Death: A Cross-Cultural Perspective
Annual Review of Anthropology
Vol. 13: 385-417 (Volume publication date October 1984)
P Palgi, and H Abramovitch
In lieu of an abstract, the publisher reproduces the first page of the article. (Link)

After having moved on to other reading, I’ve returned to Death:  A Cross-Cultural Study.  Reading this article and others on the subject, helps give structure to my thinking about the recent death of my friend and I don’t feel as overwhelmed.  I feel I’ve moved on from the initial place of mourning.    I can hear others laugh without feeling mocked.  I can wake up on the day of the week that my friend died and not be immediately inundated with thoughts of the events of that day.  I don’t cry as often.  Palgi and Abramovitch made note of a conclusion made by Hertz that particularly resonated with me:  “Death is rather to be seen as a social event, the starting point of a ceremonial process whereby the dead person becomes an ancestor.”  I’ve been conscious of a reticence to move my friend into that category with others close to me who have died.

I long to be able to think of my friend with the warmth and happiness I feel when thinking of my deceased grandmother, great-grandmother or great-grandfather, but I feel like the moment in time when he was still alive is strongly visible in my periphery.  The buzz around a movie he particularly enjoyed hasn’t faded, yet.  News stories on which he made special comment are still making the front page.  I talked to him everyday on the phone.  Thinking of the sound of his voice excites all my senses; I could taste that sound; touch it; cuddle it around me and see it with my closed eyes.  Someone so present to me cannot be an “ancestor.”  I’m infused with awareness of his liminality.

There’s been a slow transition from thinking about the specific events of his death to contemplating my own death and death generally.  This thinking has aroused a level of anxiety that I think could be ameliorated my cementing my belief as to what lies on the other side of death.  In writing about evolutionary theorists, Palgi makes the following remarks:

Tylor sought evidence for his claim that the origin of religion lay in the collective response to death and related states like sleep and dreaming.  Frazer assembled impressive catalogues of exotic rites meant to document the universality of the fear of the corpse and the belief in the soul and the afterlife .

At the moment my belief in reincarnation is akin to my belief in the law of conservation of energy, and I don’t find that adequate; but I haven’t abandoned the notion that I could find it adequate.  I believe that I need to come to some temporary understanding in order to move through the grieving process.