At West Laurel Hill, we serve families of all faiths, and we’ve learned a few traditions along the way.
Buddhists believe in reincarnation, that they are reborn when they die. The night before the funeral a wake is held at a temple or mortuary lasting from 1-3 days; a Buddhist priest will officiate at the service. During the funeral, Monks chant prayers and verses from sacred texts. The body is then cremated and the cremated remains are later buried in a cemetery. Buddhists observe a 49 day mourning period. On the 49th day it is believed that the body is reincarnated and a memorial service is held.
The rites and rituals performed when a Hindu dies are the last of 16 special ceremonies, or samskaras, which begin at birth. At death, the Hindu soul lives on and is reborn in another body, human or animal. During the funeral service, the body is washed and dressed. The family priest helps with the rituals. The body is cremated in a traditional service. Mourners traditionally wear white. The family returns home and observes 10-12 days of mourning. A final ceremony takes place on the 10th or 12th day. Many families scatter the ashes in the River Ganges, which is believed to wash away sins.
Jewish people believe they have only one earthly life and death. From death to burial, the body is never left unattended and a religious watchmen (Shomer) prays for the soul. The Chevra Kadisha, the Holy Society, performs the meaningful task of purifying the body, usually on the morning of the burial, with a ritual bath (Taharah) and also recite prayers. The funeral takes place within 24 hours after death, or as soon as possible. The body is buried, not cremated. A rabbi conducts the funeral service at the cemetery, reading prayers from the holy books. Mourners shovel dirt on top of the casket as it is lowered into the ground. The the next seven days, the immediate family will observe a mourning period (Shiva).
Muslims believe that Allah will judge their lives on the Day of Judgment. During a funeral, the body is taken to the mosque and carefully washed according to Muslim custom. The body is then placed into a coffin. Muslims are always buried, never cremated. If possible, the funeral should take place on the day of death with the service taking place in a mosque. After the service, the coffin is taken to the cemetery. Muslims are buried facing towards the holy city of Mecca, in Saudi Arabia. At the graveside, mourners say prayers and recite verses from the Koran. The mourning period usually lasts for 40 days after a death. Prayers to remember the day, called a rawdah, are read on the anniversary of the person’s death.
Sikhs think of death as a long sleep during which a person’s soul rests for a while before beginning a new life. When a Sikh dies, people sing hymns and read from the Guru Granth Sahib, the holy book, to comfort the family. The body is then washed with a mixture of water and yoghurt and dressed in a new set of clothes. The funeral procession begins with prayers. The body is taken to the crematory, often in a hearse. A prayer is said for the person’s soul prior to cremation. After the funeral mourners go to the gurdwara (Sikh place of worship) where they listen to readings from the Guru Granth Sahib. The cremated remains are scattered in a river or the sea. Over the next 14 days, friends and relations visit the family to offer their sympathy. Every year, a ceremony is held to remember the person who died.
(Ganeri, Anita, Journey’s End - Death and Mourning, Peter Bedrick Books. New York 1998) http://www.biomed.lib.umn.edu/hw/jewish.html