the worse. Muslims believe that the deceased will remain in the grave until judgement day when Allah decides if they go to heaven or hell. After dying, the deceased’s eyes are closed and they are laid out with their arms folded across their chest and their head facing Mecca. The body is washed by family or friends and wrapped in a white shroud. The body must be buried within 24 hours because Muslims believe that the soul leaves the body at the moment the person dies. The funeral takes place at the graveside where prayers are said and the Koran is read.