Ep. 352 Cross-Cultural End-of-Life Practices with Gary Wederspahn

Learn about fascinating end-of-life rituals from cultures around the world.

My guest Gary Wederspahn is a board member of the Final Exit Network and the author of a book and many articles on cross-cultural communications and relations. He has served as a Peace Corps Director in Guatemala, Costa Rica and Ecuador and has traveled in over 20 countries. He shares his passion for studying end-of-life rituals and traditions wherever he has traveled, including slides from many different countries. Learn more at these websites:



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This episode includes:

  • What is appreciative inquiry and how it facilitates conversations
  • Why studying end-of-life traditions introduces you to the values and deep culture of societies
  • How end-of-life care has been outsourced here in the U.S. to our detriment
  • Mayan traditions around death in Guatemala during Dia de los Muertos
  • Three-part community cremation rituals in Bali
  • The “thin veil” between the living and the dead that is perceived in many cultures
  • How “continuing bonds” with ancestors help strengthen the family
  • The use of cremated ashes to make burial beads in Korea
  • How Vietnamese funeral processions resemble funeral parades in New Orleans
  • Ceremonial kites flown in Guatemala city to honor their ancestors during Dia de los Muertos
  • Zoroastrian custom of leaving corpses in “Towers of Silence” for vultures to consume
  • Ifugao people in high country of Philippines keep bodies of their ancestors in rafters of the house and bring them out during special events
  • “Bone collecting” ritual after cremation in Japan
  • Igorot hanging coffins in the Philippines
  • Tibetan sky burial also depends on vultures; Sioux burial platforms similarly rely on ravens to consume the body
  • How Gary’s exposure to the rituals of other countries has informed his own decisions for the end of life

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