Funeral Home or Sky Burial? How Buddhists Say Goodbye

Posted on February 20, 2017 by MayFuneral under Blog Posts
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Funeral Home or Sky Burial? How Buddhists Say Goodbye

How do you imagine your funeral? Do you imagine being lowered into the ground in the presence of close friends and relatives? Do you imagine tearful speeches and reluctant goodbyes? It might surprise you that some people have a vastly different way of coping with the loss of their loved ones. To name one, Sky Burial of Tibet. Visiting their local funeral home to pick out a casket and performing other funeral arrangements doesn’t come to mind when Tibetan Buddhists think ‘death.’ The Tibetan Buddhist method of saying goodbye is their disposal of a corpse to be devoured by vultures. Although many of us would quiver at the thought of having our mother eaten by vultures right before our eyes, many Tibetan Buddhists consider it the highest honor and wouldn’t want their funeral to be carried out in any other way.

It starts with a ‘ritual dissection’, in which the deceased’s body is segmented into pieces and fed to wild animals, in most cases, vultures. However, not all funerals are conducted in this manner in the Tibetan Buddhist community- only the commoners are lucky enough to receive this grim fate. High lamas, a name reserved for monks who have achieved the highest level of spiritual development, are rewarded with the Stupa burial in which they are cremated. It is not suitable in the Tibetan Buddhist community to perform a Sky Burial in the event of a child’s death, a pregnant woman, or for those who have died from an infectious disease.

It is believed that vultures are Dakinis, which translates to “sky dancer” in Tibetan. They are considered to be the equivalent of angels. It is believed that they will take your soul into heaven as you await reincarnation into your next intended lifeform. So, it’s not surprising that our visit to a funeral home and our common funeral practices are deemed trivial in the eyes of most Tibetan Buddhists who believe the function of death is only to enter a new form of life.

Before the corpses receive the ‘ritual dissection’ during the Sky Burial, they are untouched for three days. In the three days leading up to the burial, the monks chant around the corpse and the body is properly cleaned and prepared for the main funeral service. This period of three days is also an opportunity for members of the community that were closely connected with the individual to express their loss and say their goodbyes.  

        It’s interesting to discover that people have vastly different ways of carrying out funerals and dealing with the loss of their loved ones. The Sky Burial is just one example of a type of funeral that differs so greatly from most, although there is one thing we must keep in mind. To most of us, a funeral such as the Sky Burial is a completely foreign concept. However, for Tibetan Buddhists it is the ordinary way of honoring one’s loss of life. Maybe our ‘normal’ funeral practices of putting flowers on a grave, preparing for burial and cremation at a funeral home, and creating sentimental tributes to the dead are equally as odd and unheard of for the Buddhist Tibetans that practice the Sky Burial.


May & Son funeral home has helped families and loved ones through the grieving process for more than a century. We have locations in Columbia, Boonville, Sedalia and serve the Fayette Missouri area. To find out about how to plan ahead, contact us today.


The funeral business that became H.T. May & Son was founded in Boonville in 1911 by Riley Martin; great-great uncle of Tom May. Following the death of Riley Martin, his nephew; Holwell J. May took over the reins of the business and continued to operate it until his death in 1974. After the death of Holwell, his son H.T. May began to run the business. When H.T. died in 2005, son Thomas E. May began to run the business and is now the fourth generation to operate May Funeral Homes. The newest location, in Columbia, opened in April 2009. Thomas, was married in November 19 of 2011 to Pastor Jennifer Baker. Jennifer is a pre-need specialist for the business and currently pursing her funeral directors license. Thomas also has two sisters; Kathryn May who is a licensed funeral director and Melodia Whitmore. Thomas has three children; Holwell J. May II, who graduated from KCKCC with his Mortuary Science Degree, and is now a licensed Funeral Director and Embalmer, Brittany N. May, and Jeremiah Baker. May and staff are are dedicated to serving families from all ethnic backgrounds and religious beliefs in a personalized manner, with knowledgeable, caring, and professional staff.

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