Alanis Morisette sang about the irony of rain coming down on someone’s wedding day. But while precipitation may be unwelcome at a wedding, rain can feel quite apropos at a funeral. It’s so fitting, in fact, that many TV shows and movies will rely on rain as a visual shorthand to communicate the sadness a viewer should feel. But the symbolism attached to rain at funerals dates back much earlier than television and film.
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Here we will examine some of the superstition and meaning assigned to rain at funerals throughout history. We’ll also talk about the practicalities of what to do when it rains at a real-life funeral.
Virtual funeral tip: One way to avoid the complications of rain at a funeral is by hosting the event virtually! But even if you're planning a virtual funeral using a service like GatheringUs, you might still want to know what it means if it rains on the day of the funeral.
Popular Rain Symbolism and Superstitions
Rain has several symbolic meanings attached to it, including ones related to funerals and death. There are also many superstitions attached to rain on the day of a funeral.
Here we’ll explore some of the lore and meaning associated with the intersection of rain and death.
A bad omen
Even before a burial, there are superstitions associated with rain and death. In Victorian times, people believed that large drops of rain signified that someone had just died.
While you may think that rain would typically have negative meanings attached to it, that’s not always necessarily the case. In the Victorian era, it was actually considered good luck if it rained during a funeral.
People believed that it signified the soul of the deceased is moving onto heaven. This superstition persists in some places, including in Ireland.
Generally speaking, people during the Victorian era often viewed rain in a positive light.
It was seen as symbolic of cleansing and new growth. It stands to reason then, that people in this era would have felt comforted by rain after a funeral.
Where there’s rain, there’s thunder
This superstition isn’t strictly rain-related, but it is rain-adjacent. During the Victorian era, people believed that a clap of thunder after a burial meant the spirit of the deceased had reached heaven.
On the other hand, thunder during the burial service meant that the deceased’s spirit had ended up in…a less-idyllic location.
The basis for this superstition may be due to a Bible verse. 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 describes an archangel blowing a mighty horn to wake the dead.
There is also old Irish lore attached to thunder. Specifically, a loud clap of thunder in mid-winter is an omen that the most important person for 20 miles will soon die. Depending on your self-esteem, a thunderclap might be terrifying if you subscribed to that belief.
Be wary of rainbows
In more rain-adjacent lore, a rainbow that arches over a house signifies that a death will take place there within the week.
As you usually can’t have rainbows without rain, it seems worth mentioning.
A harbinger of things to come
During Victorian times, people may have kept a wary eye on open graves. Superstition held that if rain fell in an open grave, someone in the family would die within the next year.
Tears of a mournful God
Some people take comfort in the belief that rain during a funeral means God is crying along with you. There are some pop culture references along a similar theme.
The country ballad “Holes in the Floor of Heaven” by Steve Wariner posits that rain is actually the tears of loved ones who have passed away. They’re crying because they wish they could be there on Earth celebrating momentous occasions with us.
Rain as replenishment
In Hinduism, rain represents many things. It can be a sign of life, renewal, and rebirth.
This is in part because of the role that rain plays in helping the earth grow food to sustain us. In Vedic hymns, the rains are a gift sent from the gods.
People who practice Hinduism also believe that souls that have departed the earth will return through the rains in order to be reborn. Each raindrop represents an individual soul that is being reborn.
Double-check that weather report
In some African-American communities, there’s a superstition you cannot bury the dead on a rainy day.
This is because the sun signifies that heaven is warmly waiting for the deceased. Some believe that a funeral on a rainy day then isn’t just inconvenient: it’s a very bad sign.
How to Handle Rain at a Funeral: 6 Quick Tips
If you are planning a funeral, there are a lot of aspects to keep track of. Weather may be the last thing on your mind, but it’s important to prepare for all eventualities. Here are some ways you can mitigate rain at a funeral.
Tip 1: Check the weather when planning your service
If you’re planning an upcoming funeral, check the weather report to see how likely it is to rain on the day of the service.
If there’s a high or even moderate chance of rain, consider planning an indoor service instead of a graveside burial.
Tip 2: Have a contingency plan
If you’re having the service at a church or a private ceremony, you can ask if they have a backup location.
You may be able to reserve it in case a planned graveside burial is threatened by rain.
Tip 3: Include a note to guests about potential weather issues
When you make a funeral announcement, be sure to specify whether the funeral will be held outdoors. Local guests should know to check the weather and bring an umbrella or appropriate outerwear. You can even include a small note about that if you’d like. For example, you could write something like the following:
“There will be a graveside burial service on Saturday, March 21 at 2 pm. There is a small chance of rain that day, so please come prepared with an umbrella and appropriate shoes and outerwear.”
Tip 4: Inquire about temporary shelter options
Some cemeteries in areas that are prone to rain are able to set up temporary tents to shield mourners from the rain. These tents can be assembled in the area immediately surrounding the gravesite. Ask your cemetery if they offer that, or if they allow setups like that on the day of the funeral.
If they allow it but don’t have tents on hand, you can usually rent a tent from an event-planning company.
Tip 5: Have rain gear on-hand for guests and participants
Funerals require a lot of help to pull off. Urge pallbearers and speakers to come prepared with raincoats and umbrellas.
You can also purchase disposable ponchos in black to offer to guests or participants. It’s also always a good idea to come equipped with spare umbrellas for guests who may be caught unprepared.
Tip 6: Enlist your funeral home to help
Even if you plan to have a funeral service indoors, rain can be a problem for guests who have to make it indoors from the car. If your service takes place at a funeral home, they may have resources on hand to help mitigate any weather-related inconveniences.
Ask your funeral home what options they have for rainy days. They may offer valet parking, or they might provide staff who can meet mourners with large umbrellas and walk them inside. There may be additional charges for services like that, so be sure to clarify that in advance.
Symbolism and Superstition Associated with Rain
There are many symbols of mourning. Rain can be one of them. But the rain is so much more than that. It can also symbolize renewal and rebirth. A lot of its meaning can come from what you personally want to attach to it. If you feel like you’re drowning in grief, you may connect with the rain as a tangible expression of what you’re feeling.
Or, if you’re the pragmatic sort, you may just be annoyed by the idea of standing on soggy grass in your nice shoes. No matter your personal feelings about the rain though, it’s interesting to explore the way it has been regarded over time when it comes to death.
- V Jayaram, “Symbolism of Rain in Hinduism.” Hinduwebsite.com, Hinduwebsite.com, 2020, www.hinduwebsite.com/symbolism/symbols/rain.asp.
- “The History of African American Death: Superstitions, Traditions, and Procedures.” Northbysouth.kenyon.edu, Kenyon College, northbysouth.kenyon.edu/1998/death/deathhistory.htm.