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Death Rituals in Families

  • By: Colleen I. Murray
  • In: Encyclopedia of Family Health
  • Edited by: Martha Craft-Rosenberg & Shelley-Rae Pehler
  • Subject:Family Health, Family Policy, Family Law

Rituals are powerful cultural devices and organizers of family life that are intended to stabilize and support families during times of stress and transition. They vary across cultures and take place during the dying process as well as after death. Rituals can be religious and spiritual or secular in nature, and they have both public and private elements. Rituals may follow prescribed formats: They are reflections of the rules of grieving in a particular society, as well as reflectors that communicate the significance of the death and guide survivors’ responses to loss. After a discussion of the purpose of death rituals and their historical context, this entry focuses on contemporary death rituals and disenfranchised grief and concludes with a discussion of rituals and worldview.

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