Religious Funeral Traditions

May 20, 2010 | 1 comment

How do interfaith couples deal with their different religions when there is a death in the family?

Couples from different faith backgrounds often face hurdles when they marry, as I know from my first marriage – a Jew and a Catholic. Clergy may try to counsel the couple on how they can bring their different religions together into their enjoined lives, or the pair may walk away from their religions altogether. They may find a happy medium for celebrating holidays and raising children.

At the end of life, though, religion often becomes important once again. With a death in the family, you may feel drawn to do a funeral service in the religion you grew up with, even if you haven’t practiced that faith or attended services in years.

Funeral planning on the fly is a hard time to learn about a partner’s religious traditions for funerals. Discussing what kind, if any, religious ceremony or memorial service you would want before there’s a death in the family is important for reducing stress on top of grief.

“I have noticed that when a death occurs, people become more orthodox, and that’s true whether it’s in the Jewish faith or any other faith,” said funeral director Glenn Taylor.

A late “return to the fold” for a funeral holds pitfalls for making a meaningful end-of-life ritual. If you haven’t regularly attended a church or synagogue, it’s hard to get a clergy person who knew the deceased personally. There’s nothing sadder than attending a funeral where the officiating clergy mispronounces the deceased’s name and only recites information that appears in the obituary.

Options for non-religious funerals and memorial services abound, as I’ve written about in the Memorable Life Celebrations section of this blog. Now we’re going to look at various religious practices related to death, funerals, and mourning, so you can know what to expect when you attend or prepare an end-of-life event for someone from a faith tradition different from your own.

Bear in mind that every family’s interpretation of a tradition is different. Each family will have their own unique variations on these traditions regarding treatment of the body, funeral services, and mourning. When making plans, it may be helpful to say, “I understand your faith tradition calls for such-and-such to be done. Is this something you want to do?”

Appropriate funeral attire for guests at most religious ceremonies is modest and somber, unless otherwise noted. Men would wear a suit or sport jacket and tie, for women, a dress or skirt and blouse.  Any special considerations are detailed in the notes section.

Selected religions will be listed in alphabetical order. In each religious tradition covered, we’ll look at the following elements:

Treatment of the body: if body is put on display, embalming, cremation

Funeral or memorial services: types, scheduling, length of service, prayers, books

Do’s and Don’ts: etiquette for funeral attendance, event recording

Interment: graveside services, attendee participation

Post-Event Reception: visits at home, any religious services, food/drink

Gifts: Flowers, food, charitable contributions

Mourning period: how long mourner stays away from work or socializing

Mourning customs: reading name at services, memorial prayers, marking of death anniversary, other customs

Notes: anything to be aware of specific to the religion that isn’t covered in the other categories.

A Good Goodbye