Photos of the dead

Speaking of funeral customs — just this one more post on the subject, I promise, before I move on to something else!

I grew up taking for granted the family photograph around the body of the deceased. I saw such photos, and was in at least one of them (see below).

Since then, I’ve discovered through random conversations that this custom is by no means universal and actually rather shocking to some. And I’m not the only one. Googling, I see that Colleen Friesen in a recent column on her blog (Traveling Light) under “Mennonite Musings” remembers “the first time I found out that most people didn’t have photo albums full of dead people.” She was in Grade 8 and she and a friend were looking through albums, and her friend noticed and said it was “weird.”

I don’t necessarily find it weird — I’m used to it after all. But can anyone enlighten me on this? Is this something only Mennonites did? And if so, why they and not others?


My siblings and me at our maternal grandfather's funeral, 1971



A family photograph taken with the body of my paternal great-grandfather, Peter D. Doerksen of Kleefeld, Ukraine, who died Dec. 5, 1912 at age 59. My grandfather, Johann, age 25, is standing third from the right.