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Pedagogical sepulchral culture





  1. General facts and information
  2. Cemetery and burial culture in Germany
  3. Burial obligation / obligation to bear costs
  4. Burial
  5. Cremation
  6. Funeral arrangements
  7. Grief and grief symptoms
  8. Pedagogical sepulchral culture
  9. Pedagogical tools
  10. Sources

This crushing word has to settle before you can think about it further. Sepulcral culture, a word that at first sounds pretty much like something to do with culture, or at least in that direction. But you’re not so far off the mark here. Because, more precisely, this term is about the culture of people with the issues of death, dying, mourning and burial. In other words, these are all topics that you really don’t want to have anything to do with in your everyday life, and certainly not in your role as an educator.

But if we take a closer look at this topic in our minds, we quickly realize that we will inevitably have to deal with it… and so will the children “unfortunately”.

What is your experience with death or loss? How did you and your family deal with it? What was painful and what situations or rituals gave support? In the immediate vicinity, for example, a kindergarten teacher died unexpectedly and all colleagues, logically completely unprepared, were faced with the task of communicating this event to the children in a child-friendly way. But more about this later.

With this comprehensive article I would like to conclude and virtually pack all the general topics of the most important areas of sepulchral culture into one article. Here you have the opportunity to find basic information both for the daycare center and for yourself privately. Therefore, this post goes beyond the scope and now follows a table of contents so you can jump to the topics that are relevant to you.

General facts and information

In order to be able to grasp tangibly what sepulchral culture is actually about, one needs to know basic information about our cultural approach to these topics. Because the one sepulchral culture does not exist. Every nation deals with death and grief differently. Even in Germany, rituals and norms are region-dependent. Therefore, the statements in this paper refer to a basic and mostly consistent culture of mourning and burial in the regions.

Cemetery and burial culture in Germany

In Germany, cemetery and burial culture has a long cultural background. In the beginning, burials mostly took place in church forecourts, the so-called churchyards. Only in the course of time communal cemeteries developed. In Germany, the topics of cemetery and burial are basically a matter for the states, which means that each state has similar but differing regulations. Again, this state law is broken down to the municipal level which means that each municipality can, to some extent, make its own rules and regulations.

Who must arrange a funeral and who pays for it?

In the respective funeral laws of the federal states we find the obligation of next of kin to organize the funeral. In technical terminology, this is called compulsory burial. Through this, the legislature ensures that each deceased person is properly buried.

The persons liable for burial are usually indicated in order of precedence. The next of kin such as spouse, partner or children of full age are obligated first. Only then are usually followed by parents, grandparents and grandchildren.

Burial is usually required for:

  1. the spouse or the spouse
  2. The life partner or the life partner
  3. the adult children
  4. the parents
  5. the grandparents
  6. the adult siblings and grandchildren

However, the duty of burial creates not only a duty, but also a right to organize the burial. In the event of the death of a spouse, the surviving partner is liable for burial, even before the children. He has the right to commission the burial himself.

Note: Court-appointed guardianships generally end with the death of the person to be guarded. This means that the legal guardian may not arrange the funeral! This is the responsibility of the relatives specified by the funeral laws.

Burial obligation does not equal obligation to bear costs

The obligation to bear the costs, which applies in accordance with §1968 of the German Civil Code, must be distinguished from the obligation to bury. Hereupon, the heir is the cost bearer of a befitting funeral. However, the BGH ruled that an heir is not obligated to also assume the costs for care and maintenance of the gravesite! If no person entitled to inherit is found, the spouse is obligated according to §1360 BGB, only then follows according to §1615 II BGB the maintenance obligor.

If there are no heirs, the state becomes the legal heir in accordance with §1936 BGB. The latter shall then bear the funeral costs in accordance with §1968 BGB. However, this is rarely the case in practice. This is because the state is entitled to limit its liability to the estate alone.

What if I don’t have any assets?

