Remembering the Dead: Ancestors, Rituals, Relics


The passing of loved ones always kindles a watershed moment in life. Saying goodbye, seeking comfort in loss, revisiting beliefs about life after death – these are often ritualized, both at the time of death and for years afterward. Different faith traditions have developed a variety of rituals and celebrations to remember the dead, to honor their lives, and to celebrate various expressions of hope in the midst of grief.

Some of these traditions have ancient roots in the stories of martyrs, the cherishing of relics, and the ongoing visitation of burial sites. Many traditions believe the time of death and the funeral or memorial are opportunities to reiterate beliefs about heaven, resurrection, and reunion. Others focus more on the blessing and well-being of the living by offering opportunities for addressing the dead, challenging them, celebrating them, or merely saying goodbye. These rich and complex rituals can both create and proclaim meaning in the face of death and loss.

In what ways does your tradition honor the dead? What are the beliefs that sustain your faith during times of personal loss? What practices might uniquely express your faith regarding life after death? In what ways does your faith community include those who have gone before?

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