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What is a Mourning Period?

Mourning is a period of deep sadness and reflection when someone passes away. It is common for different cultures and religions to observe some form of a formal mourning period, during which time certain rituals and restrictions are practiced. What may surprise you is that most cultures have relatively short mourning periods, and some religions don't engage in an official period of mourning at all.

What exactly is the mourning period?

A mourning period is the time that someone takes to process, grieve, and think on the passing after a death occurs. This is often dictated by religion or cultural expectations and involves different rituals, restrictions, practices, and sometimes, specific attire, depending on the culture.

How long is a mourning period?

The standard mourning period varies depending on the religious and cultural background of the individual. Sometimes a mourning period can be as short as a day, while in other cases it may last up to 365 days. There's also many situations where an individual's mourning period is dictated by their own personal preferences and needs.

Period of mourning in different cultures

Here are some examples of the different mourning periods different cultures take when mourning the dead:

– In Judaism, there are two different mourning periods. Shiva which is the first mourning period is held for seven days after the passing. During this time, the family of the deceased is expected to remain at home and wear black. They are also not allowed to do any work, attend school, or engage in activities that may provide distraction from mourning. The Shloshim period follows Shiva and is held for thirty days after the death where certain restrictions still apply but daily life can resume in a limited fashion. For example, during this period cutting one's hair and shaving are both restricted. Additionally, one should not attend social events or celebrations during this time, especially if the mourning period is being observed due to the loss of a spouse.

– In Christianity, the mourning period is not as strictly regulated as there isn't a biblical mourning period that's been dictated in the religion. Typically, the Christian mourning period is determined by the individual's needs and is usually somewhere between a few weeks to many months.

– In Hinduism, the mourning period lasts a total of 13 days. During this period, the family will accept visitors and loved ones in their home as they try to support the deceased as their spirit starts the next part of the journey.

In Islam, the period is considered to last around 3 days after the death has occurred. During this time, the family will support each other through grief and will typically have guests (friends and family) visit their home to share their sympathies and express their condolences.

Mourning colors

Different cultures consider different colors to symbolize grief and mourning. Below are what some cultures and countries consider to be colors that signify one is in mourning:

  • Western countries: Black
  • Japan: Black, and more recently, gray and dark blue (though black is still preferable)
  • China: White, black, Navy blue
  • Islamic: Dark colors (such as black and gray) or white
  • Jewish: Black and darker colors

While some cultures may assign specific colors to signify mourning, at the end of the day, it's entirely up to the individual as to how they want to dress and what colors they wish to use when grieving.

Mourning dress code

Traditionally, black clothing is worn during the mourning period to show respect for the deceased, though the colors of mourning will differ depending on the culture the deceased and the bereaved belong to. While this practice is still popular in some cultures, modern mourning etiquette has been adapted to include more subtle shades of gray and other muted colors. Some cultures may also have customs that dictate particular types of clothing such as wearing a veil or specific jewelry.

Of course, in cultures and religions that don't have specific mourning rituals, there isn't an exact dress code one would be required to follow. A person can choose to dress however they wish when grieving, regardless of what culture or religion they ascribe to.

No matter what culture you or the bereaved belong to, it is important to keep in mind that everyone grieves differently and for different lengths of time. Though some cultures designate a specific mourning period, grief is not something that can be turned off just because you've run out of allotted days. Mourning periods can be helpful to structure the grieving process, but ultimately it is up to the individual as to how they want to grieve and for how long.

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Last updated February 26, 2023
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