Tag Archives: death rituals

Pouring one out for a loved one – Shrine, Paying Respect Ritual

Main Piece:

When talking to the informant, CS, I asked him to explain a ritual that he, his friends, and his family all share.

CS: “We have a friend who is no longer with us because he was killed by police officers. He always loved the Golden State Warriors and he specifically loved drinking Sailor Jerry spiced rum. His love for Sailor was actually enough for him to have the logo tattooed on his body. So, to honor his memory, we planted a tree in his name in our front yard. Now every time there is a Warriors game, before the game starts, those of us who can make it to the tree go and drink Sailor Jerry, then pour out a small amount of it onto the ground for him.”

Background:

The person that CS is speaking of was a family friend who had grown up with him and his brother. He was killed in a situation of excessive force that was racially motivated with him being a black male. The ritual around this has no specific religious affiliation and is more individually spiritual.

Context:

Discussion around the tree and the ritual of pouring out the drink for a dead loved one came up during discussion in the anniversary week of said friend’s passing.

Thoughts:

This tragic loss of a young friend feels like it fuels the spirit around the ritual of metaphorically having a drink with them. Since the lost loved one was in that stage of social celebration, the ritual locks the fun and bright side of their life in place, separate from the sorrow at the end. It feels vaguely familiar to Chinese and Korean practices of leaving food and drinks for loved ones at their graves for them to enjoy in the afterlife. Also, the specific timing of having it be during a sports game emphasizes a ritual timing where the perceived boundary between the two worlds is thinner.

Reference:

For more appearances of this kind of paying respect, see the collection piece below on “Placing Cutlery for the Dead – A Korean New Years Tradition.”

http://folklore.usc.edu/placing-cutlery-for-the-dead-a-korean-new-years-tradition/

You Can’t Give Away a Dead Person’s Shoes

Main piece: When someone dies, after the mourning period is over and it’s appropriate to give the clothes away that can still be worn, and you can give them to whoever you want – the recipient can take everything. Not the shoes. You don’t wear a dead person’s shoes. 

Background: My informant is a seventy-nine year old Jewish woman living in Baltimore, Maryland. She describes herself as a follower of “bubbe-meises” (Yiddish), translated to “grandmother’s fables”, or a more serious version of old wive’s tales that are often accompanied by superstitions. 

Context: A previous informant was discussing a traditional Jewish practice of washing your hands after a funeral. A discussion ensued about Jewish funeral rites and traditions, and my informant mentioned this one. My informant learned that from her mother, and takes the practice incredibly seriously, though it is not a situation she personally has faced. However, she does recall her mother refusing to offer her father’s shoes to family friends after his passing. 

Analysis: My informant had no idea why this practice existed, nor is there any talmudic or religious reason connected to or behind this. It is possible that unlike shirts or pants, shoes cannot be washed, and so the person who used to inhabit them can never fully be removed from the shoes. It’s also possible that, pre-industrialization, a person only owned one pair of shoes, and therefore had a higher sentimental value/significance to the person. The shoes would also be tailor made for that individual, so it is possible that the family just couldn’t give away the person’s shoes, because they wouldn’t fit anybody else. 

Gathering 40 Days After Death

Context: The following is an account from the informant, my paternal grandmother. She told this during a conversation over the phone.

Background: This information was about a customary ritual that people participate in widely throughout Pakistan, at least in the Punjab province. It is called چالیسواں which translates into ‘fortieth’.

Main piece: 

Informant: Forty days after a funeral, the women of the deceased’s family sacrifice an animal and cook food. They then invite relatives and neighbors over to their house, giving them the food and getting together to pray for the deceased and make supplication on their behalf.

Me: Why is it specifically after a period of forty days?

Informant: The mourning period after a death lasts for forty days. This ritual takes place after the mourning period has concluded. 

Me: What is the purpose or goal of such a ritual?

Informant: The purpose of this gathering is to pray for the deceased, so that their sins will be forgiven and their good deeds will be increased.

Analysis: Although the forty day period of mourning is an Islamic religious commandment, this particular ritual after that period is over is not a religious ritual but a cultural one, although it is often followed religiously and one who doesn’t participate in it is often considered to be doing something wrong. Also, it is interesting to note that the Eastern Orthodox religion also holds a traditional memorial service forty days after death, as well as a Shia festival called Arba’een, marking forty days after Ashura commemorating the martyrdom of Husayn ibn Ali, the grandson of the prophet Muhammad.

Death Ritual

Me: do you have a ritual you do when you lose someone close to you?:

“When I was seven years old during one summer my cousin who was three years older than me passed    away right around her birthday. She had a rare heart condition that no one really know about… I was with my younger cousin     who was visiting me when we both got the call and found out. Now whenever I       see a heart shaped rock I always pick it up for her.”

Me: When did you start doing that?:

“I started doing it right after it happened I think. When we went to her actual funeral we all put heart shaped rocks on her grave during her ceremony, and ever since then it’s been something I’ve always done.”

 

Background: Zoe is a twenty-year old girl from Aspen, Colorado and currently attending USC.

Context: Zoe told me this story at brunch discussing the pain of experiencing a family member who passes away.

Analysis: I was very touched by this story that she shared with me because losing someone important to you is a very intimate, difficult, and emotional thing to share. I have been fortunate enough to only have lost one person in my immediate family in the years I have been alive, so I could not fully understand what losing a close friend or cousin would feel like at such a young age. Everyone has a different understanding of what happens after death and what capacity we have to maintain in contact with the deceased when we are still living. I think collecting something beautiful that reminds you of a special person you lost is a really amazing way of remembering what they meant to you. Zoe has a physical manifestation of remembering her cousin, which I think is a really incredible away of believing that she is seeing a little piece of her cousin every time she comes across a heart-shaped rock in nature.

Indian Cremation Ritual

Informant SM is a sophomore studying Biomedical Engineering at the University of Southern California. He is very passionate about philanthropy, specifically helping poorer parts of India and aspires to one day become a doctor. The informant tells me(AK) about an Indian tradition centered around cremation he is fond of and believes many Indian people practice.

SM: It is customary in Indian tradition to cremate someone’s body after they die. And then you take the ashes, and you put it in a place that’s very special to this person.

AK: Wow I think I’ve heard of something similar. What does this ritual mean to you?

SM: It’s a way of celebrating someone even after they have died.

AK: Where did you learn this ritual, and does your family practice it?

SM: I didn’t learn it from a specific person, but it’s just part of Indian culture. I haven’t had a chance to experience it because none of my relatives have died in my lifetime.

AK: Where would you want your ashes to be placed?

SM: Oh wow, that is a tough question (laughs). I guess I’d pick Mount Tambora, you can call it Mount Tam — in San Francisco because it’s this really beautiful hike, and it’s kind of the first hike I went on with my family. Yeah, I guess that’s where I would put mine.

I was definitely familiar with this ritual, but I had never heard the part about placing the ashes in the person’s favorite place. As I asked the question to my informant about where he would like his ashes placed, I began to think about how I would answer that question. It certainly is a very difficult question because it’s so difficult to determine someone’s favorite place. I feel like at this point in my life, I don’t really have a favorite place, but if I had to choose, I think I’d just pick my room in the house I grew up in.