Grief is always unique and the customs that accompany funerals can vary greatly from one subculture of the country to another. Some funeral customs started as something practical, but others are deeply symbolic and are designed to ease the parting between the living and the dead.
Holding a wake and placing personal mementos with the dead are two customs of grief that are still fairly common today:
The custom of a wake had its roots in a very practical if somewhat gruesome concern: making sure that the deceased had really died rather than merely lapsed into a coma. During the Victorian period, the fear of being buried alive (taphophobia) was wide-spread.
Many methods were devised to combat this, including such things as "safety coffins," but one practical custom that took root was the wake, which began as a vigil held over the dead.
Traditionally, wakes were all-night affairs, held before a funeral. Friends, relatives, neighbors, and anybody who wished to pay their respects to the dead or the family of the deceased could come. Unlike funerals, wakes are informal affairs, where people can visit each other and discuss their memories of the deceased.
In the United States, the custom of the wake is still fairly common among those of Irish descent, in the Appalachian area, and among many Catholics. In some areas of the country, it's referred to as "visitation."
Depending on the local tradition, it may be held before or after the funeral, and they typically involve a great deal of food and drink. They are sometimes held in special rooms at the funeral homes, or at the homes of the deceased (or his or her nearest relatives).
Burying or cremating mementos with the dead is another custom that is common among many cultures. Generally speaking, the items are usually of immense personal significance or are symbolic tokens that are meant to ease the passage of the deceased person's spirit into the after-world.
Some common objects that are placed with the deceased for burial or cremation are photographs of family members, final letters from friends and family, stuffed animals, childhood toys, and religious texts like copies of the Bible.
One tradition that has its roots in ancient times is the custom of placing small coins or even paper money with the deceased. Among the ancient Greeks and Romans, a coin was placed in the mouth or hand of the deceased right before burial so that the spirit of the departed had a way to pay Charon, the ferryman who took the spirits of the dead into the afterlife.
The custom was eventually adopted by the Christian religion and has survived into modern times in many areas of the world. It's also a common custom among those of Asian descent, although the money is designed more to provide for the comfort of the deceased in the spirit world.
Funeral customs are often steeped in rich cultural and historical significance. They're a way of honoring the dead, providing comfort to the living, and helping survivors transition into the future without losing their connections to the past. To learn more, contact a company like Friedrichs Funeral Home with any questions or concerns you have.