Cultural Attitudes About Death and Dying

By Michelle Balisi, MS, AMFT

Within Filipino culture, there are many customs that honor the deceased and the loved ones who mourn them.  For instance, in the Visayan region, it is customary to wear black to mourn the death of a loved one during their funeral and for the entire year after.  Typically a culture that practices Catholicism, it is also customary to cut a rosary that is placed in the hands of the deceased while he or she rests in the coffin. This is done in order to prevent having another death within the family so soon. It is also customary to avoid crying near the coffin, as tears that land on the deceased represent burden and heaviness, preventing the soul from transitioning peacefully into the afterlife.

Cultural beliefs can give us a better understanding about the transition from life to death.  They can also serve us by providing an understanding of what happens after death. Perhaps they just provide us with peace of mind.  In many cultures, death is sacred.  Death of a loved one holds meaning in preserving the person’s memory and honoring what the person embodied when he or she was physically present on this earth.

What are some ways your culture has taught you about death? Is there a positive undertone that honors and offers room for celebration of life, or are there messages that suggest otherwise?

There is no right or wrong answer, but one that honors you, your family, and your culture’s truth.  In any regard, I encourage you to be curious about various beliefs others hold about death and dying, as it is always important to acknowledge, respect, and embrace diversity.

Michelle Balisi, MS, AMFT, is an Associate Marriage & Family Therapist with The Elizabeth Hospice. Michelle approaches the therapeutic journey from an empathic and collaborative perspective through conversations that embrace curiosity and exploration. She enjoys working alongside clients to help them discover unrecognized and hidden possibilities within themselves.