A Man’s Primer on Funeral Etiquette

by Brett & Kate McKay on February 11, 2010 · 85 comments

in A Man's Life, On Etiquette

“How we treat the dead says an awful lot about how we live. For the strong and able to serve the helpless dead, to honor frail remains, reaches deep inside us to something basic to humanity.” -Paul Gregory Alms

Funeral etiquette. Unless you’re preparing to attend a funeral, it’s a subject that almost never crosses your mind. As a younger person, funerals tend to be few and far between. It’s possible to make it into your 20s without ever attending one. The sporadic nature of funerals, and the general absence of discussion of the subject in our culture, makes it hard to learn what’s expected in terms of proper behavior. You just muddle through each funeral, hoping you’re doing the right thing, and then muddle through it again the next time.

But being a gentleman of tact, respect, and sensitivity is never more important than at the occasion of someone’s death. Instead of adding distractions and stress to the already grievously burdened, be a source of great comfort. People are at their most fragile, and your job as a man of honor is to be supportive and dignified.

Condolence Visits

If you are a family member or close friend of the family of the deceased, pay a visit to their home to express your sympathy and offer your help.

Before a wake, bring over a platter of cold cuts and rolls; the family will be hungry afterwards and not want to cook. Or bring over some pastries that they can eat on the morning of the funeral. You can also offer to watch the kiddos while they run some errands. It seems like the women folk often take on these responsibilities, but there’s no reason that the modern man can’t also lend a hand.

During your visits, it’s appropriate to offer your sympathy and share your fond memories of the deceased. There’s no need to stay too long; if it seems that you’re actually getting in the way, then drop off what you brought, chat for a few minutes and leave. Of course, if they’re alone and clearly need a listening ear, then stay longer.

If you don’t feel close enough to the deceased’s family to come to their home, wait until the wake to offer your personal condolences.

Flowers

Sending flowers is a traditional way to express your condolences. You can send flowers to the funeral home, to the church, or to the deceased’s family’s home. The card attached to the flowers should read, “With Deepest Sympathy” along with your name. If you’re sending them to the church itself for use in the service, include “For the funeral of ____” on the address. Some families ask for donations in lieu of flowers, and you should honor this request.

When it comes to sending flowers and different faith traditions, there are some considerations to be aware of:

  • Some Protestant churches use only one flower arrangement-offered by the family-in the service.
  • Do not send flowers to an Orthodox Jewish service. The policy amongst Reform and Conservative Jews varies.
  • For a Catholic family, consider getting the family a mass card in lieu of flowers. You don’t have to be Catholic to get a mass card. You make a donation to the Church, and in turn, the Church promises to say prayers or a mass on behalf of the soul of the deceased. The mass card says when the mass will take place, and you can give the card to the deceased family. For fellow Catholics, purchasing a mass card is a gesture of faith, compassion, and solidarity. For non-Catholics, sending a mass card shows your understanding, respect, and thoughtfulness.

The Wake

A wake takes place before the actual funeral service and is usually held in the evening. If you cannot make it to the funeral, it is a good opportunity to come and support the deceased’s family. The wake may be held in someone’s home or at the funeral parlor. When you arrive, first offer your sympathy to the grieving family. This is the reason for the wake, really. It gives the family an opportunity to hear from family and loved ones when they’re prepared to deal with it and in the grieving mindset. They get it all over in a night instead of having people offering their condolences at work, at the gym, and at the grocery store-over and over, in places where they’d rather not have the emotion come rushing back and hit them like a ton of bricks.

Unless you’re close to the family, be sure to clearly introduce yourself to them and tell them how you know the deceased. Don’t leave them awkwardly trying to place who you are.

Don’t worry about not knowing what to say or being emotional. Neither eloquence nor stoicism is expected.

If the casket is present, take a moment to stand by it, saying a prayer or thinking of the deceased’s life. Then you may mingle with the other guests. You don’t have to stay too long-just long enough to make your presence felt and pay your respects. Be sure to sign the register with your name and address before you head out, as the family may wish to look it over later and/or send you a note of thanks.

The Funeral

Should You Come?

Unless the death notice that appears in the paper says that the funeral is private, or you hear that it is such, any of the deceased’s acquaintances, friends, co-workers, and family can attend the funeral.

If you’re the divorced husband of the deceased, you should almost always come. The same for the passing of an ex-girlfriend with whom you had a long or meaningful relationship. Unless the acrimony between you and your former love (or her family) approaches the level of the Hatfields and McCoys, and your presence would cause them further grief, or you hear specifically from the family that you are not welcome, attending the funeral is entirely appropriate. In times of grief, old differences are forgotten and all that matters is that you were once an important person in the deceased’s life. Be warm and supportive and don’t bring up any bad blood.

“Always go to the funeral” is an excellent motto for a man to adopt. Yes, going to funerals isn’t fun. They can be boring, somber, inconvenient and emotional affairs. You may feel awkward. But fun is the yardstick that boys use to make decisions. When you become a man, you do things because they’re right and good, and because your desire to serve others supersedes your own comfort.

It may be tempting to rationalize that the person is dead and won’t know if you’re there or not. But funerals are not for the dead, they are for the living. One of the few comforts available to the grieving is to see a full church, the pews packed with people who also care for and remember the deceased. There is power in that show of humanity. The family knows that attending a funeral is inconvenient, and that’s why they’ll never forget that you came anyway.

If you absolutely cannot come to the funeral, be sure to write the family of the deceased a sympathy note which includes your regret on not being able to make it.

Where to Sit

There’s kind of a progressive seating pattern with funerals; family sits in the first pews, followed by close friends, with acquaintances and co-workers farther back.

Dress Code

When we think of funerals, the first image that often leaps to mind is that of people dressed in black. While black is still the traditional color for funerals, this standard has loosened up in modern times to include other dark, conservative clothing. Still, the best way to go is donning a black suit, white shirt, conservative tie, and well-shined black shoes.

I know there are contingents of men who generally don’t see the point in dressing up and believe that real men dress however they want. But this is one time where no matter how rebellious you fancy yourself, you need to sack up and put on your best duds. Death is life’s most solemn occasion, and the inability to put aside comfort and personal preference to show your utmost respect for the end of a life is inexcusable.

Being a Pallbearer

Being a pallbearer is a traditionally male job. The family will typically choose six men to attend the casket (sometimes “honorary pallbearers” -who have a strictly symbolic role-are also chosen). The invitation to be a pallbearer is a great honor and one you cannot refuse except for the most serious of reasons. It’s like the somber flip side of being asked to be a groomsmen.

The job of the pallbearer was once a functional one; they were charged with carrying the coffin from the church to the cemetery. Now the role is almost entirely symbolic. The casket is typically set on a rolling cart, and you just put your hand on it as it rolls, only lifting it up when it is time to load and unload it from the hearse.

