Mormon traditions in mourning and grief

6 min read

Mormon funerary practices and rituals

  • Mormon funerals usually happen a week after the death, but there is no set mourning period.

  • If the person who died had their temple endowment, they will be dressed in temple garments under white clothing by an endowed family member of the same gender.

  • There is usually a community visitation or viewing, followed by a private prayer with just close friends and family.

  • Funeral ceremonies feature hymns, readings, and eulogies, and are never held on a Sunday.

  • In many Mormon communities a burial is followed by a meal prepared by the women’s Relief Society.

As with most religions, Mormons have a series of traditions and spiritual beliefs that follow the death of a loved one. From how the body is prepared, to the wake (also called the visitation service), to the funeral, the burial, and finally the gathering of friends and family at the church after the service, The Church of Latter Day Saints has a unique way to say goodbye to a loved one.

Although customs can vary between Mormon communities and families, there are some procedures and beliefs that are common to them all.

How Mormons mourn

While some religions may allot a specific period for the mourning process, Mormons believe that grief is personal, and so there is no specific timeline when it comes to mourning. Although they do acknowledge that the time between the death and burial, which is about a week, is the most difficult period, they don’t believe there is a set time when one should stop mourning the person who has passed away.

Instead, surviving loved ones gather for support, putting faith in their religion, praying, sharing stories, and finding comfort in each other. Mormon doctrine emphasizes the importance of ancestors and the effect they have had and will have on the generations that follow, so it’s common for the loved one who has passed away to be both mourned and celebrated long after they’re gone, for example on their birthday or on specific anniversaries.   

What Mormons believe about death and dying

While most funeral and mourning practices are the same for all Mormons, there are some differences in beliefs about what happens when a person passes away. Many, although not all, believe that the soul leaves the body and is judged by God. If the soul is good, it ascends to a spirit paradise; if it is not, it finds itself in a spirit prison. 

However, a soul that ends up in spirit prison doesn’t necessarily stay there for all eternity. It is believed that once Jesus returns to Earth, all souls will be judged again and sent to one of three kingdoms: the Celestial Kingdom, for the most devout Mormons as well as all children who passed away before the age of 8; the Terrestrial Kingdom, for those who were honorable but not as devout in their beliefs and testimony of Christ; and the Telestial Kingdom, for those Mormons who would not repent and honor Jesus even while in spirit prison. 

Preparation of the body 

How devout and dedicated a Mormon was in life will play a role in determining what they will wear in their casket. If they have their temple endowment, then they will be buried in temple garments (white underwear issued by the Church) under their temple clothing. For both men and women, this includes all-white attire: long-sleeved tops on both, long pants for men, and floor-length dresses or skirts for women. Women wear white stockings and white shoes, and men wear white socks, white shoes, and a white tie.

It’s common for a loved one who has passed away to be both mourned and celebrated long after they’re gone, for example on their birthday.

The person can only be dressed by someone of the same gender, ideally an endowed family member. If there isn’t an endowed family member of the same gender to carry out the task, a bishop will assign an endowed member of their community to dress the body. If services are being carried out in a state that only allows a funeral director to dress the body, then the endowed person must be present to make sure the attire is put on correctly.

The visitation

Also called a wake or viewing, the visitation of the loved one is usually held in the same place where the funeral services will be. Most Mormons have an open-casket viewing. After every mourner has come and paid their respects, the casket is closed, and only close friends and family are left to mourn and pray together before the funeral service. In some cases, a bishop will join the family to provide solace and guidance, as a way to help with the grief and put the loss into perspective.

The funeral

During the funeral, which is led by a bishop or another General Authority member of the Church, scriptures are read, memories are shared, eulogies are delivered, and hymns are sung.

Since the Mormon religion believes deeply in an afterlife for the soul, loved ones and the congregation pray for their salvation and attainment of eternal life. There is an emphasis on atonement for the person’s soul, so that when Jesus returns to Earth they can ascend to the Celestial Kingdom.

Funerals are never held on Sundays. Mormons believe that Sunday, the Sabbath, should be spent celebrating God, and a funeral would not allow for celebratory worship.

The burial

After the funeral, the casket and those who wish to attend the graveside service make their way to the cemetery. In some cases, the invitation to the cemetery is open to everyone, while sometimes the family may limit it to a small group of mourners who were very close to the person who has passed away.

The service is conducted by a Melchizedek Priesthood holder who leads with a prayer and asks for God to be present, while himself acting in the name of God. A series of blessings and prayers are said for both the survivors and the person who has passed away. These words are meant to provide closure and comfort to those who are mourning the loss of their loved one.

The women’s Relief Society meal

In many communities, close family members and friends gather at the church after the funeral to share a meal prepared by the women’s Relief Society. Ham or turkey is served with potatoes, salad, and rolls, followed by dessert. This breaking of bread is an opportunity for the bereaved to look back on the day’s events, share memories, and just be together during this difficult time. 

Losing someone is never easy, but the beliefs shared within a religious community can help its adherents process the emotions that come with the death of a loved one. Taking time at the end of a long day to reflect and express love, not just for the one who is no longer there but for each other, can be a source of comfort during a time that can feel empty and confusing.

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