How Traditions of Mourning Help Us Grieve
Mourning is the external expression of loss, and mourning traditions are important in coping with grief.
Losing people we love is a painful and challenging reality. We will all experience it at some point, and we will all face both grief and mourning when it happens. Although these words are often used interchangeably, they are distinct. Suffering refers to the thoughts and emotions we experience after losing someone we love. Mourning, on the other hand, is about our outward expressions or signs of grief. It is the external expression of loss, and it is something that is often impacted by the cultures we live within.
Why is Mourning Important?
Just as with grief, mourning is a very personal experience, and it will vary among individuals. There is no guidebook for the right way to do it, and sometimes it depends on what type of loss a person has experienced. For example, mourning the loss of a child may look quite different from mourning the loss of a grandparent who lived a long and entire life. Whatever it looks like for you, know that mourning is a way that your brain forms long-term memories of your loved one. It can help you come to a place of acceptance with their death and emotionally process all of the feelings of grief. Mourning can also help you adapt to life without your particular person and to carry on even though they are no longer by your side.
Traditions of Mourning Across the World
In the United States and much of the Western world, cultural mourning practices include things like funerals, memorial services, and wearing black clothing for a time after someone we love has died. Although death and mourning are universal, these practices across the world vary considerably. However, all of them have something to offer those facing the pain of loss.
The Hindu believes in reincarnation, so death may not have the same feeling of finality for Hindus. However, mourning is still a genuine part of the loss in this culture. One of the most common Hindu mourning traditions is to cook an elaborate meal – often a favorite of the person who has died – and then bring the feed to the temple to share with the community. Even if you aren’t Hindu, the idea of preparing your loved one’s favorite meal and sharing it with friends and family can be a valuable part of your grieving and healing process.
Vietnamese culture emphasizes continuing communion with your ancestors. This often takes the form of an elaborate shrine dedicated to a loved one who has died. These shrines may include photographs, candles, incense, and precious items that belonged to the deceased. Even if you don’t share the Vietnamese belief in ancestors existing in the afterlife, making a unique space for your loved one’s photos and precious personal items can provide great comfort.
Native American Mourning
Native American tribes all have unique mourning practices, but one common to many is burying the deceased’s body with meaningful items. Usually, the items are unique, and it can be challenging to part with them. However, it is also cathartic to place a cherished item alongside a loved one for eternity. Adding a momento or prized possession alongside your loved one can also bring a sense of closure.
In Mexico, it is also common to bury loved ones with special material possessions, along with their clothing. When someone dies, the family holds a vigil for family and friends that lasts 24-48 hours. Mourners partake in food and drink together during this time. In addition, guests arrive to offer prayers and bring the family gifts that celebrate and honor the deceased. Even if you don’t live in Mexico, coming together for a time with other people who are also grieving is a practice that can help you feel less alone on your grief journey.
In Ireland, funerals and memorials are often filled with music. It is usually a mix between religious ballads and more cheerful songs that remind those facing a loss of happier times. Embracing music – and even joyful music – serves as a reminder of the importance of moving forward in life, even while you face grief. Even if you don’t choose to have such music at your loved one’s funeral, wake, or memorial service, playing music in your own home can provide you with some of these same benefits experienced by Irish mourners.
As with the Irish, Chinese memorials often remind bereaved families that life must go on. Mourners are traditionally given red envelopes containing money that must be spent. The idea is to encourage people to look beyond their loss and toward a lifetime of remembrance instead. You may find solace in a new purchase that keeps you moving forward, too, even if in the smallest of ways.
Why You Should Embrace Mourning
Mourning can be a lengthy and painful process, and it can sometimes be difficult to see past your grieving period to brighter days when your life won’t feel so defined by loss. However, it is no coincidence that every culture maintains mourning rituals. They are a necessary and healthy part of grief, so remember to be gentle and kind to yourself as you navigate your mourning. Although it will represent a challenging time in your life, the process is essential. Mourning will allow you to preserve special memories of your loved one, begin to re-engage with your life and feel joy and happiness once again eventually.
If you are looking for new ways to alleviate the painful emotions accompanying grief, consider trying a new grieving practice from one of the traditions mentioned above. Leaning into mourning practices is a healthy way to cope and to begin moving toward a place of peace and healing.