Every Wednesday

Every Wednesday I will post something about grief. Sometimes it will be a reflection on an aspect of grief’s landscape. Now and then I will share from my own journey of grief, because in the sharing of our stories we find strength and build a community of people that support one another.

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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Searching for Help - Faith Communities


Journal entry 4

Looking for guidance on how to grieve, I search through books and the Internet looking for answers, and I compile a list of what different faith communities do. The most important element in recovering from death is having the support of a listening community.

In the Jewish tradition, after the funeral they observe shiva, sitting with their grief for seven days while others take care of their basic needs. They also receive well-wishers in this time when they’re numb to everything else and the words of grief from others do not deepen their own. 

Muslims observe communal mourning for three days, bringing food, reading verses from the Qur’an, and staying overnight so that the surviving spouse is not alone. The family often wears clothing of mourning for forty days. In some traditions the mourning color is black; in others it is white.

In the Japanese culture, with its mixture of Buddhist, Shinto, and folk beliefs, the bulk of grief work is focused in the first forty-nine days when the living express their sorrow and the community provides support. If grieving is not yet finished, as when the death was due to an act of violence, then more time is allowed. 

China has a number of native religions as well as world religions like Taoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism. My brother Kurt witnessed the funeral procession of one tradition where family members wailed loudly until they reached the gravesite. Then the widow ritually tried to throw herself into the grave while other mourners ritually held her back.

In the early Christian Church, the faith community met on the third, ninth, and fortieth days after a funeral for a time of prayer and hymns. Members of the Russian Orthodox Church feel that the ghosts of the dead linger for forty days and then receive God’s judgment about entrance into heaven.

Celtic Christians have traditionally used wakes to celebrate the dead person. Elderly women of the neighborhood came in to wash the body and lay it out in a room where mourners would offer a prayer and say a few words of condolence to the family. In another room the deceased’s life was remembered through stories, song and drink.


In mainstream Christian denominations in the Midwest, other than a potluck meal after the funeral service, I don’t know of much that is organized for grievers. The exceptions are mega churches that are large enough to have an ongoing fellowship group for grievers, and individual congregations that hold quarterly or yearly focus groups for those who have lost loved ones. 

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