Adjust Font-Size

Cultural Norms

Cultural attitudes to death

Living in a multicultural society brings lots of benefits but also means that we are often face attitudes to death and dying that are very different from our own background.  Here we briefly outline some general principles and practices

Death and Dying: Religious Practices

Religion: Buddhism

As death approaches – dying person needs peace and quiet to allow for meditation. A monk or religious teacher should be invited to talk to the dying person and chant passages of scriptures

When death is imminent – the ideal is to die in a fully conscious and calm state of mind. If a monk is not available, a fellow Buddhist may chant to encourage a peaceful state of mind

Immediately after death – no special requirements relating to the care f the body. Buddhists from different countries will have their own traditions regarding care of the body. If a monk or religious teacher is not present , inform the monks of the appropriate school.

Method of disposal - Buddhists bury or cremate according to local traditions

Funeral Customs - Usually within 3-7 days a service may take place in the house prior to going to the cemetery or crematorium. Monks may be invited to remind the mourners of the impermanence of life

Mourning Practices- There is great variations according to country of origin, e.g. Sri Lanker Buddhist mourners may return to work in three or four days and place no religious restrictions on widows. Some Vietnamese have a series of rituals; mourning may last 100 days and mourning for a husband or father, three years.


Religion: Christianity

As death approaches – Some Christians may wish for prayers and anointing with oil by a minister or priest.

When death is imminent – Where appropriate, a priest or minister might be notified.

Many Christians will wish to receive Communion (which will include some form of repentance and forgiveness). Prayers of commendation may also be said.

Immediately after death – No special requirements.

Method of disposal - Either burial or cremation. Increasingly only close family are present at the burial of the body or the ashes.

Funeral Customs - It is customary in some areas to hold a prayer service in the house of the dead person before the funeral. For Orthodox, Roman Catholics and some Anglicans the funeral involves a church service with a Mass or Communion. Sometimes the body is placed in the church the night before and in Orthodox funerals the casket remains open throughout the service. Protestants services are simpler and the body is usually not visible.

Mourning Practices- There is usually no official mourning period or mourning dress.

There may be a service of memorial and thanksgiving some months after the funeral.


Religion: Islam

As death approaches – Other Muslims, usually family members, join the dying person in prayer and recite verses from the Qur’an. Dying person may wish to have face towards Mecca (south east).

When death is imminent – The Declaration of Faith (Shahada) is said and, if possible the dying person responds ‘I bear witness that there is no God but God and Muhammad is His Messenger’.

Immediately after death – Non-Muslim health workers should ask permission to touch the body, then use disposable gloves. The body must be kept covered. Soon after death, there is a ritual washing of the body by same-sex Muslims. Post-mortems are disliked.

Method of disposal - Always burial.

Funeral Customs - Ideally burial is within 24 hours of death. Women are not included at the burial. Male family members carry the coffin either to the mosque or directly to the cemetery where the funeral prayer is said. The body is buried in a deep grave facing Mecca. In bigger cities there are special areas for Muslim burials and in some they are allowed to bury the shrouded body without a coffin. In some instances the body is embalmed and taken back to the country of origin for burial.

Mourning Practices- Islamic law requires friends and relatives to feed mourners for three days. After this the family should officially return to normal though unofficial mourning may continue until the 40th day. It is ended by Quranic readings and a meal.


Religion: Judaism

As death approaches – A rabbi may be called to join the dying Jew in prayer and facilitate the recitation of the Confession on a Death Bed.

When death is imminent – The dying person should not be left alone. Jews present should recite psalms and when death occurs, the Declaration of Faith (Shema)

Immediately after death – Health workers should handle the body as little as possible and cover with a white sheet. The Jewish Burial Society will collect the body and perform a ritual wash before burial. Post-mortems are disliked.

Method of disposal - Burial as soon as possible in simple coffins. Some non-orthodox Jewish communities permit cremation. Funerals do not take place on the Sabbath or holy days.

Funeral Customs - The service takes place in designated Jewish burial grounds. Prayers are said in a chapel and at the graveside. Although women now attend funerals, the male mourners recite the prayers and place the coffin in the grave.

Mourning Practices- After burial there are three periods of mourning throughout which designated mourners recite prayers thrice daily and refrain from certain activities. The first week (shiva) mourners remain at home; the 30 days (shloshim) concludes mourning for all but the children of the deceased who mourn for a year. When mourning is concluded the tombstone is consecrated with a ceremony at the cemetery.


Religion: Hinduism

As death approaches – Hindus may receive comfort from hymns and readings from the Hindu holy books. Some may wish to lie on the floor. The family should be present.

When death is imminent – The family may wish to call a Hindu priest to perform holy rites. A dying Hindu should be given Ganges water and the sacred Tulsi leaf in the mouth by the relatives. A person should die with the name of God being recited. Hindus often wish to die at home.

Immediately after death – The family will usually want to wash the body themselves. If no family is available health workers should wear disposable gloves, close the eyes and straighten the limbs. Jewellery and religious objects should not be removed.

Method of disposal - Cremation as soon as possible with the exception of children under three who are buried.

Funeral Customs - Part of the service takes place at home. The pandit (priest) chants from scripture and the chief mourner (usually the eldest son) performs the rituals. Mourners walk around the coffin which is then closed and taken to the crematorium for further prayers.

Mourning Practices- Mourners and friends return to the deceased’s house. In India the period of mourning and austerity (10-16 days) culminates in rituals enabling the dead person’s soul to join the ancestors. In Britain these very important rituals occur soon after the funeral and involve gifts to priests or to charity. There may be further rituals at one, three, and 12 months.


Religion: Sikhism

As death approaches - A dying Sikh may receive comfort from reciting hymns from the Sikh holy book. A relative or any practicing Sikh may do so instead.

When death is imminent – A Sikh person should die with the name of God, Waheguru (Wonderful Lord) being recited. Some Sikhs may want to have Amrit, holy water, in the mouth.

Immediately after death – Health workers should not trim hair or beard. The body should be covered by plain white cloth. The 5Ks should remain on the body. Family members may wish to bathe the body themselves.

Method of disposal - Cremation as soon as possible.

Funeral Customs - Similar to Hindus but dressing the person in the 5Ks. After a short ceremony in the home the body is taken to the gurdwara (temple) for a service and then to the crematorium for further prayer.

Mourning Practices- Up to 10 days of readings from the scriptures attended by relatives and friends. At the conclusion the eldest son is given a turban as a sign that he is now head of the family.

Sandwell Compassionate Communities - End Of Life Care & Support - Coping with Death and Dying - Palliative Care

Murray HallBridgesNHS West MidlandsSandwell NHS