Coping with the death of a loved one can make life unbearable. Our realities and usual coping strategies are turned upside down, and we can be left feeling lost when the absence of a familiar presence leaves such a huge void.
The sheer inevitability of death begs the question of why we find it so painful. Why does death feel so wrong, so unjust and so impossibly hard to deal with when it's been the human reality for forever? Why, like so many universal human experiences, have we evolved to develop such differing views and practises surrounding this trauma?
Much like coping with death itself, there's no set in stone answers to these age old questions. Likewise, there's no set in stone way to experience or cope with your grief. And with all usual strategies potentially used up, we explore how the practices of different cultures might help us find new ways to cope, heal or re-think death when trying to cope ourselves. Read on for 5 different cultural practises and views used to cope with death:
“It’s not the End”
In Africa, it's common to seek comfort in the belief that life goes onto another realm. Discussions of end-of-life wishes are considered taboo in this culture where death is not viewed as an end. Funerals and death rituals are instead centred around transition, and this idea that death means becoming an ancestor.
These unique traditions and rituals cover singing and dancing, use of traditional instruments and clothing, as well as practices such as washing and redressing the body. Whilst expressed in different ways, these send-offs share Western sentiments of celebrating the life of the deceased whilst also providing comfort to those who are grieving.
2. Transitioning into the Afterlife
Tibetan Buddhists use Sky Burials to reflect their belief that a loved one’s soul heads towards heaven. Leaving bodies outside on high altitudes for birds and other animals to devour is thought to ease this transition, through helping the soul depart its body. In embracing the circle of life, some also find comfort in the circle of life and this idea that the death of one body offers life to another natural being.
Along a similar line of thinking, every few years the Malagasy people of Madagascar will open the tombs of the dead. They’ll rewrap bodies in fresh burial clothes, before gathering to dance with the body near the tomb. Translated as ‘turning of the bones’, this practice aligns with their belief that doing just that will speed up the journey of the dead’s spirit into the afterlife.
3. Celebration of Life
In many South American countries, death practices are viewed as an opportunity to celebrate life rather than be solemn over its end. If a child passes away in Columbia, comfort is found from the idea that they become angels in heaven. In Peru, some believe death offers a deep and peaceful sleep, whilst others subscribe to the fact their loved ones have transitioned to another world.
The Day of the Dead stands as one example which represents this celebration of the dead in combination with community and family bonding. It's filled with colour and smiles, and this central idea that death is a change which continues rather than ends a cycle of life.
4. Rebirth & Return
Hindus also believe in reincarnation, and so death is not seen as the end, but rather as a transition to the next stage of existence. As such, the Hindu approach to healing from death focuses on accepting the loss and preparing for the next life. This is often done through prayer, meditation, and other spiritual practices.
Hindus may also hold memorials or funeral services to honour the deceased and provide support to those who are grieving. By embracing their spiritual beliefs and seeking support from their community, Hindus can find comfort and healing in the face of death.
5. Humanistic Reminiscence
The humanistic approach to healing from death instead emphasises the importance of self-reflection and personal growth in the grieving process. This approach focuses on the individual's emotional and psychological needs, rather than religious or spiritual beliefs.
In the humanistic approach, it is important for individuals to acknowledge and accept their feelings of loss, and to find healthy ways to cope with their grief. This may involve talking to a therapist or counsellor, joining a support group, or engaging in activities that bring them comfort and meaning.