Different Cultural Approaches to Death and Dying

Preparing for DeathLeave a Comment

Unfortunately, death is an inescapable part of life.  Regardless of where you live, what you do or what kind of lifestyle you have, you have at least one thing in common with everyone else on the planet: you are going to die.  Although death is universal among living, the approach to death differs widely between cultures.  Likewise, while at least some level of grief at the death of a loved one is experienced by virtually every cultural group, the extent of that grief and the method of coping with it differ from culture to culture.  One thing that people from all three groups may consider is how to prepare for their own passing.  By taking steps ahead of time, it is possible to decrease the complications and stress that your passing will cause for the ones you leave behind with a MemorializeMe account.

Here is a look at some of the more common cultures and how their members deal with death:

Adherents of Monotheistic Faiths

People who practice Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and other faiths purporting to believe in a single deity tend to view death as a transition.  Of course, this differs widely between the faiths, and even among a given faith, there can be tremendous differences in the specifics of what people believe.  However, a common thread among the varying beliefs is that death is merely a conduit from this existence to the next.

People in these faiths tend to believe that the next phase of existence will be better than this one.  Whether this is reflected in the Christian teaching of “going to Heaven” or the Muslim belief in “going to Paradise,” adherents to the faith anticipate an eternal existence of joy and peace once this life is concluded.

Because of the belief in a better afterlife, stalwarts of these faiths are not grieved as much when a loved one dies—although nominal practitioners tend to grieve as much as nonbelievers.  This is likely because they believe that the departed is “in a better place.”  Of course, they also hold to the prospect of one day joining the departed in the afterlife, so they feel that death is not final.

Cultures Which Engage in Ancestor Worship

In some parts of the world—typically in sections of Asia and Africa—many people view life as a circle in which one is born, lives, dies, and then comes back in one form or another.  These people, like those who adhere to a monotheistic faith, are not as bothered by the death of a loved one.  However, they may engage in practices such as setting a dining place for the departed or maintaining a shrine or similar place where food, drink, money, and other items may be left for the deceased.

These people tend to believe that their departed ancestors hold some sway over events in their own lives.  Whereas people of faith believe that the departed one is in a better place, people who engage in ancestor worship frequently believe that the departed remain among us in some fashion or another.  It is not uncommon for them to ask their ancestors for help or credit them when good fortune comes.

A key difference between the ancestor worship and monotheistic religion approaches is the attitude towards what is done with the body of the deceased.  People in the latter camp tend to believe that the body is merely a shell, and whatever is done to it after death is irrelevant.  People in the former school of thought tend to frown on things such as cremation or organ donation, as the deceased is believed to remain among the living.


A third group of people—a group which is larger today than ever before in terms of the percentage of the population belonging to it—is those people who believe nothing happens after death.  These people tend to view life as a highly-organized state of chemical activity that came about purely by chance.

Because they do not believe in any sort of afterlife, death is final for people in this category.  This is not to say it is necessarily more traumatic, at least in some circumstances.  People who hold this belief likely view their own deaths with emotional detachment because they believe they won’t feel or be aware of anything.  At the same time, they may be more traumatized at the deaths of loved ones because they truly believe they will never see the deceased again.

The cultural approach to grief in this group varies widely depending on a number of factors such as the personality of the person in question.  One approach to death that is common among these people, however, is a much greater acceptance of alternative means of disposing of the body and organ donation.  They tend to believe that these questions should be resolved in the most logical way possible, rather than maintaining an emotional attachment to the body of the deceased.

Preparing for Death and Memorializing

Death is something that cannot be prevented; however, with a free MemorializeMe account, you can take steps to make it easier for everyone involved and create an online memorial to share with friends and loved ones.

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