While all of us have at some point witnessed or attended a funeral, they generally involve a casket, and people dressed in black walking behind the casket until a service is held and the casket is lowered into the ground. While this image of a funeral is one everyone is familiar with thanks to its representation in countless movies, television series and even story books, there are a hundred different ways in which funerals are conducted the world over depending on the cultural or religious practices of a people.

The procession

While a funeral calls up an image of people on black walking slowly behind a casket (often in the rain), in many countries, this procession is far from sombre. For instance, with many Buddhist funerals, depending on the location of the crematorium, people will walk behind the casket on the street and the casket will be carried over a white cloth that is draped on the street. Family members and loved ones will then walk around the crematorium three to seven times before the funeral ends, while paying their respects to the dead. In New Orleans, funeral processions have been seen to be lively affairs – where grief and joy are expressed through music, indicating that both aspects of life, joy and sorrow are represented and remembered. For instance, the music might start off sorrowful, slow and sad, especially during funeral services but will pick up the beat after the burial in celebration of the person’s life.

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Remembering the dead

While funeral services are generally the time at which eulogies are delivered, and the group takes time to remember the deceased, in other culture, this process of remembering is one that can last for years. For instance, in some parts of the world, the ashes of the deceased are turned into gems or beads that are then kept in the family as a way of remembrance.

These death beads are a way of keeping the memory of a loved one a live at home. In other places, the funeral is an elaborate affair and on occasion takes place years after the death of the loved one – usually until such time that a family is able to fund the funeral. Until this time, the deceased is preserved and looked after by the family – fed and cleaned through symbolic gestures and continues to be part of the family’s life – they are referred to as being sick or a sleep oftentimes, until the funeral can be held.

Remembrance and respect

Regardless of what funeral rites people choose to fulfil, each of these systems, is a way of paying respect and remembering a loved one. They are about celebrating a life and embracing and coming to terms with one of life’s greatest mysteries – death.