Funeral Homes Embrace Cultural, Religious Diversity

The United States, in the words of former President Jimmy Carter, is “a beautiful mosaic” made up of people from every nation on earth. Our diversity is reflected in our styles of worship, the music we listen to, the foods we eat and the clothes we wear, as well as in the customs and rituals that define the way we memorialize and bury our dead.

For funeral directors, meeting the needs of all the members of such a diverse society poses a challenge. Some funeral homes have a long tradition of serving specific demographic groups, such as African-Americans or Buddhists, while others respond to special requests for religious or cultural accommodations on a case-by-case basis. Now, more and more funeral homes are taking a proactive approach, reaching out to people from all ethnic, religious and cultural traditions.

A Family Focus
When Preciado Mortuary in San Bernardino, California opened its doors in 2001, the 400-seat facility was designed to serve extended Latino families. But owner Jerry Preciado soon found that family-friendly amenities like the funeral home’s kitchen had great appeal for first- and second-generation immigrants from other countries. Food plays an important part in the funeral customs of many cultures – various groups offer gifts of food to or on behalf of the deceased, while mourners from all backgrounds often gather over food to share nourishment for the body as well as the soul.

Honoring Religious Tradition
Many mortuaries offer support for wide-ranging religious customs as well. For Hindu families who wish to carry a loved one’s cremains to India for the traditional washing ceremony in the Ganges River, funeral directors like Hamilton Jones, of the Miller-Jones Mortuary & Crematory in Hemet, California, will write a letter to assist families in clearing customs with the cremation urn. In the case of Jewish funerals, accommodating funeral directors do everything they can to expedite all the necessary paperwork so that burial can take place within 24 hours of death, as prescribed by Jewish religious law.

Some of today’s progressive morticians, in tune with a growing desire to personalize the funeral experience, will even assist families in staging funerals at home or in other unconventional locations.

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