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Thursday, June 02, 2005

Faithful mourning - Memorial Day weekend

Posted on Sat, May. 28, 2005
Faithful mourning
On this Memorial Day weekend, we look at how three major religions -- Judaism, Islam and Christianity -- honor those who die.


The Wichita Eagle

Regardless of our faith, every one of us has mourned or will mourn the death of someone.

But faith provides opportunities for us to grieve in unique ways.

We may cry during religious services for a loved one or we may view that time as a celebration of a person's life.

We may allow everyone to view the deceased in an open casket or keep it closed.

We may bring flowers or other objects to the graveside as a symbol of our respect for those who have died or as a sign of our loss.

On this Memorial Day weekend, we'll look at some of the customs of mourning among three major faiths -- Judaism, Islam and Christianity.

Although customs can vary within faith traditions and cultures, the following descriptions provide some insight into how many people honor those who have died.

• • •


Within the Jewish faith, customs about death focus on two things: showing respect for the dead and comforting those who are in mourning.

Rabbi Michael Davis of Congregation Emanu-El said Judaism follows prescribed periods of time and procedures when a person dies.

The deceased is buried quickly -- ideally, within 24 hours.

Before the burial, family members may come into a room to view the body but usually no one else. "There's a respect for the deceased," Davis said.

During the service, the casket is closed.

Caskets are kept simple, usually wooden, so there's no distinction between wealthy people and those who are poor.

"We are equal in death," Davis said.

Visitors may place pebbles on the grave, Davis said, "just a way to say, 'I was here.' "

On the day of a burial, a seven-day period of mourning known as shiva begins, according to www.jewfaq.com. Shiva is observed by parents, children, spouses and siblings of the deceased, usually together in the deceased person's home. They don't focus on themselves: They don't do such things as shave, bathe, cook or clean.

"You really don't care about things during this time," Davis said.

Family members wear the clothes they traditionally tear, as a sign of grief, when they learn of their loved one's death.

Mirrors in the house of the deceased are covered during shiva so mourners don't see themselves unkempt. After the week of shiva, mourners resume their responsibilities, Davis said.

The next period of mourning lasts until the 30th day after burial. During that time, mourners are not to shave or cut their hair or attend any celebration. Ideally, loved ones would say the Kaddish, a mourner's prayer, each day.

The final period of formal mourning is observed only for a parent who has died and lasts 12 months after the burial. During that time, mourners avoid celebrations and public entertainment. For 11 months of that period, they recite the Kaddish every day.

Each time of mourning serves a purpose, Davis said, "to grieve and then to get back into life, slowly, but surely."


When a Muslim dies, the body is washed and wrapped in white cloth, said Nabil Seyam, spokesman for the Islamic Society of Wichita.

Prayers are said over the body at the time of death, followed by a quick burial, preferably the same day. More prayers are offered for the deceased at the cemetery.

In most cases, the mourning period lasts three days, Seyam said. "You mourn for three days, because you give people time to visit you."

During those three days, there is a continuous recitation of the Quran, he said. The form of it varies. In some places, including in the United States, an audio recording is played; in others, someone may be brought in to recite or several people may do it.

Frequent visits to the cemetery are encouraged so people can better cope with their grief, Seyam said.

"Once a week, that would be great," he said about visits to the cemetery. "And if you can't for any reason (go), at least once a month."

Ultimately, "we're all going to die," Seyam said, "and we need to continue life."


The mourning customs within the Christian faith vary. But as with Jews and Muslims, mourning comes down to showing respect for the deceased and comforting the grieving.

Some people show respect by gathering in the homes of family members in mourning to share stories of the deceased. Oftentimes, visitors bring food for the family.

Funeral services and wakes can have different moods.

The Rev. Kevass Harding, pastor of Dellrose United Methodist Church, said that much of the "suffering" or grieving is seen at the wake, usually at a funeral home.

At the funeral, though, the service is often seen as a time of celebration and worship, he said. The story of Jesus' resurrection reminds people that heaven is promised to his followers after death.

"We come with tears in our eyes, sorrow in our hearts," he said, "but we celebrate that this child of God is now going home. We don't grieve as if we'll never see them again."

In eulogies, people share stories about the deceased. Videos and pictures of the deceased may also be shown.

"It really depends on the kind of life the person lived, I think," the Rev. Dan Hawn of First Baptist Church said. "If they really touched a lot of people and brought joy to a lot of people's lives, people want to talk about that."

In the Catholic faith, many people light candles as a symbol of mourning. They may light them in churches and at their homes, daily or on special occasions such as the anniversary of a loved one's death, said the Rev. James Billinger of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church.

Catholics usually hold a vigil service the night before a funeral. People who attend typically say a rosary, a devotion consisting of several prayers such as the Hail Mary and the Lord's Prayer.

For Catholics, there is no official mourning period, Billinger said. That's determined by each person.

But even in mourning, he said, "We celebrate Christ's victory over sin, suffering and death."

Mourning customs

Some of the customs of mourning within three faiths:


• Burial as quickly as possible, ideally within 24 hours.

• Mourning for seven days, called shiva, after the burial.

• Daily prayer, called Kaddish, offered for the deceased for 11 months after burial of a parent.

"There's a respect for the deceased." --Rabbi Michael Davis, Congregation Emanu-El


• Quick burial, preferably the same day of death.

• Quran recited constantly for three days of mourning.

• Frequent visits to the grave are encouraged to help ease the pain of loss.

"You mourn for three days because you give people time to visit you." --Nabil Seyam, Islamic Society of Wichita


• Funeral services vary from somber to celebratory.

• Candles are lit by many people as a reminder of the deceased.

• Mourning period differs, depending on relationship to the deceased.

"We come with tears in our eyes, sorrow in our hearts, but we celebrate that this child of God is now going home." --The Rev. Kevass Harding, Dellrose United Methodist Church

Reach Joe Rodriguez at 268-6644 or jrodriguez@wichitaeagle.com.



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