«The understanding of death and dying as seen by different religions»



►There is a very great number of small-scale societies having a wide range of beliefs and religious practices.

►Knowing somebody is from certain country may not help us to understand how they experience grief.

►Often there is not expert available to help us to understand a particular culture.

►Many people who blend traditions expect to seek help from more than one source.

►Each culture has its own approaches to dealing with loss.

►There are no pan-human categories for understanding death.

►We must become adept at learning, respecting and dealing with death and loss from the perspective of the other person's view of reality rather than our own.

►For most people in small-scale societies death is a transition or journey which takes time and may require a series of steps on the way to some other state. During this journey the deceased are often assumed to continue to communicate with the living.

►In many societies, death rituals are far more elaborate and protracted than those common in Euro-American societies. They may require actions that seem to outsiders to be pointless, destructive or unpleasant.

►Often there is a final funeral ceremony marking the end of mourning, the transition of the mourners into new statuses and roles, and the entry of the deceased into a final state. This may have enormous religious, social and personal significance to the bereaved.

►Immigrants from these cultures may lack institutional support for engaging in necessary rituals particularly from employers and school officials. Sometimes deliberate attempts may be made to stop practices which are seen as a abhorrent.

►Rituals define the death, the cause of death, the death person, the bereaved, the relationship between the bereaved and others, the meaning of life and major societal values. Failure to undertake them in full may leave people confused about all of these.

►Some small-scale societies have no ritual specialists. Those that do may find their ritual specialist undervalued or treated as a competitor by the ritual specialists of the host country.

►Support to the bereaved includes respecting their ritual specialists.

►Persons from other cultures may expect to treat and be treated by their own. This may create problems.

►People are not necessarily knowledgeable about their own culture, particularly about the areas for which ritual specialists are needed.

►In many cultures some people (particularly women) cry when a death occurs. Anger and aggression are less common but widespread.

►There are no emotions that are universally present at death. What emotions are felt, how they are expressed, and how understood, are matters of culture.

►In cultures in which death is seen as caused by others, the motions of grief may include a great deal of range, attempts to identify the attacker and a desire for revenge.

►Words like grief, anger, sadness and crying do not necessarily translate well. Neither do the words used after bereavement in other cultures translate well in to our mother tongue (or the language of the caregivers).

►Emotions expressed by people from another culture may seem insincere or artificial and lead to unfair condemnation, denigration or attributions of sickness or personal deviance. It is best not to separate individual from culture.

►In other cultures "religion" may blur into "science", "health care", "preventive medicine", "farming", "art", "law", "music" or "poetry".

►Almost all societies believe in spirits of the dead. These are usually thought to be present, communicate act in the world of the living. Thus, death does not end relationships.

►Different kinds of death give rise to different beliefs, emotions and rituals.

►It is not uncommon for there to be marked differences between generations in their ways or dealing with death. These need to be understood and sensitively handled by caregivers.

►Cultures vary respecting who has the right or obligation to grieve.

►Rather than imposing classificatory systems, it is more helpful to assume that whatever a person does has meaning and value to them and then to try and understand it as they do.

►It is risky to assume that the supporting actions commonly used to support bereaved people from Euro-American culture are appropriate to people from another culture. This includes what, if anything, it is appropriate to talk about after death.

►There are indigenous notions of grief pathology in many small-scale societies and indigenous notions of treatment. But what, if anything, is regarded as pathological grief differs widely from culture to culture.

►We should try to accept and even appreciate other persons' cultural beliefs and practices and to provide help that makes sense within that framework.

►Immigrants may have lost their social support systems and their ritual specialists at a time when they have suffered many losses. Practitioners must be sensitive to these complexities and provide help that is responsive to them.

►Proper grieving usually involves other people and objects with whom the mourner must interact in specific ways. No amount of words with a therapist can replace such people and objects.

►Poverty may impair a person's ability to carry out proper rituals and may lead to rejection by or refusal of help by others.

►Immigrants may become alienated from their culture of origin and suffer from the lack of their traditional support systems when they experience a loss. It may help if we encourage them to engage in the rituals and express the emotions that are appropriate to their culture.

►Plausible explanations of what others do are helpful in dealing with our own ethnocentrism.

►Often outsiders are not expected to engage in what the insiders do and may cause offense if the offer and unauthentic version. A genuine and caring offer of sympathy, shared tears, or a hug may have more meaning than stilted efforts to act properly.

►Final funeral ceremonies may reduce the risk that mourning will become perpetual.

►Knowledge of the beliefs and rituals of small-scale societies my help us to find alternative solutions to common problems and new ways of thinking about loss.