Legally obligated persons can apply to the social welfare office according to §74 SGB XII for the assumption of funeral costs, should they not be able to bear the costs for the funeral. In principle, the social welfare office that granted benefits for the deceased person is responsible. If no benefits have been received from the social welfare office to date, the social welfare office located at the place of death is responsible.

Attention: If more than one person is obliged to bear the costs, for example if three children have to take care of the funeral, each person must submit a separate application to the responsible social welfare office!

What happens if I don’t take care?

Nowadays, the situation arises more often that there are relatives who are obliged to pay for the funeral, but they refuse to take over the organization of the funeral. In such cases, the police authority (Office of Public Order) must inform the relatives of the existing burial obligation.

In case of further refusal of the relatives, the authorities will organize the burial within the framework of danger prevention. This is done by burial according to local custom. The authority will claim the costs incurred from the person liable for the funeral in the form of a benefit notice.

It is therefore fundamentally not possible in the first instance to release oneself from the obligation to bury.

When do I not have to care?

A person liable for burial does not have to take care of burial if taking him to burial would be disproportionate in the individual case. This applies in particular to sexual offenses against the person liable for burial. In these cases, the person cannot reasonably be expected to take care of the deceased person’s burial.

However, if the deceased and the person obligated to make the burial did not know each other, or if contact was broken off many years ago, this is not a basis for refusing the obligation to make the burial. In such cases, the obligation to bury continues in principle.

It should be noted that case law only permits a refusal of the obligation to bury and bear the costs in absolutely exceptional cases.

The burial

Historical development

Burial in the ground is one of the oldest forms of burial in the world. Evaluated records date back to more than 10,000 years BC. At the beginning of this period, the deceased were dumped in bogs and swamps. Furthermore, mummification and immersion of the body in water were also used. Around 4,000-1,800 B.C., earth burial first developed in the form of large stone tombs.

1,000 B.C. until about the time of the Nativity, the Celts buried their relatives in large tumuli. After that, cemeteries slowly developed (often in front of churches and on the outskirts of towns). At that time, the churches took over the burial. It was not until the 18th century that the municipalities took over this work.

Nowadays, burial in the ground is one of the most chosen types of burial, along with cremation. However, as cremation becomes more common due to lower costs, the growing number of atheists, and the increasing “anonymity” of our society, burial in the ground must fear for its leading place as the most chosen method of burial.

In addition, there are modern types of burial such as forest burial, burial at sea, burial in meadows, etc. Since cremation is a basic requirement for all of these types of burial, this makes a decisive contribution to the increasing number of cremations.

Legal regulations

In the Federal Republic of Germany, burial law (public law) and municipal statutes (cemetery law) determine the proper burial of a deceased person. It is regulated by state laws, which means that there are no uniform federal regulations and laws. These legally binding regulations ultimately give rise to the cemetery ordinances of the respective municipalities.

Due to the fact that funeral law is a state matter, there are different laws from state to state, which are usually similar, but not always comparable. This can often result in more formal paperwork if a deceased person is to be transferred to another state or even abroad.

The cremation

Historical development

Cremation is common and firmly established in many cultures. Christianity, however, rejected this form of burial for centuries. The reason for this was the Christian faith, which believes in resurrection after death. For these reasons, Christianity is based on the burial of Jesus Christ, with the consequence that for deceased persons only burial in the ground was an option.

It was not until 1878 that the first German crematorium was opened in Gotha. At that time, however, the majority of the population was rather hostile to cremation. This is certainly due to the Catholic Church at the time, as Pope Leo XIII called the burning of a corpse a “barbaric custom.” The Protestant Church was also rather hostile to cremation.

It was not until 1917 that the Catholic Church lifted the ban on cremation. Today she recommends burial in the ground. However, cremation is allowed only on condition that cremation is not carried out to express denial of faith.

Today, more than half of all burials in the Federal Republic of Germany are cremations followed by urn burial. This strong increase is mainly due to the lower price of cremation and hygienic considerations. In addition, there are new modern types of burial, such as forest burial, burial at sea and burial in meadows.

