Oregon Cascade Highway, photo by Michelle Lindblom

Death and Ritual — Why We Need to Embrace Them

Michelle Lindblom


Life Span

It was not that long ago that death was part of the everyday experience and came early. If one survived childhood over 200 years ago they were lucky to get to 30 or 40 years of age. Being retired was certainly not a concept.

From the late 18th century until the early 20th century, life expectancy for Americans was less than 40. But thanks to health and safety policies and measures our average life span is now 79 (female) and 72 (male) according to the CDC.

Up until the late 20th century throughout Europe and America when loved ones died it was a family and small communal affair often taking place in the home. There was no funeral industry to swoop in and take over the arrangements unlike today.

What emerged instead was a greater fear of death and the dead body. Medical advances extended control over death as the funeral industry took over management of the dead. Increasingly, death became hidden from public view. No longer familiar, death became threatening and horrific. The Conversation

And because communal rituals are no longer widely held, there are few means in which to adequately mourn our losses.

Death Rituals

Many cultures perform a variety of death rituals and celebrations. The heart of these practices provide continuity for communities to deal with their loss.

These rituals create a boundary between life and death. Allowing the community to remember and experience their loved ones for the last time and in a way that makes them less far away. The Mexican and Mexican Americans have the Day of the Dead, African Americans celebrate the dead in New Orleans with Jazz Funerals. The ancient Greeks and Romans honored the deceased with feasts and funeral games. In Ethiopia, the Dorze ethnic community sing and dance before, during and after funerary rites in communal ceremonies meant to defeat death and avenge the deceased. The Conversation

When my father passed away in 2006, as a family we met with a funeral home to make arrangements for a private service. In addition, Mom wanted a Catholic church service so the larger community could pay their respects in the traditional religious setting.