If you are chosen to be a pallbearer, come to funeral about 30 minutes early and find the funeral director. He or she will gives you instructions on what will be expected of you-where to gather, when to come into the church, and in which row to sit.

You should be dressed well at a funeral anyway, but if you are asked to be a pallbearer, make an extra effort to look presentable and respectful.

Perhaps the most famous historical pallbearer story involves Southern Civil War General Joseph E. Johnston. Johnston had surrendered to General Sherman at the end of the war and had been so impressed with that man’s magnanimity that he would not allow an unkind thing to be said about his former enemy for the rest of his life. When Sherman died, Johnston was asked to be a pallbearer in the General’s funeral. As is common for a public figure, Sherman’s funeral procession proceeded through the streets of New York City. Johnston walked alongside the casket with his hat in his hand. The freezing temperatures and rain caused fellow mourners to advise Johnston to return his hat to his head. Johnston replied, “If I were in his place and he standing here in mine, he would not put on his hat.” He soon came down with pneumonia and died several week’s later.

Be sure to check out this excellent article on the symbolic importance of being a pallbearer.

Additional Considerations

It should go without saying, but for the love of TR, turn off your cell phone during the funeral. Don’t be texting and checking your Blackberry during the service. This is the very last time this person will ask for your undivided attention. Also, having your Lil Wayne ringtone go off during the eulogy will brand you a cad for life.

Be civil, don’t come in late, don’t leave early. If you come with kids, and they cause a fuss, take em’ outside.

Driving in the Funeral Procession

Funeral processions are one of the few remaining outward signs of death in this society.

After the funeral, everyone will get in their cars and proceed as a group to the cemetery. The cars will follow behind the hearse. Turn on your headlights and emergency blinkers and closely follow the car in front of you. The procession will drive slower than the speed limit. If the procession starts through a light while it’s green and it turns red by the time you get to it, keep on going. State laws allow funeral processions to drive through red lights and stop signs.

As a normal driver, when you come upon a funeral procession, do your best to let them pass and stay together. Don’t try to cut into the procession. If safe, pull to the side of the road and let the line keep going. In the old days, men got out of their cars and doffed their hats while the procession passed. Probably too dangerous on our modern thoroughfares, but a nice thought.

Post Funeral Luncheon

Many families host a luncheon at their home after the graveside service. It’s a time to be a little more light hearted than is expected at the wake or funeral and share a laugh as you reminisce about the deceased.

Follow-Up

Perhaps the most important part of “funeral etiquette” is not to let your consideration for those in mourning be a one day affair. After all the hoopla of funeral planning is over, the grief and reality of the loss of a loved one will really set in for the family and friends of the deceased.

So don’t forget about them in the weeks and months after the funeral. Stop by and give them a call. Invite them out for social gatherings. They may say no for some time, but they’ll eventually reach the point where they’re ready to go back out, and they’ll be grateful that you kept thinking of them.

Call your friend or family member on the anniversary of their loved one’s death. They’ll appreciate that you still remember and continue to acknowledge their passing.

{ 83 comments… read them below or add one }

1 ced February 11, 2010 at 9:36 pm

ok i was a alter boy for a cathoilic shurch and served in many funerals, and they always had a ton of flowers on and around the alter. afterwards some would go to the cemetary and the family would donate the rest to the church for some decortion on the alter or to be sent to a local retirement center or hospital.

2 Brett McKay February 11, 2010 at 9:44 pm

You’re right, ced. I got that bit of info from an older etiquette book (1978) and the policy has changed. I’ll change that part to reflect this.

“May flowers be used at a funeral Mass?
“Fresh flowers, used in moderation, can enhance the setting of the funeral rites.”17

While the moderate use of flowers is currently allowed, they were at one time prohibited. Msgr. Peter Elliot, in his Ceremonies of the Modern Roman Rite, explains: “The presence or absence of flowers is an effective sign according to the principle of contrast” (no. 70, p. 26). That is, the absence of flowers at a funeral Mass, which is a memorial for the dead, contrasts the presence of flowers at Sunday Mass, which is a celebration of new life in Christ. (Similarly, the absence of flowers during Lent contrasts the decoration of the altar for Easter, marking the contrast between the two seasons.)”

http://www.cuf.org/Faithfacts/details_view.asp?ffID=262

3 Will February 11, 2010 at 9:51 pm

This isn’t about the *etiquette* per se, but . . . it wouldn’t hurt to check in a week after, when the busyness of the funeral is over, to help the bereaved by still being there. It’s after the hectic activity that they really have a chance to miss the departed, and they may need your support. (And if they don’t feel like talking, they don’t have to pick up the phone.)

4 Julie February 11, 2010 at 9:59 pm

I would add that in Judaism, the wake is replaced by a 7-day mourning period called “Shiva.” Traditions vary by community and individual circumstances, but the Shiva generally starts immediately after the burial and continues for up to a week, generally at pre-announced times. This will be listed alongside the funeral listing. For those who have never attended a Shiva, it can be an odd experience. (I only realized how odd the first time I went to a non-Jewish funeral, in my 20s, and found it very strange.) There are some specific guidelines for what to do during Shiva, and here are two articles about that:

1. http://www.myjewishlearning.com/life/Life_Events/Death_and_Mourning/Burial_and_Mourning/Shiva.shtml

2. http://wikibin.org/articles/shiva-etiquette.html

5 Scott February 11, 2010 at 10:40 pm

Great post and good advice. A minor comment — there is no reason to ever own a black suit. Navy or dark gray should be fine.

6 Iain Dwyer February 11, 2010 at 10:50 pm

Good guide overall. I’m an atheist, and don’t have many grandparents, so my funeral etiquette is lacking. I’ve only been to one funeral, my grandfathers, where I was a pallbearer since I was one of the few male decendants (three at the time, now four).
As I now have more friends, and more older acquaintances this will be useful. Although as normal, the rule “when in doubt, go more formal” is a good one.

7 Gus February 11, 2010 at 11:16 pm

Going to funerals will become more frequent in your 30′s. If you want to be percieved as a serios person you will need to take the time to attend them. Co-workers , friends, and neighbors will appreciate your presence. If you join fraternal organizations that means more funerals as well. If you want to be a man you need to be strong when others need your help or support. Being a pallbearer is a true honor. If you are a younger man and are asked usually it is a good sign you are thought of as an adult…with full priviliges.

8 Michael February 12, 2010 at 12:28 am

This is a good guide. The comment on stoicism and/or eloquence is exactly right; the bereaved aren’t listening for eloquence, just comforted by your good wishes.

9 David February 12, 2010 at 12:58 am

I’ve been reading this site for awhile and thought it was pretty good. This article has elevated it to some thing more fundamentally important. I’ve buried my father, an old girlfriend who killed herself and, increasingly, friends and relatives. This article and this site has an integrity and solidity that reminds of the father I buried.

