What the Dead Have to Do With the Living

- | 48 Aha! comments | Posted in category: Life & Inspiration

Man holding hands and remembering the dead

You must be wondering that I always write about life and living, then why all of a sudden I’m writing about death and the dead in my post.

Well, today’s post is to touch upon a deeper issue, to remember the saints, martyrs, and your departed loved ones.

Recently, most of the major religions celebrated the ritual of remembering and worshiping the dead.

I’m more interested in the underlying meaning and roots of these rituals. I believe most rituals start for a reason, and sometime, somewhere, they lose their meaning.

If you remember, I’d earlier written about the ways of dealing with the loss of a loved one, where I’d mentioned all about understanding death and how you can cope with death.

Most religions believe death to be a part of life, and teach you how to treat your departed loved ones.

Why Remember the Dead

Not everyone likes to read or talk about death, but death is inevitable. Eventually all your known ones, including you and me are going to die.

However, should you completely forget your loved ones who’re dead and take them out of your life? Would you want to be forgotten after you’re gone from this world?

Most of you want to be cared, loved, and remembered while living. That’s the best form of appreciation. This is the way you should treat others even after they’re gone.

But that does not mean that you’ve to be sad, revive your sorrows, and cry about the loss. It’s all about appreciating the goodness of the departed person and expressing your feelings of gratitude.

Whether you believe in an afterlife or not, I’m sure that you’ll agree that you need to be grateful to the departed ones for their efforts to love and care for you.

Even if you wanted to, you cannot remember all your departed loved ones all the time. Doing so might affect your life and work adversely.

Ancient people came up with a solution to assign particular days to pay gratitude to the dead that were once part of our family.

This included the ones whom you’ve never met, because in some way or the other they are responsible for the gift of life that you possess.

Just like you’ve father’s day, mother’s day, you also have various days to remember your dead ancestors.

Woman performing ritual to remember the dead

Rituals for the Dead

Almost all major religions believe in life after death, and that the souls or spirits need to be remembered and thanked.
Jews observe Yizkor to offer prayers to martyrs and for departed family members.

Hindus have a fortnight period called Shraddha or Pitru Paksha, where they offer food and prayers to keep the souls of their ancestors at rest.

The Chinese and other East Asians Buddhists celebrate Yu Lan or the Hungry Ghost Festival, where they pay homage to the deceased ancestors, who visit the living on the Ghost Day once in a year.

Japanese Buddhists celebrate the festival of the dead in form of Bon Festival. Even the Incas of South America used to have a dedicated month to honor the dead.

On the other hand, the ancient Egyptians and Romans too had special ceremonies as their way of respecting the dead.

Day of the Dead, with its roots in the ancient Aztec culture, is celebrated in Mexico to pray for and remember departed family and friends.

The festival of Samhain upon which the modern Halloween is based, is where the dead are thought to return to the living, who offer them food and light.

And, of course, Hallowmas of Christians that includes the All Saints’ Day and the All Souls’ Day for remembering the martyrs and the saints.

There may be more examples of rituals for the ancestors, but the question is why do we have them?

Why Should We Have Rituals for Remembering the Dead

Don’t be surprised if I say that having rituals for the dead is good from the health and psychological point of view.

Well, rituals are ceremonies, practices, and habits that you create to take care of yourself and to love and live the right way.

Most rituals form after hundreds of years of consideration and observations and serve us as automated guidelines to avoid pain and suffering in life in the long term, and provide support and strength.

As discussed earlier, the rituals of remembering the dead help you to be thankful and in many ways be at peace with yourself and the world. Here are some of them:

• Even after the initial burial and cremation rituals, the bereaved don’t completely get over their grief. Days to remember the dead after a considerable time of death of the loved ones help to flush out the pent up feelings.

• Such occasions also help you deal with your feelings of guilt of not having done enough for the loved ones who died. It’s better late than never, and days of remembering the dead are an opportunity for closure, if you didn’t have them earlier.

• Depending on your religious and spiritual beliefs, you may feel good after having offered your best of gifts, thoughts, and feelings so your loved one feels good too, if you believe in after life.

• Release of your feelings may act as a catharsis, open up your emotional blockages, and even reduce the tension in your body so that you feel light and happy.

• In the event of death, the bereaved family gets huge support, but they’re often left in isolation soon after. Days of remembering the dead give a reason for all the bereaved to come together and give them solace. They feel that they’ve others with them in their journey of recovery.

• It’s an honor to remember someone who contributed to your happiness, to the society, or to the nation in positive and constructive ways, or even otherwise. It’s time to be grateful and make the contributions of the departed person worthy and respectful.

• Your loved one or departed soul spent or gave his or her life directly or indirectly for your benefit and betterment. You owe at least a remembrance and a reason to be thankful for. You know you cannot be thankful enough because of your duties and obligations, but following the ritual you can at least console yourself that you didn’t forget.

There can be numerous reasons why rituals help you perform your duty to honor and respect the people who matter to you but have gone away from this world. And, there are many ways to do that.

