Christianity and Bereavement

The Good Thinking team has produced this short guide to help Christians across London who have lost a loved one and also to help health and care professionals who are supporting terminally ill patients of the Christian faith.

This guide was produced in consultation with Loss and HOPE, equipping churches in bereavement support.

“Jesus said, I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies.”

John 11:25-26

In Christianity, death is not the end of our existence. Christians believe that, after death, everyone will be taken into the presence of God and those who have faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God who has taken away their imperfections will be granted eternal life in heaven.

The Bible also says that Jesus will draw all people to himself and that God is good. Therefore, death is certain entry into eternal paradise for Christian believers, but there is also hope if a person dies without committed faith.

Some people like to have religious objects near them, such as a crucifix or rosary. Where possible, a Minister can help to prepare the person for death and let them know they are loved and not alone. They can offer prayers of preparation and reconciliation at the bedside and a final Holy Communion, which family and friends might join.

Caring for someone who is dying involves looking after their physical, emotional and spiritual needs.

It is important to identify a person’s religion and denomination at the start of their care and to find out what they need when approaching end of life. This includes talking to them about their faith, listening to their concerns and finding out if they belong to a particular church community. If they are in hospital, it’s helpful to inform the chaplain about their spiritual needs (with the patient’s permission).

After someone dies, their body must be treated with respect. There is no strong objection to a post-mortem or organ donation in the Christian faith. When appropriate, the body may be moved to the undertaker’s Chapel of Rest.

The body of the deceased is either buried or cremated depending on their wishes. This usually takes place within three weeks.

A funeral is held so that friends and relatives can say goodbye to their loved one and give thanks for their life. Smart clothing in dark colours is usually worn, unless the family requests otherwise, and the funeral includes prayers, readings and hymns.

There is increasing variation in what happens at the funeral, with family members appreciating being able to take part in the readings and prayers, giving a eulogy for the deceased or by e.g. placing something on the coffin.

The funeral takes place in church before the burial or cremation (or afterwards) or at the crematorium itself. Mass is delivered at some funerals. The Rite of Committal is performed by a Priest or Minister at the final resting place.

After the funeral, mourners gather for a reception or wake where they offer their condolences and share memories of the deceased.

Funerals and other rituals often depend on the denomination of the deceased and their family. Cultural background also plays an important role. For example:

  • The Wake is a prominent feature of Irish Catholic funerals – family, friends, neighbours and colleagues attend the home of the deceased or a funeral home to view the body and offer their condolences.
  • In the Orthodox Church, the funeral is followed by several memorial services, usually after 40 days and on the one year anniversary of the person’s death.
  • Christians of Caribbean heritage often practice the cultural tradition of Nine Nights, a celebratory send-off that takes place on the ninth night after someone’s death and allows the duppy (malevolent spirit) to depart.

Christians grieve the loss of their loved ones but they are often comforted by the message of hope in the Bible that physical death is not the end.

It is recognised that everyone grieves differently – they might experience shock, numbness, anxiety, sadness, anger, exhaustion and even guilt – and that there is no set timescale.

Faith leaders and other members of the church community can play a key role in supporting those bereaved. By listening, talking and praying together, they can help them to process what has happened and move forward. Friends from the church can also offer practical support, such as helping with grocery shopping.

If the bereaved person would rather speak to someone they don’t know or needs additional support, specialist bereavement support services (see below) are also available.

This resource has been funded and supported by the Mayor of London under the remit of the Mental Health and Wellbeing Recovery Mission, which is being led by Thrive LDN. The mission aims to build a coalition of wellbeing champions and empower Londoners to act to improve their own and their communities’ wellbeing. For more information, visit the Thrive LDN website

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