The Funeral Rituals and its Psychological Effect on Individuals
To a living organism, life is the most important thing which starts at birth and ends with death. In the case of human beings, between both of these phases, they go through several developmental stages, from which they learn many things and are practiced in life. Being a social animal, man forms attachments and relationships with others and makes emotional connections during the course of their life.
And then death comes! If the death is caused by geriatric diseases, most can console themselves by saying that is it an expected and a natural process. However, in the case of unexpected deaths, family members and relatives experience chaos and deep sorrows which may affect their body, leading to stress disorders and other panic conditions.
The Mourning and the Consequences.
After the demise of loved ones, people related to the deceased feel pangs of sorrow and pain, feeling of frustration, helplessness and disappointment. No one can control their feelings, especially if the deceased is intimately related. People tend to burst into tears and may cry for several hours. Continuous shedding of tears increases heart rate, causes heavy sweating and slows the rate of breathing. Crying or weeping is actually a reaction of the Sympathetic Nervous System to the stress experienced by the body. Prolonged crying causes a runny nose, sore throat and disturbance in the larynx. These tears are called psychic tears. The tears are produced by the secretary system of lacrimal apparatus which has another function – release of the tears by drainage. The excess tears make the lacrimal punctum unable to drain the tears and ultimately cause problems to the eye lids.
As per biological theories, mood and anxiety disorders occur due to the chemical imbalances of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, nor epinephrine and Gama-aminobutric acid and so on.
All these physical and psychological changes occur in mourners due to the demise of their close ones.
The mental status and the equilibrium of the mourners may change, creating panic and stress disorders. The imbalance of neurotransmitters in the brain may spoil the conditions of hormones. The result is body-ache, sprains, loss of appetite, insomnia, nausea, vomiting, headache, abdominal pain and so on.
Funeral and its Ritual Activities
Funeral is the ceremony held after the death of a person. The corpse may be buried or cremated. The human remains have to undergo certain steps and procedures according to the cultures, systems, customs, taboos and traditions existing in the society. The family members and close relatives of the deceased participate in most rituals.
It is not completely clear why such rituals take place during funeral ceremonies. The reason is not necessarily religious. It is possible that people believe that the deceased suffers pain while passing from life to death. With this thought, the relatives of the person suffer more. They fall into a state of depression and experience anxiety. Though everyone is aware that death is natural and unavoidable, the people may not be able to think properly during that time.
In such cases, the rituals give energy to the individuals. They indirectly make the mourners more empathetic.
Rituals come here as an art or science.
It helps to heal the mind faster and the individuals return to a normal state.
Ritual activities relax the mind of the mourners by exposing them to the peaceful outdoors and increase their levels of confidence and security and give them the energy to focus on a purposeful life.
Rituals work as a stabilizer in individuals by releasing the weight of grief, depression and anxiety.
The Psychological Elements in the Funeral Rituals are:-
It de- individualises the mourners by visualizing the emotionally matured facial expression of the other participants.
In funeral ceremony, rituals are carried out in the presence of other relatives and loved ones. The signs of consolation from their facial expressions and body language provide rich visual stimuli to the mourners, which may ultimately help to bring chemical balance in the brain. Individuals other than the close relative of the deceased may be in a calm and peaceful mood. By transferring the positive mood, the mourners also become calm themselves.
It works as a catharsis by releasing the mental agony, sadness and repressed emotions and provides relief.
In close relationships, memories occasionally come back to a person, making them experience various emotions and feelings. All these feelings add to their deep agony which is again reinforced with the thought of losing someone forever. This puts the individual into a moderately depressed state.
In this respect, all the relevant stimuli in the ritual practices work as a catharsis that relieves stress and anxiety and makes the mourners empathetic.
Particular signs and symbols from the visitors create a healing power.
The facial expression and body language of relatives during rituals may be considered as some healing visuals. By processing the visuals in a silent and holistic manner, the mourners get positive energy, reducing their stress and increasing their feeling of possession.
Chanting of the preceptor in melodious form (Auditory)
The Chanting of the preceptor comes as a source of pleasure and content. It’s melodious and musical quality creates good thoughts, feelings and behaviours. The body automatically copes with the stress to attain a state of well-being.
Aroma of incense stick, frankincense, camphor etc. (Olfactory)
Aroma plays an important role in changing distressed moods to calm and peaceful moods. During rituals, the incense stick, frankincense or camphor is used, which produces a pleasant scent. The aroma has the power to bring the individuals to a relaxed mental state and to feel their surroundings positively.
Cherishing, pampering and hugging of others during these moments
Hugging, cherishing and pampering reduce feelings of depression and fatigue. During or after the rituals, if a mourning individual is hugged by his/her relatives, the individual returns to a normal state with reduced blood pressure levels. This helps to stimulate psychological growth by the release of oxytocin.
Stimulates the defence mechanism of the individuals.
The preceptor and other stimuli generate healthy dreams in the mourners. The repeating of the same penetrates the pre-conscious mind and the risk of stress and anxiety are reduced by the strengthening of the defence mechanisms.
It promotes the ability to restore the attention from the nature.
After the ritual, the relatives of the deceased scatter the ashes into the sea or a sacred water body. The few moments spent there are a blessing to the relatives. The roaring heavy waves, cool and strong wind, the horizon, the sea shore attribute for the restoration attention through natural process by yielding relevant stimuli.
Rituals can be considered as a therapy which helps the individual to be exposed to healing stimuli and activates the healing power. Those who are involved and participate in holistic ritual activities in funerals are found to be released from their stressed state and reach a normal state and reality sooner. Rituals performed correctly have the power to reaffirm social order and a moral component to bring the mourners back to reality.
Thus, funeral rituals seem to be more for the living than the deceased. Rituals act as basic life-supporting tools for the suffering individual.