How to Honor the Departed Ones

Whatever you do with your heart and good intentions – is good. Choose a way of remembering your loved ones in a way that suits you. You may do so by:

• Visiting places that served special memories between you and the loved one.
• Preparing dishes that your loved one liked and enjoyed.
• Plant memorial plants and nurture them.
• Have special messages published in the newspapers or magazines.
• Create a photo album or a family video to remember the good times you shared with your loved one.
• Go to your place of religious worship and offer prayers, light a candle, or ring a bell.
• You can donate food or money on anniversaries or specific days or remembering the ancestors?.
• Visit the grave of the departed family or friend, which itself is an indication of how much you care.

The list is endless as you do many things to honor your loved ones in ways you think are best.

Moreover, you don’t need any specific day like an anniversary or a day for remembering the dead as specified by your religion.

You can feel the love and display your care and respect for your departed ones on any day and at any time. It should make you feel better without becoming an obstacle in your daily life or work.

The fact is that you need rituals to express yourself and channelize your emotions. You need rituals to understand events and your own self.

Rituals help create order in chaos, a system for management, a reason to create rhythm in life, and connect to those who’ve come and gone before you or during your time.

Rituals are important in times of distress, and when you feel helpless and lonely. They guide you to do the right thing in a the right way, if you’ve no one to guide you.

Having said that, some rituals corrupt with time as people change them, or they might sometimes add their selfish motives and make them biased.

Rituals that create more problems and seem senseless with the changing times should either be changed or abandoned.

After going through the post, don’t you feel you should be honoring and respecting your elders while they are still alive, and honor them once they are gone?

Over to you

Have you ever tried to follow a ritual to remember the dead and honor the ancestors or departed loved ones? How do you do that? Share your ways of honoring in the comments below.

Photo Credit: FreeDigitalPhotosAlicePopkorn

(Note: The next post will be on 19th Nov – a special one for Men’s Day, so stay tuned everyone. I’m just taking a few days off travelling with my family.)

Show Comments

48 Comments - Read and share thoughts

  1. Cararta

    2014-08-24 at 7:42 pm

    Hi Harleena,

    Touching post.
    Brings back memories, often in living we get so busy doing that we fail to stop and remember.
    Where I live now in Middle Tennessee Hill country they have a tradition that sends neighbors to the burial place of loved ones to pretty up the grave sites and add new flowers.

    Just called “Cemetery Day” but is a whole day devoted to a shared family meal along with the trip to the cemeteries where loved ones are now resting.

  2. Zom Boy

    2013-12-28 at 1:58 am

    I really Like Your article. you have really good and interesting blog article keep it up of good work 🙂

    interesting indeed!

    Wonderful piece Harleena Thank you for this lovely article.

  3. Joan Penfold

    2013-12-21 at 10:52 pm

    I love your heartfelt post.

    Both of my parents are deceased (don’t like dead as it sounds so permanent to me) but still play a major role in my life. I honor them year round with special gifts to my children from my parents and they treasure these items. I also talk to my mother all the time and when I do a chandelier I have in my home, that was once hers, responds to me by moving and responding to me. I also smell my mother’s presence all the time.

    My Father was a war vet and we are all honored that he (and my mother)are inturned at Arlington National Cemetery and he is honored there year round!

    Thank you for this post.

  4. Ankit

    2013-12-18 at 10:36 am

    Very fascinating and interesting article. I personally lost my friend around a year ago from now, and I can relate to this article quite a bit.

  5. Isaiah Joe

    2013-12-13 at 5:30 pm

    This is really a very interesting read, i mean, most people believed in spirits, both good and bad. i do. But i don’t give them that much thoughts.

    But believing in dead people and praying to them? why should i do that? i only pray to divine beings.. like God, Jesus and Holy Spirit, apart from the Trinity, there;s nothing worth my time.

    Thanks for this.

  6. Manickam Vijayabanu

    2013-11-26 at 10:28 pm


    Very nice and wonderful article. You did portray very well and touched the real sentiment subject too. Either in India or another country, we all strongly follow rituals in our own style or had been taught by our grandparents and I would say it’s real good.

    Indeed, We are all loved to be sentimental and emotions. No matter where we belong. When we offer our rituals as of gifts, thoughts, and feelings…Yes truly that makes you feel so good and offer happy feeling. As you have mentioned, That’s the way we can show our love, respect and honor to those who kept your life so well and great.

    The contribution could be either spiritual or religious…But I echo you there. Thanks for the wonderful article Harleena..!

  7. Evelyn Lim

    2013-11-19 at 12:44 pm

    I find that the practice of doing rituals a great idea! It helps bring closure and also creates an opportunity for us to send loving thoughts to the departed. Having said that, we don’t follow any strict rituals about remembering those who have left us. Still, when we do recall, we talk about the happy memories 🙂 We may not be able to see them but there is no doubt that their spirits visit us every once in a while.

  8. Mayura

    2013-11-18 at 11:26 pm

    Hi Harleena,

    Kinda different topic from you this time and I wasn’t aware of different rituals you have mentioned in different cultures 🙂 Not even about East Asians Buddhists.

