- Category: Death Customs and Practices
The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg is a small landlocked country in western Europe, bordered by Belgium to the west and north, Germany to the east, and France to the south. And it has very specific rules around death that a couple of researchers are keen to probe. The team is gathering information on the experiences of migrants and minorities around death to understand their specific needs as part of an international project, the Cemeteries and Crematoria as Public Spaces of Belonging Project
For instance, by law, a body should be either buried or cremated within 72 hours of certificate of death being issued. Often for international residents, by the time family and friends abroad have been contacted and a ceremony organised, there is no body present because it has already been buried or cremated. “For some people, this is an odd practice. These are things that people notice only at the point when they are confronted with it,” says one of the researchers, Dr Mariske Westendorp. “And so, one of the aims of the project is to talk with people that are not vulnerable at the moment to discuss this and say what is it actually that you'd like and that you need?”
"It’s [death & mourning] something that is very typical for each region and religion,” principal investigator for the Luxembourg case study Dr Sonja Kmec explains. “People tend to assume that’s the way to do it. But when they move somewhere else and it’s done differently, sometimes they’re a bit taken aback, especially if they are in a situation where they are mourning or vulnerable.”
Westendorp adds: “It's very important, for mourning and for bereavement, if you can say goodbye to your loved ones in the way that suits you, but it's not always [possible]”.
In addition to the legal constraints, the pair are keen to probe perceptions on diversity in cemeteries and crematoria. They want to know, for instance, how welcoming Luxembourg’s cemeteries feel for people from different faiths, how farewell rooms in cemeteries can be more inclusive of diversity and how people envisage their own funerals.
These are clearly not easy questions to ask a complete stranger and so to facilitate dialogue the pair are organising a number of events. Among them is a creative workshop with an artist to help people design their own tombstones.
Luxembourg has had a crematorium since the mid 1990s. It is reported about 60% of deaths are cremated.
Traditional burial in Luxembourg is subject to a limited tenure:
Even the traditional cemetery changes over time as Kmec points out that here a grave is “not forever”. “Because in fact you only lease a plot for 15 or 30 years and then what happens to the body after you disappear?” She cites the example of the commune of Steinsel, which is building a modern ossuary that would ensure a respectful place of rest for human skeletal remains.
The cemeteries and crematoria as public spaces of belonging project began in July 2019 and runs for two years. The early findings will be shared through a photo exhibition in November 2020.