10 Rawb February 12, 2010 at 1:17 am

My grandfather died last Spring, and so I flew back east and was really surprised when there was a procession afterward. I didn’t think anybody did them anymore. I have never seen one in California, but I thought it was a great tribute.

My dad told me if you ever do see one pass, you’re supposed to stop whatever you’re doing and hold your hand over your heart, or hat, or pray for the deceased (if that’s part of your beliefs). Has anyone heard of this?

And I’d stand by your recommendation to have a Mass said for a deceased Catholic, it is still a very meaningful gesture.

11 Tyler Logan February 12, 2010 at 4:11 am

I’ve never been to a funeral. Always nice to know the etiquette – I seriously had no idea before now.

12 bryan February 12, 2010 at 4:17 am

I can warn from expieriance that some leather soled dress shoes a morning service and being a pall bearrer can be a bit dicey so if you are carring the casket from the hearse to the grave side be careful. wet leather shoe soles on a marble head stone is like ice.With how close the graves are together it can get complicated

13 Pipp February 12, 2010 at 4:46 am

Excellent aritcle. I have been at many a funeral (big family) and can add just a couple of things. The food bit is great, if there is a fair bit of family that food it greatly appreciated. I would suggest, if one is comfortable, a call ahead saying you would like to bring a platter and ask if there is anything in particular that is missing or they require. Often we had loads and loads of cold cuts, bread and sweets but no fruit or veg.

A warning on the pallbearer bit. If you were very close to the deciced you have to think twice about this one. While it is an honour, it does make the reality of the death all that much more real when you are actually carrying the casket.

14 Daniel February 12, 2010 at 4:57 am

Being an atheist, I’d like to point out for the benefit of religious readers of this blog that having to go to a church can be an awkward thing for us. I was forced to go to church as a kid, so I’ve seen what goes on first-hand, but please don’t assume everyone you meet at a funeral is of your religion or even of any religion. I don’t know how to deal with comments like “he/she is with God now” or “please pray for him/her” and things of this nature. It’s too awkward to have to explain my non-belief to a believer on their turf, and I’m too committed to my beliefs about the non-existence of a deity to politely agree with them. I am lucky that the couple of funerals I’ve been to have been in non-religious settings, but there have still been awkward moments. Imagine yourself being at a funeral of a committed atheist with mostly atheists in attendance. You’d feel just as awkward since something that you’d naturally say about your deity’s involvement in the matter just wouldn’t be right in that environment.

Oh, and there was a comment about not owning a black suit… I think this is an American thing. I’ve lived in Europe and Australia, I have and still do own and use black suits (in fact, I’ve never owned anything but black), and we consider them to be very serious business suits (just never with a black tie – that’s a funeral director’s uniform). Black contrasts extremely well with a crisp white shirt and a red, or blue tie.

Besides, dinner suits (the non-American name for a “tuxedo”) is usually completely black and looks spectacular. I wear one whenever I have a Lodge meeting, or a formal event to go to. A man should also own white tie dress for super-formal occasions.

15 Thomas Black February 12, 2010 at 7:06 am

As a pastor who has performed my share of funerals, I’m grateful to see the etiquette listed here. I’ll never forget my own fear of performing my first funeral and the graciousness of another pastor in attendance who must have sensed my uncertainty and delicately whispered a few pointers when no one was looking. (Thanks Charles!)
I’ll be suggesting this to some of the local funeral directors.

16 Mike February 12, 2010 at 7:25 am

@Daniel – I appreciate your comments, and absolutely relate to your feelings of strong commitment towards your beliefs / non-beliefs. Nonetheless, this isn’t the time to jump on our personal belief-system bandwagons. This is the time for us to offer comfort the best way we can to those closest to the deceased and put our personal feelings aside for THEM. To quote Brett and Kate, “… the inability to put aside comfort and personal preference to show your utmost respect for the end of a life is inexcusable,” and regardless of what people may say that rubs our feathers the wrong way, this IS the time to just politely smile and nod. Or, maybe reply with a politely worded comment about being at peace, or not suffering any more, etc.

17 Mike February 12, 2010 at 7:34 am

@Rawb – the funeral processions I’ve been in have had police escorts that stop the traffic at intersections, and if the procession didn’t have an escort the person officiating at the funeral gave clear directions to the gravesite and asked everyone to observe the normal traffic rules. I guess the rules / customs vary from place to place.

I did the same thing with asking for a Mass to be said for my ex-wife’s husband’s mother, including paying a small fee to the church to have this done (that’s how I interpreted it, sorry if I’m being offensive to any Catholics… it’s just my lack of understanding the custom / practice.) It’s all about offering comfort to the bereaved survivors and showing dignity and humanity in a very difficult situation, and putting your personal feelings aside for a small moment.

18 E.N. Rich February 12, 2010 at 7:50 am

Thank you Brett and Kate for another meaningful post, one with even more significance as I head off to my first funeral in the new year. As someone who grew up as an Orthodox Jew, I was touched to see you note that we do not incorporate flowers into the service. I also would like to thank Julie for posting about Shiva, a setting that has special etiquette. I urge people to overcome the cultural barrier and show the mourner(s) that you support them and appreciate their loss. A warm remark my late grandmother would wish me when I told her that I had made a Shiva visit was “You should go to Simchas (Hebrew for happy occasions) next time.” The belief being that we must celebrate both the good and the bad times in people’s lives.

19 Bruce Williamson February 12, 2010 at 8:21 am

If you are a pallbearer, there ‘s one thing that you should know . You should always use the same handle on the casket. So if you are at the right hand foot then that is your position for the entire funeral. Most men do not know this. I usually tell them ahead of time not to be a know-it-all but to ensure that the younger group knows. Especially, if there’s a few younger pallbearers such as at my cousin’s funeral where there were several of his nephews as pallbearers.

20 Brian Burnham February 12, 2010 at 8:57 am

I think one of the most salient things in this article is the instruction to remember those in morning after the funeral, particularly on the aniversary of the deceased’s passing. A few weeks after my father passed, my mother commented to me that she hated how no one mentioned him anymore, “like he never even lived” and was very hurt by that. The first anniversary of the deceaseds passing is particularly difficult, and if you are close to the family sending flowers or a note of sympathy is also appropriate on this occasion as well.

21 Joseph B February 12, 2010 at 9:15 am

“When you become a man, you do things because they’re right and good…” Another pearl of wisdom from Brett McKay. All I can say, Brett, is that if more men considered their duty as you do yours then the world would be a much better place.

On a side note, as a Catholic, I can say that, while flowers are also nice, a mass card is greatly appreciated and, in my opinion, much more meaningful.