Since cremation is a basic requirement for all of these types of burials, this is a key contributor to an increasing number of cremations.

Legal regulations

In the Federal Republic of Germany, burial law (public law) and municipal statutes (cemetery law) determine the proper burial of a deceased person. It is regulated by state laws, which means that there are no uniform federal regulations and laws. For cremation, an additional postmortem examination by a medical officer is required. This is usually performed in the crematorium. Furthermore, a clearance certificate may be required by the police. The reason for these regulations is that the identity of the deceased must be established beyond doubt, because no conclusions can be drawn about the manner of death after a cremation. Through this official certificate, the deceased is cleared for cremation and can then be cremated.

Implementation of the cremation

In the Federal Republic of Germany, cremation is generally only carried out in crematoria designated for this purpose. For example, cremation in the open air is not allowed. After a consultation with the funeral home you trust, the deceased is hygienically cared for and then placed in a coffin.

The funeral home then transfers the deceased person to a crematory. Here, the body remains in a refrigerated cell until all the necessary paperwork is in place.

As soon as all the necessary papers have been received, a fireclay stone will be attached to the corpse to enable it to be identified beyond doubt. Now the coffin with the corpse is moved into a muffle oven. This has already been preheated to approx. 900°C which means that the coffin ignites by itself after insertion. In the first phase, which lasts about 45 minutes, combustion is supported only by additional warm air. Only after this time is the oven heated to approx. 1,200°C. This causes remaining components to be ashed.

Due to this high temperature, only mineral bone components remain. These bones and teeth are ground and put into an ash capsule with the ash. The whole process of cremation takes about 1.5-2.5 hours on average. At the end, the ash capsule is sealed by an employee of the crematorium.

Due to the fireclay stone enclosed with the cremation and the engraving of personal data of the deceased on the ash capsule, confusion of the mortal remains with other cremated persons is impossible.

Funeral arrangements

Protection and relief during lifetime

When it comes to taking out a funeral plan, many people often think of the elderly or very sick. This group of people is very often aware of the finiteness of life and the conclusion of a funeral provision is actively approached. People in other, younger stages of life are less likely to perceive the finite nature of life. Nothing will happen to me and I’m not that old yet, it can be sorted out later are frequent statements from younger adults.

But even young people can die unexpectedly. Be it an acute illness or an accident while practicing the sport. In road traffic alone, we had a total of 3,180 fatal accidents in Germany in 2017. Of these, 2,186 were under the age of 65. Unfortunately, in life a young age can not save from illness or worse strokes of fate.

Possibilities of precaution

Against this background, demand for funeral provisions is rising sharply, especially among people over 60. People want to make their own decisions about their final path and make binding arrangements for this during their lifetime. Here, questions or uncertainties usually arise among the population, which can be clarified together with a funeral home in Germany.

At the end of a preventive care discussion, there is an individual preventive care concept. Customized and manufactured according to the wishes of the client. The pension contract can be secured by different financial options:

  • Settlement through death benefit insurance
  • Deposit of a trust account
  • Deposit of a savings book
  • Direct deposit with the mortician

I recommend that clients always use a secure form of deposit. These would be the account held in trust and the purchase of death benefit insurance. From experience, savings accounts can have blocking notices lifted after the fact, and when paying a funeral director directly, retirement funds can be lost if the funeral home later becomes insolvent. In this day and age, there is no reasonable reason for customers to deposit the money directly with a funeral home!

Funeral directors are the point of contact for the population in Germany on the topics of death, mourning and funeral provisions. They support people in difficult situations, arrange professional help for grief problems if necessary, and help organize the desired funeral.

Are funeral provisions attachable?

