Funeral Etiquette and Traditions
One of the most solemn occasions most people ever have to attend is a funeral or memorial service. It can be hard to know what to do or say when someone dies. In today’s world, it is even more common to have friends and colleagues who are from different faiths. Here is some general information about funeral etiquette.
Sending Cards, Flowers, and Food
The sympathy card industry is booming, but Emily Post would tell you that it is considered proper etiquette to actually write a note of condolence. It demonstrates you took the time to really think about what you wanted to say. It doesn’t have to be long, but a personal story about the deceased can tell the family how important that person was to you. In any culture, a sympathy note is always appreciated.
Flowers are another traditional offering for funerals, but there are religions which prefer not to have cut flowers. A Jewish family prefers that you give a gift to charity instead of sending flowers. Many people today are having eco-friendly funerals, in which cut flowers are not preferred, but maybe a plant which can continue to thrive would be welcome. The funeral home or memorial service should have information about the family’s preferences.
It’s also considered appropriate to have a family meal following the service. In most churches, synagogues, and mosques, members prepare food for the family to help them in the first days of grief. If you’re unsure about the family’s preferences, you may choose to send them a gift card for food delivery for an evening when they need it most. Meals that can be frozen are helpful, because the family can take them out as needed.
Attending the Funeral or Memorial Service
You might be wondering what is the difference between a funeral or memorial service? At a funeral, the body of the deceased will be present. A memorial service is one where the body is not, such as a cremation. It’s common to wear dark, muted clothes. A funeral is an important occasion, dress as you might for a religious ceremony or business dinner.
Be on time for the service. Funeral venues may have specific parking instructions when you arrive to help with the procession to the graveside. When you enter the location, you should be quiet. Turn off your cell phone or leave it in your car. The seats toward the front of the venue are generally reserved for family and close friends.
This is not the place to talk to the family. Generally, the family will be in a private room before the service, to come in right before it starts. The service will not begin until the family is seated. You will most likely be given a program to follow the flow of the memorial.
Following the service, there is generally a recessional. The pallbearers take the coffin to the hearse, which will take the body to the gravesite. If you are going to the interment, follow the instructions at the venue. As you exit, there may be a family member who is thanking those in attendance. Keep any remarks brief, to keep the flow going.
Be Authentic and Sincere
When someone dies, it is sad. They will be missed. Sometimes, all you have to do is let the surviving family know that you care. Phrases like, “I’m so sorry for your loss,” or “I’m here to help,” can be comforting. When Jews are in their mourning period known as shiva, visitors actually don’t say anything until the family breaks the silence. Just your presence is enough. You don’t have to fix their sadness, just let them know that you understand. Everyone gets tongue-tied and feels inadequate during a time of grief. Be respectful and solemn, even when you are unsure of what to do.