When someone passes: grief and tradition

What do you say, to friends, family and even yourself when someone precious to you passes away? Can you find the words, can you put together a telling phrase or anything poignant enough to pay tribute and, at the same time, express your grief?

Expressing your grief is, many times, a way of telling those around you how wonderful the person was. Crying out loud at a funeral, sobbing, bawling, even being overcome and almost fainting — these are true signs of grief, but they are also a demonstration to all around you that the deceased was important, not just to you, but simply important, cherished, worthy.

In the Jewish faith you sit Shiva, mourners are literally supposed to sit on low stools in the home of the deceased, for periods during seven days of mourning. That collective gathering provides spiritual and emotional healing when all are joined together — but it is also a case of see-and-be-seen to mourn — proof you care enough about the deceased and those grieving to show up and find fellowship in communal remembrance.

In the Muslim faith, mourning calls for prayers and readings from the Qur’an sing out and, while the closest family and friends can cry and allow their loss to show, mostly this is a dignified period of mourning. The mourning period lasts for 40 days, with people bringing food and flowers to the family and friends — showing their support but never showing more grief or emotion than necessary so as not to detract from the dignified true suffering of family members.

Christianity takes the position that while grieving is not wrong, it is neither a celebration of the loved one’s passing into Heaven. “…blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted…” (Bible, Matthew).  The principle is that to be so blessed with remembrance is to experience a deep sense of peace and joy — especially when surrounded by family and friends all mourning the deceased’s passing. But grief is often a deeply personal emotion especially in Protestant Christianity, often not shared openly.

Buddhists mourn for 49 days with a service every seven days.

The Orthodox Church mourns for 40 days, whereas the Coptic Church usually breaks that period after three days if the priest agrees.

Interestingly, the Shinto faith observes mourning for 49 days as well.

All around the world, these past two years have resulted in many millions of unexpected deaths causing billions of people to think, worry and deal with the passing of someone they knew, liked, worked with or loved. And in that observance of grief, memories of past mourning periods have rekindled themselves in hearts and many have found the flood of grief overwhelming.

When you see friends, family, neighbors or even strangers in these weeks and months as we come to the holiday seasons, remember that everyone, yes even you, will have sorrow for those who are no longer with us, and that grief will be there, always. Have patience, sympathy, empathy and show kindness; for there, but perhaps for a little more fortitude, go you and us all.


Peter Riva, a former resident of Amenia Union, now resides in New Mexico.

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