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 recipes.

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.

Please 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?