The mood at a funeral can run from a somber, formal affair to a lavish party celebrating the deceased’s life. Funeral etiquette therefore varies depending on the funeral’s vibe. Usually, the feel of a funeral reflects the deceased’s personality and/or life. For example, you would expect a Supreme Court judge to have a very serious, traditional funeral where deep and meaningful speeches about the deceased’s influences upon society and those around them changed lives. On the other hand, the funeral of your favorite great-aunt, Bernice, who passed away at the ripe old age of 96, never turned down a shot of whiskey and perished on a girls’ trip to Vegas, would most likely be a casual affair filled with funny stories of Great Aunt Bernice and her shenanigans.
The nature of the passing also affects the mood. The funeral of an older person who lived a rich and long life would truly be a celebration of life, whereas the funeral of a sixteen year old killed by a drunk driver would be a tragic test of human nature and our inability to understand how life can be taken away from someone so young. Keep in mind that funeral customs vary by culture and religion, too. When in doubt, the web can provide you with valuable insight as to what to expect.
Nine times out of ten, it is appropriate to wear black and only black to a funeral. Sometimes, in an attempt to make the funeral more of a celebration of life, the organizers will request you attend the funeral in your party clothes and have a good time, as that is how the deceased would have wanted to be remembered.
Sometimes, there will be a viewing in the days before the funeral where you can pay your respects to the deceased and their family. During the funeral, after everyone has arrived, there will be a remembrance ceremony where friends and family members will give speeches commemorating the deceased’s life. Sometimes, these people are chosen and asked beforehand. Other times, the person directing the funeral may ask for volunteers to share a memory. Please remember your surroundings and keep your remembrances appropriate. This is not a good time to reveal the deceased had been having an affair with you over the last ten years. After the funeral ceremony (which can be held anywhere from a church to the gravesite to the beach to anywhere), the funeral procession will travel to the wake. All of the cars in the funeral procession drive together with their headlights on. It is bad manners to cut into a funeral procession while driving.
You are not expected to stay all day at any funeral related event; just as long as you feel is appropriate and for a time period you are comfortable with. If you don’t know what to say, a simple, “I am sorry” is completely acceptable funeral etiquette.
A friend of mine passed when he was just 22. At the funeral, his father stressed to all of us in attendance the zest and love his son had for life and that, although he would be grateful for our presence on this day, he would not want us to be sad but to remember our good times with him. And so we all got up and told our favorite experience with our beloved friend. Although there were many tears, the day was filled with the gratefulness that we had our memories, however brief they may have been. When attending a funeral, remember the good times you shared together. In the end, that’s all we really have.
Photo: 123rf/Tatiana Popova