In its ruling of March 18, 2008, the Federal Social Court stated:

  1. Adequate burial provisions and appropriate grave care are required under the hardship provision of sec. 90, para. 3 sentence 1 SGB XII protected.
  2. If a funeral plan exceeds a reasonable limit, it need not be terminated if it would be uneconomical to do so. The usual remuneration claim of a mortician after deduction of saved expenses does not usually exceed this threshold.
  3. The short-term conclusion of a funeral provision before admission to a retirement or nursing home does not in principle change the hardship provision, unless the funeral provision was concluded intentionally or through gross negligence in order to receive social welfare benefits.

Federal Social Court, judgment dated March 18, 2008 – B 8 / 9b SO 9/06 R

Grief and grief symptoms

When a person loses a loved one or friend, the grief that follows is a natural reaction. It takes place on different levels and touches among other things the mental, cognitive as well as affective areas. Likewise, grief also expresses itself physically. In my view, the goal of mourning is always to overcome the current exceptional situation, followed by dealing with the causes and consequences for oneself. There are various mourning phase theories for this. These place current situations and symptoms into certain stages of grief. In particular, Verena Kast, Yorick Spiegel, John Bowlby and Elisabeth Kübler-Ross should be mentioned here.

The symptoms listed below, may or may not indicate clinical depression. Especially in mourning, it is extremely difficult to distinguish between a normal mourning process and an incipient depression. In many cases, further development is only decided within the mourning process itself and depends on many internal (feelings, attitude, psychological condition, etc.) and external (society, family, financial situation, religion, etc.) influencing factors.

For these reasons, recognizing disorders in the grieving process is a very difficult task for treating professionals. This is because a grieving process can occur not only with a time delay. Many people do not go through all the stages of the grief process and other individuals fall back into previous stages after some time in coping with grief. Therefore, I recommend everyone to turn to expert agencies for advice. This is especially true for grieving children, as there the grief can show itself again in a different way. You can find some of these facilities at the end of the article.

Emotional grief symptoms

The feelings of a grieving person can be very broad and intense. Many bereaved families feel helpless, lonely and left behind. Also, anger is a very common and powerful emotional symptom. Feelings of guilt and a guilty conscience can also occur. However, it is usually the fear of the bereaved that is one of the strongest. Because many are afraid of loneliness and are afraid of not being able to exist alone!

Emotional symptoms may be manifested by the following, among others:

  • Often there are strong mood swings
  • Aggression against oneself, the deceased or third persons
  • Relief at the end of suffering
  • Emotional void

Physical symptoms

Physical symptoms of a grieving person can be varied and sometimes pose problems for doctors and relatives. Because one asks oneself: Are these symptoms due to the current psychological condition or are there physical causes for them?

Frequently, physical symptoms manifest themselves in commonly known ways, such as:

  • Pain in different parts of the body
  • Cardiovascular diseases
  • Weight changes
  • Rigid facial expression
  • Digestive problems
  • Lack of sexuality
  • Crouched posture
  • Lack of appetite
  • Sleep problems
  • Breathing problems
  • Dry mouth

The body is also more susceptible to illnesses and complaints during grief due to an exceptional situation, which can lead to additional new illnesses and worsening of existing illnesses.

For these reasons, it can be stated that grief can also have serious physical effects and this should be taken into account in the case of persons in poor health.

Cognitive symptoms

The cognitive symptoms are manifested especially by perceptions, hallucinations and changes in thinking. It is manifested by:

  • Reflecting on the circumstances of death or death in general.
  • Questioning the “meaning of life
  • Concentration problems
  • “Feeling” of the presence of the deceased person
  • Dreams with reference to the deceased
  • Acoustic and visual perception of the deceased
  • Thoughtless

These cognitive symptoms are often noted at the onset and usually subside after some time. The fears of many relatives that this condition may persist in the long term are usually unfounded.

Behavior and pathological symptoms

Behavioral changes in grieving individuals are normal and should not be viewed with concern at the outset. Especially in the early days, outsiders can’t reach the bereaved and often feel like they’re “talking to a wall.”

It should also be noted here that the environment often puts pressure on the bereaved through statements. “it has to go on” or “he wouldn’t have wanted you to grieve like this” are usually well-intentioned phrases from relatives. However, these can set off a spiral of mutual misunderstandings that are difficult to recover from.