    As Buddhists (Theravada traditions), we usually have ceremonies following the customs within 3 months of the death. Thereafter, preaches and sermons will held annually and do offerings in the name of dead 🙂 Further, memorial events are taken place on their birthdays and so on. I just love how such events unite people to help others.

    Fortunately, yet I have most of loved ones around me 🙂 But I see my aunts’ remember their parents who died and loved ones who lost when they preach everyday. They offer stuff to the poors and clergies in the name of their loved ones more frequently too. I think that’s wonderful as it’s involved in “giving” 🙂 I do know that it makes ’em feel better too. No wonder how it relates to the health and psychological point of view as you mentioned Harleena 🙂

    BUT I know some people find ’em as a time / money wasting activity and being attached to emotions 🙂 Yeah, dead is dead as they claim. But, as I find, rituals involved with good deeds does more good to the living than dead. Isn’t it?

    Anyway, no one needs to follow religious or any other believes to honor the dead. I guess if we appreciate and value our lives, we tend to respect and honor other lives too 🙂 Hence everyone might honor loved ones when they are alive and no regrets involved even after they are gone.

    Wonderful piece Harleena 🙂

    You have a lovely week over there dear 🙂


  9. Josh May

    2013-11-18 at 12:26 pm


    Very fascinating and interesting article. I personally lost my Grandpa around a year ago from now, and I can relate to this article quite a bit.

    I guess on a joking note, however, with it being right after Halloween it’s not the worst time to talk about death!

    Looking forward to getting to know you more,

    Josh May

  10. Asaolu olubayode

    2013-11-17 at 1:33 am

    Harleena, that was an explosive post on a very important issue. I’ve not followed rituals but like you said, death is unavoidable which invariably means everybody owe it and we must pay. Thanks

  11. Ahsan

    2013-11-15 at 11:25 pm

    Hello Harleena,

    Death is inevitable to everyone. We generally love to talk about Birth than Death. Everyone afraid to talk death. It is a common scenario. In Islam, we go to graveyard then pray but women cant go there. They should pray from home. Sometime an occasion made every year on his death day. it is a gathering place of all family members.

    Thanks for sharing

  12. Karen Hoyt

    2013-11-14 at 11:35 pm

    Harleena –

    You have such a broad perspective on this subject. Great blog. I think it is something that everyone can identify with.

    I read the post a few days ago and didn’t have time to comment then, but later had the chance to talk to my granddaugthers about it. They asked why I loved Cardinals. I told them that it was because my grandma did, and that when I saw one, or even a feather from one, it was like a kiss from heaven.

    It was a good chance to talk to them about the dead and how the people we love influence our lives in many ways. I often feel close to my ancestors when going through a struggle, or experiencing a joy.

    My health crisis has heightened my awareness of this. I am not afraid to pass from this life knowing that my loved ones have gone before me. i am careful to try and leave the same legacy for my girls.

    Thank you for the chance to openly discuss this topic. It is one that we all think of on remembrance days for sure.

    Thank you,

  13. Arelis Cintron

    2013-11-14 at 9:44 pm

    In my Catholic Faith we celebrate All Saints Day and All Souls day but I’d like to think we all remember our loved ones more often than the set aside days. I love how all the major religions have a similar tradition!

  14. Praveen Rajarao

    2013-11-14 at 12:10 am

    Very interesting Harleena. Yes, the rituals for the dead is very common among us Indians, we always have our parents performing the rites for their parents, and we do that same for all our ancestors.

    It is good to read about what we actually do in real life, thanks for writing this up.

  15. DianaBee

    2013-11-13 at 6:35 am


    Most of us, as adults, have lost loved ones. Many people are reluctant to talk about death, but it is indeed a part of life. Your very positive and helpful suggestions can bring healing and understanding to grieving people. I lost my younger brother in 2011, and posted a blog about him on the 2nd anniversary of his memorial service. I felt a dark cloud lift from me after I shared my story of our good times and special bond.
    Thank you so much.

  16. Sylviane Nuccio

    2013-11-12 at 8:05 pm

    Hi Harleena,

    Interestingly, one of my blog posts last week was about the special day in France that we call “the Day of the Dead” it’s actually on November 2nd following “All Saints Day” which is November first.

    This post made me realize that America is split in the sense that some Americans know about that Day of the Dead celebrated on November 2nd and some don’t.

    We think of our dead loved one more than one day per year, for sure, but it’s nice to have an official day where we can remember them as a people and do special displaying such as going to their grave and bring flowers to them. I do believe that we are not in that tomb when we’re dead but it’s more of symbol.

    Thank you for dedicating this post to them.

  17. Pooja Sehra Upadhyay

    2013-11-12 at 6:28 pm

    I always respect and liked the idea of remembering those who are gone. But, I hate to say that many wrong traditions have also come up by our so called religious leaders on the name showing respect to dead people. Instead of following stupid practices, can’t we just sit and try remembering dead by discussing the life they lead.

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What the Dead Have to Do With the Living

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