Mourning - an introduction

Cultures mourn and celebrate death in different ways. Explore this diversity and the ways people remember their dead. Read about the way people prefer to dispose of their bodies and to be remembered.

Go now to a good place, not an evil one; go to the road of the sunshine, not the road of the rains; go where there are neither mosquitoes nor march-flies, but where there are pigs in plenty and taro in plenty...and we shall make a feast in your honour, and payment to those who have mourned you. A man from Oro Province as quoted in F E Williams, Orokaiva Society, 1930

Many cultures have strict protocols for mourning the dead. These might include:

  • rules about who should mourn and for how long
  • abstinence from certain foods or activities
  • wearing particular clothing or colours
  • altering the physical appearance through cutting the hair or scarring the body.

In some Indigenous Australian cultures it is customary to not mention the name of the deceased or show a photograph for a designated period of time. These restrictions are adopted for many reasons: out of respect for the dead, as a way of dealing with grief both individually and as part of a community, and to clearly identify those who are mourning.

A formal period of mourning for one year following a death is common in many cultures. David Mutton, Senior Lecturer, Forensic Psychology, University of Western Sydney, explains why that first year is so significant:

The first year following a loved one's death is particularly hard because it includes all the significant milestones that would normally be observed such as the deceased's birthday, Christmas, Father's or Mother's day, wedding anniversary, and then the anniversary of the death itself. Feelings seem to return at a greater intensity at those key times. The end of one year is significant because they have gone through all the rough patches and, in the following year, these occasions won't be so emotionally profound.


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