The following behaviors may also occur:

  • Frequent or no talking about the deceased person
  • Hostile behavior and/or social withdrawal
  • Increased consumption of alcohol, nicotine, medication, stimulants
  • Search behavior (seeking out significant places, taking on the person’s interests).
  • Overactive behavior
  • Crying and screaming

Pathological grief is expressed by particularly prolonged or intense mourning. Most of the time, the mourner is caught in a process of dealing with grief or falls back into a previous one. Professional help may also make sense for a delayed or exaggerated grief response.

The following situations may be clues to complicated grief processing:

  • Mummification of the environment of the deceased (everything should remain as it is).
  • Avoidance behavior of certain situations/activities (PBS).
  • Long-term withdrawal and isolation from the environment
  • Long-term increased consumption of alcohol, nicotine, stimulants
  • Drug addiction (for example, sleeping pills)
  • Pathological anxiety and strong feelings of guilt
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Expressions after help

Contact points for grief problems

Relatives as well as grieving people can find information at many institutions in Germany. It always depends on the wishes of the person seeking help. Some need an anonymous environment and use telephone counseling, while others want professional therapy.

Many are also helped by contact with other people who have suffered similar strokes of fate. In the end, it’s not the “how” that matters. It is more important that there is a suitable point of contact for the person seeking.

Find out at which facilities you can find help:

  • Regional psychologists and psychotherapists
  • Telephone counselling
  • AGUS – Relatives around suicide
  • Orphaned parents and grieving siblings
  • Anuas e. V. aid organization
  • Central Hospice Contact Point
  • Björn Schulz Foundation
  • Forums on the Internet
  • TABEA e. V.

The educational sepulchral culture

After the previous sections, a sub-area of sepulchral culture is now more tangible and it can be safely stated that this complex of topics also plays a role in kindergarten. The Baden-Württemberg orientation plan for daycare centers even includes parts of the sepulchral culture. In the education and development field of the body, there is a goal for children to acquire knowledge about their bodies. In the area of thinking, in turn, there are the goals of that children recognize rules, symbols and relationships to understand the world as well as that children ask themselves and their environment questions, also of a philosophical and religious nature & search for answers. The large complex of the section Meaning, Values and Religion has a great connection with the sepulchral culture. Here children should:

  • recognize the effect of sacred spaces, rituals and symbols, which enable the experience of security, community, silence, concentration
  • find understanding partners in their philosophizing and/or theologizing about life and the world….

Undoubtedly, the Orientation Plan does not aim at the sepulchral culture with these passages, but rather at the philosophical and religious “everyday life”. But when we deal with these topics we inevitably end up with the topics of mourning, end of life or other similar areas and this is what the children also think about in certain situations.

Sure, children deal with the issue differently compared to adults. But even from birth, children experience grief, not because of a death, but through loss of attachment, when an attachment figure is no longer there (e.g., grief at birth, grief when saying goodbye at daycare or when moving).

For older children in the nursery, death is usually something limited, a phase that also passes again and the person wakes up again at the end. Children predominantly perceive death from the age of four. However, children do not relate this to themselves; it is only something that can happen to others. It is not until the age of ten to twelve that children can begin to understand death. Therefore, when such questions arise, it is important to talk to the children in a child-friendly way about the reality and the facts, instead of unsettling the child with elaborate explanations.

All it takes is a trip to the garden and there is a dead bird on the lawn. How do you deal with the situation? What do you know and what questions do the children ask? What is the religious background of the children and “what do the children bring from home”?

Basically, therefore, it can be stated that the sepulchral culture flows into the pedagogical everyday life and must be broken down to the child- and age-appropriate form.

How should the topics of educational sepulchral culture be addressed?