22 Kent February 12, 2010 at 9:22 am

Great article! One point regarding Catholic services is that during the wake typically there will be a kneeler at the casket. Also, some Catholics may have a Rosary prayer service during the wake. Locally I know that time is published with the funeral notice. If you are not participating in the Rosary, it would be polite and appropriate to remain silent. I’ve been to services where the guests walked in and began talking to the spouse and family of the deceased during the service. It is also not the time or place to question and confront those participating in the Rosary service about their faith.

Again, as always, great articles.

23 Ross February 12, 2010 at 9:52 am

Another tip: always bring a handkerchief (see http://artofmanliness.com/2009/03/26/every-man-should-carry-a-handkerchief/). Unless you’re really young or “that guy”, you probably won’t need it yourself, but you should be prepared to hand it over to some lady who will.

24 criolle February 12, 2010 at 9:57 am

I’ve always detested the concept of flowers for a funeral. They wilt. The bereaved is left with dead flowers at a time when they’re already depressed.

I prefer giving a live plant or candles. Yes, candles! A small basket of container candles can be a great solace. I’ve had quite a few friends come to me months later and comment on the therapeutic value of burning a candle either at home or while visiting the grave site.

Additionally, and I credit my EX-WIFE (!) with this idea, as soon as I hear of a death in the family, I try to send food. My ex would fry chicken or make potato salad. She and a few friends would prepare meals for a few days so that the bereaved would not have to concern themselves with that one issue while wrapped up with all the overwhelming details of planning a funeral. I have to give her that one.

25 Blake Helgoth February 12, 2010 at 10:00 am

Thank you for the article. This is great encouragement for men to take the time to attend funerals. I am a Catholic and have attended many funeral Masses and wakes. I would add that it is most appropriate to attend the Rosary and pray it for the deceased, usually the night before the funeral. If you are not familiar with the prayer, just ask and someone will get you a little pamphlet with the prayers written out. If your beliefs prevent you from praying the prayer, it is appropriate to use the time for your own personal prayers for the dead. As a Catholic, the most important thing is not condolence, but offering prayers for the dead. That is why it is so appropriate to have Masses said for the deceased in lieu of flowers. That is also why, in the Catholic world, it is considered one of the works of mercy to attend a funeral to pray for the dead. So, if you are Catholic and there is a funeral at your parish you should go if you can. However, if you do not know the deceased, do not stay for the meal or go to the grave. If you do know the decease, call the church regarding food, they usually have a schedule set to bring meals to the family and you can sign up for a day.

26 Scott February 12, 2010 at 10:01 am

This is another article that exemplifies what AOM is all about!

I’m in my (very) late 40′s, and my father taught me about pulling the car over out of respect when we saw a funeral procession. One of those things that I never forgot, and rarely see any more.

27 Jeff February 12, 2010 at 10:09 am

I REALLY question whether you should attend a funeral of a former girlfriend or former wife, ESPECIALLY if their last boyfriend or husband is going to be there. I don’t think the advise should be “you should almost always come”, rather you should almost never go unless you had some continuing relationship and/or had a at least friendly relationship with her, her family, AND (not or), if she was involved with someone else, her new boyfriend or husband. I think to do otherwise would be in extremely poor taste. Of course, if she was the mother/grandmother of some of your children then that may be a different story, but if that’s the reason you are there then remember such. Get in, get out, and stay out of the way.

28 Richard Miller February 12, 2010 at 10:11 am

A couple years ago I was back in my childhome home, the Missouri Ozarks for a funeral. The deceased was a simple Mennonite preacher.

As we drove along I was struck how the old ways are still in effect there. Almost every oncoming vehicle pulled off the side of the road and waited until we all passed. Many of the drivers got out and stood with doffed caps.

We passed an electric company bucket truck with 3 men working. They stopped work and doffed their hard hats. I will never forget the sight of a man, 30 feet in the air in a bucket, hard hat in hand, standing at attention, paying his respects to a man he never met.

Why in thunder am I not back home…

29 Eric February 12, 2010 at 10:13 am

Thanks for this! Your introductory paragraph was an eerily accurate description of my experiences at the last several funerals I’d attended.

I’m thoroughly enjoying the site!

30 Jeff S. February 12, 2010 at 10:14 am

Another great article Mr. McKay
Thank You,

31 Patrick McNally February 12, 2010 at 10:24 am

Excellent article, and a worthy follow up to your sympathy note piece. I am an undertaker and blogger, and am very impressed by the clarity, scope and thoughtfulness of this piece. Keep up the good work!

32 Michael February 12, 2010 at 10:27 am

“Being an atheist…having to go to a church can be an awkward thing for us.”

I don’t think anyone has a monopoly on feeling awkward at funerals. People of any faith will feel awkward at a funeral held in a venue or tradition they are not familiar with.

I went to a Lutheran funeral last week, but I am not Lutheran. I didn’t know which parts of the program I was supposed to read along with, and which parts not. I didn’t even know if it was appropriate for me to do so; was it just for Lutherans? I wasn’t familiar with the hymns sung. I didn’t know how to address the Pastor (Pastor? Father? Brother? His name?). In short, I felt awkward.

So, what’s a man to do? Man up and roll with it, of course. It’s a time to remember the dead, give support to the family and loved ones of the dead and set awkwardness and personal issues aside.

33 Terry February 12, 2010 at 10:44 am

Great article Brett!

One more thing to add from the Catholic perspective is that burying the dead is a corporal work of mercy. It is an act of great Christian charity.

Also for deceased Catholics there is usually a Rosary preceding the funeral the night before and sometimes followed by the continuation of the wake. At a Rosary the friends and family of the deceased gather together to pray the rosary for the repose of the soul of the deceased. The Rosary is usually conducted at the church or funeral home but can be held at the family home as well. It is a great consolation for family of the deceased to have friends and loved ones come to pray for the departed.

34 Another David February 12, 2010 at 10:56 am

Just another note about Jewish funerals (someone else has probably touched on this already), but you will most likely see people put stones on someone’s grave instead of flowers. This is a Jewish tradition. Like most of our traditions, it’s not really clear why we do it, but the most common explanation is that in the desert we didn’t have any other way to mark graves. Don’t feel obligated, though, because different people can take it differently – if they know that you know what you’re doing and why, then it’s respectful; others may feel that you’re just going with the flow without understanding the meaning and be put off.

35 Brett McKay February 12, 2010 at 11:22 am

Thanks for the comments, tips, and insights everyone, especially about different faith traditions. I’m learning a lot of good stuff from you.

36 The Innkeeper February 12, 2010 at 11:25 am

I went to a Lutheran funeral last week, but I am not Lutheran. I didn’t know which parts of the program I was supposed to read along with, and which parts not. I didn’t even know if it was appropriate for me to do so; was it just for Lutherans? I wasn’t familiar with the hymns sung. I didn’t know how to address the Pastor (Pastor? Father? Brother? His name?). In short, I felt awkward.

