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Culture Rituals after Death: Christianity and 'Day of The Dead'

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When I think of death, I think about all the funerals that I have attended over the years. In my experience, the funerals have all been the same. Everyone is dressed in black, we attend church to mourn over the loss of a loved one or someone dear to us. Relatives and friends talk to one another sharing memories and time we had shared with the person who had past. Then, we head to the burial site to watch them lower the casket into the ground and grieve our final times with our beloved one. Typically this is how my family expresses our grief after the loss of someone dear to us. However, not how everyone practices or process’s grief and mourning this specific way.

There are thousands of different ways cultures mourn, and they have different rituals with how they handle their mourning. Death is an inevitable circumstance that happens in life and is a universal experience, but it is how people deal with the grieving and their rituals after the death of someone that makes us different from one another. What might be an abnormal ritual to one individual can be completely normal to another. There is no right or wrong way to grieve and is important, specifically in the medical field, to be culturally sensitive towards how someone processes death. This paper is to explain and compare the different rituals around the world when it comes to the death and to better understand different culture’s practices regarding the afterlife.

Every culture has their own set of beliefs of how the world works, their role in society, and what happens to them after death. Many people’s practices regarding death focus around their religion and the religious rituals to be done prior to death. Many religions require people to follow a certain ritual or have requirements that must be met to enter the afterlife. Primarily why people follow certain practices when it comes to dying. Their religion gives them a guidance and standard to determine of where they will be in the afterlife. For example, in the Catholic Church, they believe there is a hell for the ones who disobeyed certain commandments, and heaven to spend eternity for those who behaved well. To enter heaven you must repent for your sins and ask for forgiveness from god prior to dying. As for Buddhism believes that desire, wanting or craving anything in the world, will keep you in a limbo of death and reincarnation until you are free of any desires. This is why so many cultures have a set standard of practices they do because they want to make sure them, or their loved one enter into their religions afterlife. Not only do cultures have a standard that determines their existence in the afterlife, but there are practices that are done to help the living. Some religions follow a funeral that allows the family to mourn and grieve over the death and for another culture they have a celebration to honor one’s life on earth.

We will look into two religions that have different practices and outlooks on the afterlife.

First let’s look into the largest religion in the world with a population estimated at 2.4 billion individuals. Christianity has numerous branches, which makes it a complicated religion to practice one form of death rituals, rights, and traditions. However, there are a few practices that are more common among the religions, which we will look into. First, if a dying individual knows they only have a short amount of time left to live, then the family and friends begin to gather to spend their last few moments together. Typically the family will call their priest or pastor to come and perform the sacraments of confession, which allows the dying individual to repent their sins before they die, so they can enter into heaven. Once the individual has passed away, it is a common practice that the Christianity religion will cleanse the body before burial. When they cleanse and washed the body it is said that the person is pure and is prepared for the afterlife. Not only do they cleanse the body for preparation to the afterlife but to hold a wake. This is when the family has an open casket of the deceased to be viewed by all. The purpose to have the body exposed to everyone is so that all the people who have attended can pay their respects and come to realization that their loved one has pass. It also allows guests to process their grief and allow for a one-last goodbye. The service will then proceed with prayer, hymns, and scripture readings and cherished memories. The funeral process in Christianity is aimed towards more of a time to grieve and to try to process the death of someone close to us, it focuses on the living being able to come to terms with their feelings and to support one another during a difficult time.

Another very well-known culture practice resides in Mexico City, known as Día de Los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. Day of the Dead is a traditional Mexican holiday that holds sacred values in Mexican culture. Thousands of years ago the Aztecs and Toltecs believed that mourning the dead was a sign of disrespect and that belief is what has shaped this unique holiday. The day emphasizes the honoring and nourishing of deceased ancestors. Day of the Dead wants to not only honor the dead, but it is a way to help keep the deceased family and friends spirits alive. The holiday starts at midnight of October 31st and the celebration and rituals continue till November 2nd. The belief is that at midnight on October 31st that the souls of the deceased come back to visit the living on earth. All over the country people gather at graveyards of deceased loved ones and is where their celebration primarily takes place. Families and friends bring flowers, gifts, food, and play live music at the gravesite. Everyone gathers to eat and to celebrate the souls of everyone who has passed. The two-day celebration continues into the streets until November 2nd comes to an end and is when the spirits return to the afterlife until the following year.

After reflecting on just these two cultures it shows the importance it is to be culturally aware of different practices when it comes to death and any aspect in health care. First, cultural competence is defined as the ability of medical providers and organizations to provide the upmost care services that also meet the social, cultural, and linguistic needs of clients. It is evident that culture plays a huge role in all aspects of a person’s life. It determines how they live their life, and it determines how they process or understand death. Culture determines and influences individual’s wellness, coping, restoring of health, and ultimately enhancing the quality of their life. The Department of Health and Human Services’ goals is to increase the quality of life and to eliminate health disparities among different groups among the population. When medical professionals, such as nurses, are culturally incompetent it can ultimately change the overall outcome for a patient. For example, if a nurse is not culturally aware of how someone processes or handles end-of-life care, it can come off as disrespectful and ultimately alter their emotional well-being. In some cultures, discussing end-of-life plans are considered inappropriate, and a form of bad luck. A survey was done by Chang et al. that asked East Asian palliative care doctors and found that seventy percent of Taiwan families refused to discuss end of life. This is because the culture is one that believes discussing the end of life is bad luck and can change someone’s fate to the afterlife. This is just one of many examples as to why it is so crucial to be culturally competent in every aspect of a patient’s life.

After reviewing the importance of being culturally competent and reviewing different culture rituals towards death, it has changed my nursing practice for the better. It has changed it in the aspect that it has taught me to be more aware of others cultures. From all the articles and research done it has made me want to be more culturally competent and to be more open-minded when it comes to death. The practice and rituals all serve a specific reason to a particular individual. It is specific to them and is their way to handle and process their grief. It demonstrates that there is no right or wrong way to handle the end of life of someone dear to us, but it has shown me that death is something to have the upmost respect for. It has also has taught me that being culturally competent whether that’s towards afterlife customs or just being there to comfort someone, ultimately can have a very positive outcome for the people I will be caring for.

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Culture Rituals After Death: Christianity And ‘Day of the Dead’. (2022, April 29). GradesFixer. Retrieved March 29, 2023, from
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