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Handbook for Mortals : Questions About Funerals

How does a family follow religious and other important traditions?

Families need to know their own traditions and to express their needs, or to use facilities that are familiar with those traditions. Again, planning ahead will be of great comfort. There is rarely any health reason that family cannot be in contact with a dead body, so those who are moved to participate in bathing the body or in preparing for burial are more limited by popular squeamishness than by real risks. Those who do help with bathing or dressing the body often find it to have been an important labor of love and a significant milestone in coming to terms with the death. If this is important to a particular family member or friend, be sure that the funeral home director knows the plans and agrees to make it possible. Sometimes, the best time to do these things is in the place where the person died, and that may take agreement from other administrators as well.

Many people today are only vaguely familiar with the rituals of their own traditions. When someone in the family is dying, this is a very good time to re-examine the family's traditions and to explore possibilities with suitable religious leaders. There is much latitude now in how memorials and funerals are handled, so families can be adherent to a particular tradition or can modify it as appropriate.

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