At Lutheran services, the ‘read along’ parts are usually marked (I hope), or you can try to go with the flow – there is never anything that is ‘specifically for Lutherans’. You can refer to the Pastor as “Pastor” or even “Reverend” – “Pastor” isn’t really a title as such, but a recognition of his leadership in your life. (e.g. “My pastor”) Most probably won’t object to using the term as a title, or using “Reverend”, or even “Father” – they’ve probably heard it all before.

One thing that is different in terms of rites, etc. – Lutheran, Catholic and Anglican rites are very similar in structure; both Lutherans and Anglicans uphold the traditions of the Western Church (if not the understanding of “Mass as Sacrifice”, such as Brett’s posting about having Masses spoken for the dead) – but Lutherans encourage singing and participation in the service where Catholics may not, for example.

(I was burned on this out of habit at a Catholic funeral a few months ago – after the Old Testament reading and a reading from Revelation, the organist began sounding the “Celtic Alleluia”, upon which we all stood up and I began singing along with the miked Cantor/leader. This got a stern look from one of the sisters (nuns) in the front row. I’m not Catholic, but the “shut up” stare is a universal gesture….)

37 The Innkeeper February 12, 2010 at 11:28 am

FWIW, there is also a really good article on the customs (and lack of) in modern funerals written by an Episcopal priest who compared the rather casual attitude of the officiant with the reverence and solemnity of the Marine Corps guard who served as pallbearers, riflemen and bugler who played ‘taps’ at the internment:

http://www.touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=19-09-020-v

38 CoffeeZombie February 12, 2010 at 11:39 am

@Daniel Believe me, an Evangelical Christian would probably cringe at hearing “he’s with God now” or “please pray for him.” The first because the Evangelical believes that, unless he was “saved”, he’s *not* with God, and the second because Evangelicals don’t believe you can pray for the dead.

Most Evangelicals I know, however, aside from the over-zealous ones, would probably not insist on pointing out that “we don’t believe that.” And the over-zealous ones probably don’t get invited to many funerals…or parties, for that matter.

As to the post, itself, I was a pallbearer for a friend who died in high school. As I recall, we carried the caskey; no rollers for us young, strong guys. I honestly don’t remember much of the funeral, itself, but I do rather distinctly remember carrying the casket. It was a great honor, and, for me, it was a good way to say goodbye.

39 Michael February 12, 2010 at 11:50 am

Going to more funerals as you get older? I guess if you only go to your friends funerals. I go to no more now than when I was a kid, there is always someone passing away in large families.

The author left out a few variations of the types of activities some traditions dictate such as families who celebrate death as a passing to a better place, some people go to a bar and toast the life of the dearly departed, some traditional jewish families do the long drawn out morning and fast. Some areas and religions have paid mourners who weep and wail based on what you can afford to pay them. In New Orleans there may be a parade when you walk one way in morning and return in celebration of life with dancing and singing.

I’m LDS (Mormon for those who use our nick name) in our beliefs we consider life only a short part of an eternal existence, we existed before we came here and will after this life and that earthly life is merely a short albeit important test that determines what the rest of eternity will be like.

Because of this belief many LDS funerals are not too somber, they are more like family reunions. Sure we wear our sunday best but it’s only the guys in dark suits, women wear normal dresses they might wear to church. There is often a viewing like many people do at the mortuary. But most often the funeral takes place at an LDS church where people will offer talks about the life of the person as well as someone talking about our belief that they are now in a better place joined with other friends and family who have passed and no longer experience pain, temptation, or strife. And lots of singing. We consider death only a temporary good bye, hence our ceremonies are less somber and a lot less crying and depression.

We often have grave side dedications too. A song, traditional honor guard if the person was in the military and a prayer over the grave. Then back to the church or someone’s home for what I again describe as a family reunion, people laugh and talk, kids run around and play, family who are spread out across distances pose for family pictures etc. It’s often a rather pleasant experience even if the death was the result of a tragedy.

My family has experienced a lot of unfortunate deaths and I think I’d been to at least a dozen funerals before I was out of high school. Attending funerals of my Jewish, Catholic, and Atheist friends or relatives has made me sad for them, their funerals are more mournful and filled with sorrow for loss. Although I respect them and what man would not be respectful, I feel for them because for many they see death as the end and no more even if they are religious. I gain great comfort in knowing when I die I will be with my wife, brothers, parents and grandparents who have gone before me. My kids will follow hopefully living long after I’m gone. To us death then is just another family reunion on the other side, someone pass the Jello and Casseroles please!

40 Tanner February 12, 2010 at 12:01 pm

Another great, well thought out article. I have limited funeral experience, but there’s one thing I’ve learned that hasn’t been mentioned yet. I’ve found it’s important to take the queues from the family. Some funerals and wakes will be somber times of morning and should be respected as such. On the other hand, I’ve attended funeral services full of hope for the after-life and laughter and tears for the great life of the deceased. My grandfather’s funeral was in the tone of the latter, and there were a few people who felt it was too light hearted or inappropriate. The way the family chooses to handle the loss of their loved one should take precedent over your own beliefs about their death. You can mourn in your own way on your own time; but if you’re with the family, you should follow their lead in how they handle their loss.

41 Mike D February 12, 2010 at 12:36 pm

As far as wearing the traditional dark suit goes, I have a bit of a different experience. I’ve spent my whole life living in the Appalachian mountains. I don’t mean to evoke stereotypes, but I was raised in small communities where most men were coal miners, (I come from four generations of them). As such, my dad and neither of my granfathers ever even owned a suit. After college, I accumulated a few suits for work. But, when my grandfather passed away, I was specifically asked NOT to wear a suit. My grandfather was buried in jeans and a polo shirt. To some, it may sound tacky, but my cousins and I who served as pall bearers wore nice jeans and matching polo shirts. Too each his own I guess.

42 John February 12, 2010 at 12:37 pm

Great article and comments. As a pastor, I do a lot of funerals, and at every one there is at least one “man” in jeans and tennis shoes. If that’s all you’ve got, fine, make sure they are clean and pressed. However most guys at least own a pair of khakis and a nice shirt.

As for feeling awkward, that goes with the territory. Our words and presence can at best offer a slight comfort to people overwhelmed with grief and loss. Accept that and offer what you can.

It might be a good idea to ask around about local customs regarding funerals and processions. In one of the smaller towns I served, there was an ordinance forbidding cars to pass a funeral procession. I saw our police escort leave the procession and ticket an impatient driver on more than one occasion.

Great articles. Keep it up!

