Rituals and traditions followed during death can offer peace and comfort to the dying, the family and friends of the dying, as well as to the community the person is a part of. Depending on a person’s beliefs, rituals through death can be initiated by ways of culture, religion, or history. The rituals and traditions that one follows throughout death differ throughout the world. While ever-changing, rituals surrounding death affect people’s pasts, presents, and futures. The ceremonies surrounding the death of Jacob Kovitz, as written about by Barbara Myerhoff, are far different than those provided by the Tibetan Book of the Dead.
Strengthening relationships between the dying and the living, in order to commemorate them, like in Jacob’s death, gives peace to the living as well as the dying. Strengthening these relations gives the dying the tranquility of knowing that their loved ones are close by and will remember them and the impact of their existence even though they have passed on. For the living, offering their support and strength has provided their loved one with a sense of calmness during their time of death.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, the dead or dying may choose to relinquish their attachments from the world, as provided in the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Although it is still a sad and sorrowful time, death is peaceful to the dying, as they view passing as a mode of transportation to a new and beautiful life through reincarnation. Both of these ways of conducting rituals offer some sort of serenity through something as looming and uncertain as death, for “when we catch ourselves making up rituals, we may see all our most precious, basic understandings, the precepts we live by, as mere desperate wishes and dreams. (Meyerhoff, 1996:395).
The rituals surrounding Jacob Kovitz’s death are in existence to provide him, his family, and his community with peace and resounding certainty that his life will not be forgotten, and that he will continue to have an impact on his loved ones long after his death. Both Jacob and his community represented respect for the rituals of the Jewish faith, as they strived to follow Jacob’s wishes throughout and after his death. Jacob Kovitz passed away in the middle of his 95th birthday celebration.
Although it was an expected death, Jacob’s family and community maintained Jewish tradition, as Jacob wanted, right through his birthday ceremony. Jacob’s relationships with his family and friends were represented through his last breath. “In dying when he did, Jacob was giving his last breath to his group, and this was understood as his regard for them. ” (Meyerhoff, 1996:408) Jacob left a donation to his family and community so that they may to continue his birthday celebrations for five years, whether or not he would be present for them.
His happiness was at its highest when his family and his community were together. Jacob was able to construct his own ritual, “without support of established ritual,” and “determining the ritual as he saw fit. ” (Meyerhoff, 1996:394-395) Jacob, as well as his family, was adamant that the celebrations would go on as planned, as it was tradition in the Jewish faith. He asserted through the ritual that his community would continue on, and that his way of life, his hard working devotion to the center, would be preserved long after his death.
It is apparent in his rituals that Jacob had planned to preserve his life accomplishments and that he was at peace with dying. In Jacob’s ritual especially, “not only are particular messages delivered, but the ritual also creates a world in which culture can appear. ” (Meyerhoff, 1996:407) His desire to continue to give back to the center, for his family to commemorate him and follow Jewish tradition was strong, and it carried him to maintain his rituals throughout his death. Like most of the elderly in the center, the desire for attention was the strongest motivation for the community.
Attention from families and the younger generation ensured the elderly population that they would be remembered after their deaths, that there was record of them existing, and living. After Jacob’s death, a funeral, as well as a thirty-day memorial was held for him in his honor. Jacob’s honor to his family, his success, and the outcome of the ritual was enough proof in itself that Jacob and the people associated with him strengthened their relationships in an attempt to commemorate his life.
The rituals surrounding the Tibetan Book of the dead are of a different goal. In the video directed by Barrie McLean in 2003, the rites and transition of living to dying are discussed. The belief that death is a demonstration of a human being leaving an uncertain world and accepting essential freedom into the light of the next realm is only the beginning to the practice of relinquishing the dying’s attachments to the mortal world. In the video, Tibetan Book of the Dead, rituals surrounding Tibetan Buddhism are examined following the death of a Ladakhi Elder.
Although they are sorrowful and in mourning, the family of the deceased practices and carries out the tradition of enlisting help of a Buddhist Yogi to perform the reading of the Tibetan Book of the dead, or Bardo Thotrol. The Bardo Thotrol is read aloud everyday for 49 days, as it is believed that the consciousness of the dead still remains, which allows the dead to hear and comprehend. The Yogi reads the text aloud in order to guide the deceased from one life to another by abandoning fear, and to let go of earth emotions and possessions.
In the Bardo Thortol, if this clarity can be accepted, it allows the deceased to move seamlessly along to the next life. The observation of Poa through a ceremony of offerings assists the remaining consciousness to ascend to the next life. The Yogi reads “Paldan Sering you have died, the light of this world has faded completely, but the light of the next world is not yet apparent. ” (McLean, 2003:39:10) Offerings and scripture provide evidence to the idea that peace is found when the dying and the dead relinquish attachments in Tibetan Buddhism.
Recognition of new life and liberation from emotions and possessions has been suggested more and more into palliative care situations along the east coast in the United States. Patients approaching death and living with terminal illnesses have been approached with ideals from the Tibetan Book of the Dead, with the central message being to use a different metaphor for life and death. This metaphor was to change the dying’s view of death so that it was not seen as a failure, but as an inner depiction of what life means.
This view, especially in Hospice and palliative care has created an environment for the dying to accept wholeness and safeness, while waiting for the answer of the next life in which is the person’s true answer. Relinquishing attachments to the world for the terminally ill or dying is a peaceful ritual for those observing and following tradition. Peace can be found in both of these rituals. Although they are vastly different, both have positives that can aid a person in their time of death. Whatever the spiritual or religious beliefs of the person, rituals come into play at the time of death of friends, family members, or themselves.
Different cultures and traditions will lead people in different directions but most important is that there is tranquility through death no matter how the death occurred. The absence of rituals throughout death is chaos, no matter the religion, beliefs, or culture. Like Meyerhoff states in the opening line of her examination of Jacob Krovitz’s death, “Humankind has ever chafed over its powerlessness when facing end of life. lacking assurance of immortality and insulted by the final triumph of nature over culture, humans develop religious concepts that explain that, if not they, someone or something has power and a plan. “