In Mongolia and Tibet, a death ritual called a “sky burial” includes placing the body on a mountaintop, sometimes after chopping it into pieces. The idea is to expose the body to the elements to hasten the movement of the soul into another body.
Nothing like that happens in Madison, but funeral directors and cemetery directors here are always prepared to meet the needs of different religious and ethnic groups as requested.
Some cultures forbid cremations, some forbid burials; some ask mourners to wear white, some ask mourners to wear black. Some services are done in 15 minutes, while others last three days. Here’s a brief overview of various funeral customs, based on information from funeralwise.com, beliefnet.com and everplans.com.
Baha’i — No embalming or cremation allowed. It requires the burial to take place within an hour’s travel from the place of death because of the religion’s belief that the place of death and the burial should be near each other.
Baptist — Burial or cremation is OK. There is no mandated mourning period.
Buddhism — Cremation is mandated. At the funeral, the family will wear white or cover their clothing with a white cloth, according to funeralwise.com. Mourners often walk with sticks to symbolize how they need support to deal with their grief. They also chant, bring incense and ring gongs or bells. Mourning includes weekly prayers for about two to three months.
Catholicism — Burial in a Catholic cemetery is encouraged. Cremation is allowed but cremains should be interred. There is no mandated mourning period.
Eastern Orthodox — Burial is mandated because the religion believes humans are made from earth and should return there upon death. Cremations are allowed in countries that mandate it. Mourning period lasts for 40 days and memorials are held thereafter at three-month intervals for seven years.
Episcopalians — Burial or cremation is OK. There is no mandated mourning period.
Hinduism — Cremation is mandated because the religion believes the spirit is released as the body burns. There are exceptions. For instance, monks and children under 5 are buried. Hindu custom calls for the body to stay at home until it is cremated. At the funeral, mourners often wear white. Initial mourning period lasts 13 days.
Hmong — Burial is preferred. The funeral service, considered among the most sacred of rituals, can last up to four days. It is preferred to start on a Friday morning and end on Monday when the body is buried. Mourners create a continuous flow of food and someone plays a flute-like instrument called a qeej to guide the deceased person’s spirit to its ancestral home, according to funeralwise.com. Mourners often donate money to help cover the expensive funeral costs.
Islam — Burial is mandated and should take place within 24 hours of death. The body is positioned so the face is turned to the right facing Mecca. Embalming is forbidden. Only men are allowed at the burial but some areas are softening on that tradition. Mourning lasts 40 days but widows often mourn much longer.
Jehovah’s Witness — Burial or cremation is OK. There is no mandated mourning period.
Judaism — Burial is preferred by most sects and mandated by some and should occur as soon as possible after death, preferably within 24 hours. Burials are natural with a simple wooden coffin and a bottomless wooden vault. There is no embalming. Mourning usually lasts one week.
Lutheran — Burial or cremation is OK. There is no mandated mourning period.
Latter Day Saints (Mormon) — Burial preferred. The burial site is considered a sacred spot. There is no mandated mourning period.
Methodist — Burial or cremation is OK. There is no mandated mourning period.
Native American — Burial is preferred and follows a tradition that Earth is a sacred place. Families often handle all the funeral arrangements and the body is often wrapped in a cloth or placed in a simple casket for burial. The body is “honored” for up to four days prior to burial. Since it is not embalmed, the body is preserved with dry ice.
Presbyterian — Burial suggested but not mandated. There is no mandated mourning period but worshippers should make themselves “present” to the bereaved through a call, a card or a home visit.
Quaker — Burial or cremation is OK. The remains are not present at the funeral. There also is no wake or viewing before the funeral. There is no mandated mourning period and Quakers do not wear black to signify they are mourning the loss of a loved one.
Seventh Day Adventist — Burial or cremation is OK. There is no mandated mourning period.
Sikh — Cremation is preferred. In some places, if allowed, a male member of the family — usually the oldest child — turns the cremation switch on at the crematorium. Traditionally, there is a short mourning period when Sikhs often stay home and recite the Siri Guru Granth, which is the Sikh’s sacred book.
Unitarian — Burial or cremation is OK. No mourning period is mandated.
United Church of Christ — Burial or cremation is OK. No mourning period is mandated.