43 Chris Kavanaugh February 12, 2010 at 1:31 pm

“When in Rome, do as the romans do.” A funeral is not the place or time to feel uncomfortable, prosyletize one’s religion.lifestyle or disdain for others. It seems at every wedding there is a single woman with her decollatage on a serving platter in jealousy of the bride. The funeral is for the deceased and mourners. If you are niether do not attend. I was assisting my priest at a Eastern Orthodox funeral. A Roman Catholic sister, friend of the deceased decided she was in charge, even complaining the alter was hidden. I finally leaned over and whispered ” Do thy praying quietly, and in private.”
A minor point of dress for ‘high church’ members: RC, orthodox, coptic and Anglican. It is still custom among some during the Easter season to substitute a purple tie for black, celebrating both the resurection of Christ and hoped for the deceased.
Sad as they are, funerals are a time to LEARN. I’ve attended funerals for Orthodox Jews, Hindus, Buddhists and many others. In today’s plural society a real man, a gentleman never passes up even this sad occasion to become more rennaisance in world view.

44 Green February 12, 2010 at 2:08 pm

I remember growing up in a small southern town in Georgia, we used to get out of our cars and stand by the side of the road as the funeral procession went by. The sad thing is, I still live in that town and it is a forgotten tradition.

45 CB February 12, 2010 at 2:24 pm

Before I read comment #44, I thought the pulling over for a procession was more prevalent in the southern states. Apparently, it’s not as prevalent as I thought. I know I’ve passed a funeral procession before without realizing it until I got to the front and saw the herse. That was awkward for me.
Does anyone know the ettiquette for pulling over? Obviously, on a two lane road you pull over. What about on a divided highway? Or the interstate? On both of those there’s generally a shoulder so pulling over can be accomplished safely. But on the interstate, you could probably be past the procession by the time you realize it is a procession and pull to the side of the road. I’ve always been confused on this issue. Maybe it’d be better to err on the side of respect (after safety, of course) rather than on my own convenience.

46 Luke February 12, 2010 at 2:45 pm

First we must realize where this procession is going. They will be going from church to cemetery, or from funeral home to cemetery. While it is unlikely that the procession will take something like an interstate it may happen. My advice, do what you would with an ambulance when the traffic is exceptionally thick.

47 Michael February 12, 2010 at 2:54 pm

One last thought if I may my family has taken the tradition of asking people not to send flowers at all though many still do that. Instead we ask that people make a in-kind donation in the name of the person who died, to whatever charity they prefer. Sometimes a specific charity might be named.

Some funerals I have gone to have asked for cash gifts if the death was a breadwinner or parent of young children left behind to support. I’ve been to another funeral where a hat was passed for a collection for the family.

If you do bring in food think ahead and send a disposable dish. Otherwise with all the business of dealing with a death you don’t want to burden the family with dishes to wash and figure out who to return them too.

If your an adult male in the family you might also be asked to step up and help manage the family finances or help with pre funeral and post funeral arrangements like taxes, and getting accounts and property names changed etc. I find this to be a very manly thing to be asked. people having the confidence in you to hold it together and think clearly enough to manage a death which can be very expensive to orchestrate and many people make poor choices about financial decisions after a death too. Offering to help a family who has lost a head of house hold to get organized afterwards may be needed.

I am from Nevada, here at least if you have a police escort you paid for it, and many of the old timers still pull over and others with good manners, occasionally you’ll still see people get out and respectfully stand at the passing procession.

48 Daniel February 12, 2010 at 3:03 pm

I have to say, the part of this post that jumped out and grabbed me wasn’t the topic, but this bit:

“But fun is the yardstick that boys use to make decisions. When you become a man, you do things because they’re right and good, and because your desire to serve others supersedes your own comfort.”

49 Chris Kavanaugh February 12, 2010 at 3:14 pm

One more small point. I attended my uncle’s funeral. He had been cremated, the service a unfamiliar ‘non religious’ affair. Fine with me, it was his wish. But in between the guitar playing and read poems the director walked up without comment and presented a prefolded and clear packaged american flag to the widow. I immediately stood at attention AND SALUTED. I’m getting comments later
from assorted people, mostley my estranged hippie brother who became instant soup authorities on military courtesies. I was the only veteran in attendance. One could split hairs on precise decorum, but it needed doing, and his widow and the funeral director were greatfull SOMEBODY acknowledged the moment.

50 Bert February 12, 2010 at 9:07 pm

Like Mike D, not everyone wants a black funeral. I remember being a pall bearer at my grandfather’s funeral. He loved horses and the old west. By profession he ran a shoe repair. As a result, all those attending the casket were dressed in western wear, right down to the boots. While the family certainly could have insisted on formal dress, it would have been disrespectful to the man he was.

I still have the boots I wore that day. They are a precious reminder of a man I still love, as they were some of the ones that he repaired prior to his passing. A pair of brown engineer boots that are a tad on the large side for me.

51 Brad February 12, 2010 at 9:52 pm

Great stuff here guys. Much of it I already knew. I supervise people, and have always made a point of attending funerals or rosaries for folks who are immediately related to my employees.

I am increasingly finding that I supervise people who are Vietnamese or Indian (south asian). What should I expect for these groups?

52 Chris Kavanaugh February 12, 2010 at 10:31 pm

Vietnamese are predominantly Roman Catholic or Mahayana Buddhist. But be carefull! There are several ethnic minorities such as the Meo and Hmong. And in India you have the Hindu majority but small communities of sikhes,jains and zoroastrians, moslems who ARE NOT pakistanis but politely also called Indians. and even jews and christians. Vietnamese funeral rites have been simplified in recent years. As a non family member you at most would attend and giving a gift to any attending monks in both buddhist and Hindu rites brings merit to the deceased. Vietnamese bury their dead vs the normal Hindu and buddhist practise of cremation.
Changing and adapting cultural habits in new countries make it wise simply to ask the families.

53 Daniel February 12, 2010 at 11:12 pm

@Mike,

Thank you for your excellent idea about the comment of being “at peace”. I wouldn’t have thought to use that expression. Just to clarify regarding the religious/non-religious thing, I just wanted to illustrate that sometimes we non-religious types aren’t aware of social expectations at these events, and that religious people might not realise there are non-religious people with them. I think someone else mentioned not going to the church component of the funeral, which I think is an excellent idea, although I’m sure the religious nature of the event would continue at the graveside/crematorium, but I guess it’s a start.

I never meant to appear that I would want to jump on my non-belief “bandwagon”… I’d have the utmost concern for the feelings of those who are grieving, but I just hoped to illustrate that people like me might be unsure how to act in this kind of environment.

Thanks again for your kind comment.

