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Book: Religion, Death and the Senses

Chapter: 18. Grave Goods as Continuing Bonds

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.43892


Throughout history grave goods have been gifted to the deceased as part of funerary ritual. Meaning behind the inclusion of objects varied yet were often part of mitigating the loss of the deceased, to both surviving individuals and communities. Myth intwined with ritual helped to prepare the survivors for initial detachment, and subsequent reintegration of the deceased in another form. This was often considered a transcendence of being, with bonds between the living and the dead evolving, yet continuing after death. Contemporary death practices have created distance between the living and the dead, leaving people bereft and adrift with their grief in an age where death has become unspoken, hidden, and medicalised. Historically, objects placed with the deceased were to prepare them for the afterlife or were visual indicators of the persons rank and status: often impacting the survival of those remaining through their loss. Modern uses of gifted objects focus on provision for the living, goods pertaining to identity, or life events of the individual, dominate in funerary ritual. In this chapter I will employ the theory of transcendence in coping with death by Chidester (2002), Ariès’ historical categorisations of death (1991), and Klass, Nickman and Silverman’s (1996) concept of continuing bonds, to consider how the use of grave goods in mortuary ritual can help the survivors cope with the loss of a loved one. The theory of continuing bonds by Klass et al provides an especially valuable insight into the healthy transformation of relationships through the process of death, and how grave goods can allow individuals to process the loss and readjust to a life without the deceased.

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