Lakota Sioux Thoughts on Death and Dying
A wonderful example of the Living Funeral is the tradition
of the Lakota Sioux people of South Dakota. They accept death as part
of the natural order of life. They identify more with their
consciousness and allow themselves to disengage from their bodies. They
see life’s journey as its end goal, and appreciate that life is always
on the edge of death.
Prior to death, the Lakota Sioux make sure to forgive. They ease
tensions by making amends. They release loved ones from feelings of
guilt for acts they may have committed against them. They make a point
to accept each others faults and thoughtfully collect their precious
family heirlooms to distribute to their family members. The gifts passed
on to decedents are meant to be passed on down the line each
generation. Thus, each member becomes a caretaker of the family
heirlooms rather than the singular owner. As one approaches death, one
of their folkways requires that traditional foods be eaten as part of
purifying oneself for death. This is the time for handing down family
At the time of death, family, friends, and neighbors will all crowd
into the critical care unit hospital room (which can be difficult.) It
is their tradition to show respect and appreciation for their
relationship by being at bedside to say farewell. Once all are there,
the dying person lets go. They believe death is but a transitional
period, and that their energy is released into the world to become once
again part of nature.
The year following the death is a trial period for the family. The
bereaved must strive toward exemplary behavior. They will avoid
controversy, jealousy, anger, and licentiousness at all costs because it
is believed that one's true character emerges at the time of grief.
Throughout the year, the family will also prepare for the death
anniversary party by collecting items and money.
The death anniversary
party is partly a memorial service and partly a tribute to the
individuals who showed kindness to the departed loved one and the
family. The guest of honor (this might be the best friend of the
deceased), will carry a picture of the deceased to show it to all who
attend. After a memorial service, the atmosphere changes, and the event
becomes festive and joyful. Attendees will share a meal as they share
happy memories and stories about the deceased. At the end of the party,
attendees are honored by gifts - former belongings of the deceased's.
share your thoughts on the Lakota Sioux tradition. What did you find to be most helpful? What personal family traditions do you feel are helpful or healing?