54 cooj February 13, 2010 at 3:41 am

Just a word about pallbearers. Many of the elderly have lost all or most of their peers and even their children are too old to carry a casket, so I’ve been to several funerals where the grandchildren are asked to be pallbearers, young women and men who are cousins, and are greateful to have this time together to honor their grandparent.
Most funeral directors will instruct them on the proper procedures and the distribution of the “man” power is important to make sure the coffin is fairly level and secure. But, as someone said, there isn’t that much carrying of the coffin these days. Another person’s comments reminded me of an old farmer’s funeral. His grandsons, great grandsons and even one little great great grandson all wore jeans and white dress shirts. The ones who didn’t actually carry the casket followed along and sat with their fathers during the service. The idea is to show respect and to honor the deceased and the family. What a sight it was to see several rows of descendants soberly attending to this last task for their pawpaw. Anyone, regardless of personal beliefs can say, “I’m sorry for your loss.” without compromising their own integrity. Also, I think if we stop and think about the modern family, we’d realize that not even all of the family members agree or believe the same thing about the afterlife, but they usually go along with what the deceased would have wanted. Sometimes there is a registry that asks for personal stories or memories. If this is not the time for you, perhaps a card or letter would be appropriate. Take a moment, reflect on your relationship with the deceased and share that moment in a short paragraph. Those lonely days ahead will be lightened by your thoughtfulness especially for the elderly spouse who will be so lost without there mate. So many times the bereaved are in shock, worn down from caregiving or just plain exhausted. The reality sets in later when all the formality has passed and they are dealing with the estate issues and feeling very alone. One last thing, it should go without saying, but if the service is one where different people are able to say a few words to the gathering, stick to the person who has passed and their life, don’t start trying to convert people to your beliefs.

55 Tom Anderson February 13, 2010 at 4:11 am

Excellent article. Death is something rarely talked about in our society. Being one of the few things we can be sure of happening to us I think it should be discussed more openly.

I find it interesting the different ways that cultures express their grief, and come to terms with loss. When I was 6 one of my friends died of meningitis, people would walk across the street so they didn’t have to speak to his mother. What an awful thing to do! I find that whenever I have lost people my friends either confront the situation, or avoid all mention of it, we should all be able to talk about what has happened.

My Grandfather passed away a month ago, and I delivered the eulogy at the funeral. It was the proudest moment of my life to date.

I have set up a small blog for family that couldn’t make it so they can see what is said. Anyone interested in writing a eulogy is welcome to view.

56 FichenDich February 13, 2010 at 6:17 am

Fascinatingly enough, at age 47, I have never attended either a funeral or a wedding.

57 Blake Helgoth February 13, 2010 at 11:35 am

On very important thing I forgot to mention in my post: When at a Catholic funeral please do not try to console the family by saying, at least he is in a better place (unless they are a baptized child younger than age 7). Despite the preaching and stories told at most funerals, Catholics do not believe that people go straight to heaven when they die. Hopefully, the deceased made it to purgatory, and in that case they are in need of much prayer. No mater what, what the deceased need are prayers. Declairing them a saint right of the bat menas that there is no need to pray for them. Some Catholics may even be offended at this because it cheapens the lives of the true saints to whom they have a strong devotion.

58 Dale Hoffman February 14, 2010 at 12:55 pm

Excellent publication and articles! A family member recently asked me, if they should come to my Brothers funeral, as it is a long trip, New Orleans to New York. My Brother is alive and doing well, currently, so, i was miffed at the question and not pleased with the relative for asking. I’m sending this article to them.

Many Thanks, Dale Hoffman

59 Josh Calkin February 14, 2010 at 4:56 pm

Some Pall Bearers have more than carrying to do.

Consider a New Orleans Jazz Funeral where the tradition is to rock the casket so the deceased can dance with his friends and family one last time.

The following video is of the funeral of a deceased jazz Sousaphonist, Kerwin James. It’s an INCREDIBLE funeral, definitely NOT the mournful affair we non-N’awliners are accustomed to.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=krJW2qMVv4M

60 Too Tall February 14, 2010 at 7:24 pm

Brett -

Consider updating the article to remove the sentence about ignoring traffic lights and stop signs in a funeral procession. That is not allowed in some states in the US without police control of the intersections.

Consider this: Most parts of the country require that emergency vehicles stop and establish control of an intersection before proceeding through a red light, so why would it be safe to blow through a red light with just your blinkers?

61 G. Alphonse Menard February 14, 2010 at 9:51 pm

Quick question; does anyone know how to deal with people who try to cut in to a funeral procession? While attending a funeral a few weeks back I was in the middle of the procession (with funeral flags, flashing lights, and probably 50 other cars) and some guy tried to cut me off at an intersection. He actually flipped me off because I stayed in line and wouldn’t let him in. Was I wrong? Should I have let him break up the procession?

62 DaGama February 15, 2010 at 1:30 pm

Alphonse: Anyone who would try to ‘break into ‘ a funeral procession is a dork.
There was no reason for you to ‘let him in’ he wouldn’t have gotten to his
destination any faster since the procession doesn’t do faster than 25 mph.
I have attended only 2 funerals in the past 10 years, most people are now
being cremated and scattered, its rare there is even a memorial service.
It’s a sad commentary on “modern times”.

63 bt February 15, 2010 at 4:56 pm

Alphonse,

While the person may have just been impolite, it is also possible they just made an inadvertent, mindless mistake. I was once on the way home and had to catch a ferry boat. I hadn’t take a ferry since I was little, and made a left hand turn into the ferry line. I got chewed out by the highway patrolman! But it was not an action I’d done with any real greed or malice intended! It was done unthinkingly. People don’t always act with the most intelligence…even myself.

I’ve enjoyed this article. Does the family of the deceased generally sit on one side of the church or the other, or does it matter?

I was an altar boy as a kid and was always worried I wouldn’t be able to get the incense lit!

Mass cards do make a nice offering for the deceased if one is Catholic.

Also, is it my imaginination or do people just not weep at funerals like they used to? It seems when I was little, there was much crying and weeping, but now there is a much relaxed, often lackadaisical attitude.

64 Chad February 16, 2010 at 12:24 am

My dear Friends,

I am 25 years of age and I have been to hundreds of funerals only because I have work and ran a cemetery in a small town called Lockport, which is in Louisiana. Nothing prepares you for a time of losing your closes love.

I lost my daughter in May 2009. She was two mths old. The doctors told my wife and I that she was going to died and their was nothing that they are we can do. Everyday we seen her was a blessing and a gift. How she smiled and we smile back. How she would puff up her little checks. I always wanting to lay on daddy’s stomach because that was how she was most comfortable. Aubrie died of a genetic disorder in her genes. It was called Zellwegers.

When she passed away our world stopped. Even knowing what the doctor said, Furtively, I had purchased a place of burial in the cemetery of which I work. The day I buried my child was the hardest day of my life.

I think that this topic is a great one and I as a sextant (cemetery keeper) have learned something from this topic. Working with somebody else is a lot easier as a job than being on their side of the table and feeling the full loss.