We now know that we cannot get around the sepulchral area. Therefore, we are now faced with the question of how to discuss this topic with the children. There is a rather simple answer to this: There is no patent remedy and certainly no suitable elaborations for this! There is general advice that should be followed in any case such as:

  • Pick up on suitable situations in everyday life (dead bird in the garden, for example)
  • Responding in an age-appropriate manner
  • Consider child’s background (religion, loss experiences, etc.).
  • Avoid generalizations
  • Avoid sepulchral related jokes (You’ll put me in my grave, etc.)
  • Enable hope
  • Introduce farewell rituals
  • Use factual picture books
  • Projects on the topic of sepulchral culture
  • Use aids such as dolls or similar

As a pedagogical professional, you, along with the parents, know the most about the children. Take up the topic at a parents’ evening and also ask questions in this regard before settling in. Has the child previously experienced loss, witnessed or experienced grief. Especially with refugee children from crisis or war zones, the topic is often very topical. Furthermore, the child’s religious affiliation is of course also important in order to enable a stringent action in private and in the daycare center.

In acute cases, interdisciplinary cooperation should be sought in any case. For the daily work in the daycare center, there are of course also suitable tools for the field of sepulchral culture.

Pedagogical tools

In everyday pedagogical life, there are countless tools and procedures to achieve a positive impact on the planned offerings. Especially in the field of educational sepulchral culture, tools such as field trips and picture books are essential. But discovering the (human) body can also build bridges to the themes of death and the end of life. Use old bark or dead wood to lay a human. Talk about body composition and connect to ancient natural materials. For even these are no longer alive and yet at the same time harbor new life.

Picture books

I think that every educator knows that picture books offer a good opportunity for development in many respects. Less well known is that there are many books and picture books on the subject of grief, death, loss and other areas. Here is a small selection:

Children up to 3 years

  • Fido and the bear
  • Grandma was the best!

Children from 3-6 years

  • The tree of memory
  • What might it be like in heaven?
  • Why? Why? Why?, Volume 42
  • Grandpa lives somewhere else now
  • Grandma was the best!

Children from 6 years

  • The Rainbow Bridge: A little bunny in mourning
  • Will dying pass again?
  • No more Grandma Lina Day?


Excursions to playgrounds or museums are certainly familiar to many educators. But what about a trip to the local cemetery for the kindergarten group one day? Explore the funeral chapel with the children and look at the tombstones to see how old the people there have become. The cemetery is a wonderful place to combine the themes of nature and sepulchral culture. Did you know that the cemetery has an impressive biodiversity and many threatened and endangered species live there?

Children grief

There are different theories about grief, respectively about the respective stages of grief. What all the ones I know have in common is that they are mostly tailored for adults, not children. Verena Kast, for example, designed a four-phase model of grief, but it is tailored to adults:

  1. Phase: Not wanting to be true
  2. Phase: Emotions breaking out
  3. Phase: Searching and separating
  4. Phase: New reference to self and world

Children usually do not have a constant grief, but rather it goes in waves. Theologian Yorick Spiegel divided grief into the following stages:

  1. Phase: Shock
  2. Phase: Controlled phase
  3. Phase: Regression
  4. Phase: Adaptation

Now back to my situation presented at the beginning of the article about the sudden loss of the educator. The daycare center had turned the loss into a project. The children had many different ways to talk about grief, both verbally and nonverbally. Pictures were painted, wishes were written down and songs were sung. At the end, the children released all those memories into the air on balloons.

This farewell ritual with the balloons has now been introduced for every educator or child who leaves the daycare center. In my opinion, a beautiful ritual.

Further source

Suggested Citation

Goetz, S. (2022). Educational Sepulchral Culture. Dealing with sepulchral issues in the daycare center. ISSN: 2748-2979. Accessed 03/22/2022. Available at: https://krippenzeit.de/paedagogische-sepulkralkultur

Sebastian Götz

Sebastian berichtet hier auf Krippenzeit über die frühkindliche Bildung in den Kitas und dem professionellen Management. Von der Geburt an bis zum dritten Lebensjahr... und weit darüber hinaus!

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