Ceremonies for Death & Dying
Ancient traditions accepted death in a different way than we do today. In our modern world scientist discover cures for diseases and medical workers perform miracles which prolongs life.
While we need and desire these modern inventions, we have lost the ability to accept that death will arrive at our door someday. Ceremonies prepare us to face this rite of passage with courage and grace. Stepping into ceremony during an illness or in the dying process may better prepare us to let go when it is time to do so.
Ceremonies before Death
There are many ceremonies that can be performed before a person dies. Some are very simple:
Healing Circle in which a group of friends stops by weekly to offer prayers, songs or simply sit in silence with the dying.
Attending the Body can be accomplished by an intimate group that regularly visits to bathe and pamper the body before death. After death they may perform the same ritual to prepare their friend for burial.
Celebration of Life is similar to a funeral but is held before the person dies.
Making the Coffin can be accomplished with direction from the person who is ill. A cardboard box can be obtained from most mortuaries in the case of cremation. Friends may decorate the box to reflect the personality of their loved one.
These activities, when held in ceremony with the dying, are ways to support the individual and relieve the loneliness that overwhelms the dying person in a culture that avoids death.
Ceremonies after Death
There is an enormous variety of funeral practices throughout the world. It is a fascinating topic to research. However, most funerals in our modern world are planned quickly by loved ones who are grieving and emotionally exhausted. This is no time to do research.
One of the recommended practices of dying consciously is to plan your own funeral or at least give your loved ones a clue as to your preferences or what the sensibilities will be of those expected to attend. The participation of the dying in their own funeral planning gives a more personal touch to the festivities.
A successful funeral incorporates the elements of a ceremony: invocation, transformation, closure, and celebration. The element that is most difficult to achieve is transformation. Ritual practices are often used to give a sense of transformation. However, the ritual must be meaningful to the participants.
A successful funeral ceremony:
encourages the gathering of the family and friends to support each other in their grief,
eulogizes the departed giving significance to the life just lived,
allows participants to tell stories about the deceased and their loss,
allows time to ponder the mysteries of life and death,
provides an experience of connection to the one who has departed and the ones left behind.
Reliance on rituals is helpful, but creativity can be moving if it is personalized and understood by the community in attendance.
Annual commemorations of a loved one’s passing are a helpful way to support the process grief. Setting aside time for a retreat on the anniversary of a death allows space in our busy lives for our emotions to surface and find expression. Planting a tree or building a memorial structure in nature gives us a focal point around which to gather. Visiting the cemetery or caring for the burial plot reinforces one’s connection to the deceased. Honoring deceased friends and relatives on an ancestor altar in the home keeps them close by.