65 AcmeNews February 18, 2010 at 8:51 pm

Thanks for the good article and excellent thread of comments. Funerals are always hard and knowing how to respect customs can be difficult. Nobody wants to offend at a funeral, so brushing up on etiquette is always a good thing.

Many nonCatholics go to Communion at a Catholic funeral Mass with the idea they they are showing fellowship with the other attendees. Indeed, this is often welcome in Protestant churches. However, this is not permitted in the Catholic Church and is considered more of an insult than compliment or expression of fellowship. Unfortunately it is a common occurrence.

If you attend a Catholic funeral Mass but are not Catholic you should not present yourself for Communion. This is not intended to shun nonCatholics. Rather, it is to show respect for the Catholic teaching that only Catholics who are free of mortal sin should present themselves for Communion (which, incidentally, excludes many Catholic attendees). Communion is a sacrament and a an overt expression of full commitment to the teachings of the Catholic Church, including the belief that the Eucharist is the Real Presence of Christ, the actual blood and body.

It is best to sit quietly and pray while the Catholics take Communion. Many people say they feel awkward about being the “odd man out,” but any true Catholic will not judge you for not receiving Communion. If anything, they will have increased admiration and appreciation.

66 Anon February 24, 2010 at 10:05 am

“.fun is the yardstick that boys use to make decisions. When you become a man, you do things because they’re right and good, and because your desire to serve others supersedes your own comfort.”

Wow.

67 Lee February 24, 2010 at 1:52 pm

Like someone mentioned before, I like sending a plant rather than flowers. My preference is a peace lilly since they are easy to find and easy to care for.

68 Kyle March 1, 2010 at 9:51 am

@Daniel “February 12, 2010 at 4:57 am”

Simply put, you are a cad! The funeral isn’t about you or your personal soap box.

If you’re too self absorbed to be polite, you aren’t man enough to attend a funeral.

69 Jake M March 6, 2010 at 1:19 am

Funeral processions SHOULD have local police escort, so that any interlopers can be slapped down by the long arm of the law.

When my grandma died a month ago, I learned that as the last cars in our procession were pulling up to the church, someone went around the police car that was blocking off the street, presumably to pull off onto the side street just ahead of the cop car. Well, this particular police car happened to be manned by none other than local Chief of Police, who is my uncle’s brother-in-law and actually attended the wake. He promptly dispensed justice (or at least a stern talking to) to the inconsiderate lout of a citizen. I was highly amused when told this at the lunch in the church basement.

Speaking of lunch, the free eats (if one of the bereaved) are the only pleasant thing to look forward to in the whole affair. Now I may be a “cad” in the local vernacular for believing this, but I don’t really care, I ate myself stupid after the funeral because a.) I was hungry and b.) comfort food is comforting. A case of beer would been awesome, but frowned upon inside a church (pity that Puritanistic ethics are invading my beloved Catholicism)

As a pallbearer, I must say I disliked rolling the casket on the cart up to the front with both funeral directors hanging on. All six of us cousins, adult men weighing between 210 an 350+ could have handled it easily plus it would have looked better. I agreed with my brother that carrying the casket “Irish style” (resting on the shoulders) would have been cool, but risky. And also dumb since we’re not Irish.

The debate on religion and the seeming desire of the atheist to inflict himself on everyone else amuse me. Haven’t humans been having funeral-esque ceremonies since the dawn of time, before religion even took hold? Aren’t grief and bereavement universal? Isn’t a funeral a funeral?

70 John March 17, 2010 at 12:06 am

Good post, I do not know too much about funerals although I have been to many more of them than weddings. I’ve been a pallbearer twice and considering I’m now 20 I would like to honor those who go before me with the utmost respect.

71 Shaun March 25, 2010 at 4:30 pm

@Jake M

Regarding your comment on athiests, It isn’t about not wanting to have ceremony nor about forcing our way of thinking on others, its about the overt need for god or the like to be referenced that causes us to be uncomfortable and we don’t know how to respond to it, I personally take no comfort in the “he’s at peace, with god” etc that gets said during funerals.

I much prefer a remeberance ceremony rather than a religious funeral/cremation as it doesn’t shut those out who don’t hold the same beliefs and can allow people a moment of silence to either sit in quiet contemplation or pray if they choose.

72 Liz March 28, 2010 at 11:25 pm

So, I’m definitely not a guy, but I find myself interested in this blog anyway.

I just wanted to comment that being a pallbearer is one of those things that men do that I find intriguing. It seems, from the outside, to be an especially masculine (not in a sexual way, but just in a way of being that I can’t quite put my finger on) thing to do — a ritual in life that belongs to men. It’s an act for which I have a great deal of respect and admiration.

73 Cate March 29, 2010 at 10:44 pm

Question concerning military funerals, as I attended one recently for a young Marine:
Should I stand when the coffin is removed from the hearse by the military escorts and carried to the stand? I did, followed by about a dozen others, while the other 100+ did not. The reasoning in my head: the flag, while on the coffin, is in movement. And as a salute to the Marine and the flag, I had my hand over my heart.
When the flag is being removed and then folded, I stood with my hand over my heart again – respecting the flag and the Marine. If I recall, the 21 gun salute and Taps were played during this time too. If Taps was played separately, does one stand?
I participate with many veterans and active military groups but have not been to many/any full military honors funerals. Have always understood that while the flag is in motion (parades, color guards, etc.) one should salute the flag with the hand/heart or military hand salute if a veteran or active military.
Wishing to care and then to share………’cause it’s not being taught like it used to be.

74 Cate March 29, 2010 at 11:04 pm

Jake M: I would think that one doesn’t have to be Irish to carry on the shoulder fashion. I think it’s pretty cool too. And if it were me, I think it brings me closer to the deceased and more of a tribute rather than “a burden”.
Others: I’m a big time genealogy (family roots) buff and am honored to see the graves of my ancestors. Even though I’m not Jewish, I like to place a stone on the tombstone that I visit and probably photograph – to me it symbolizes that the person has been remembered by at least one person. It allows me to wonder what their life was like and how they died.
I don’t “cotton” to any one religion, or I should say any religion. So if I’m attending anything that gets religious – prayers, songs, etc. I just remain quiet out of respect for those around me. I’ll stand when they stand, sit when they sit, but I don’t drop my head or close my eyes and still remain visually respectful for those who do. (Others feel comfort while I think it’s a waste of time. :/ ) Too many arguments and wars start from someone getting pi.sed over some kind of religious slight or difference in belief. Live and let live.

75 Paul April 19, 2010 at 3:44 am

I am just about to attend the funeral of a good friend’s family member. The family is Catholic – who and how do I ask for a Mass Card, and does the church matter?

76 Sue April 19, 2010 at 6:21 pm

I stumbled upon this site while searching for advice about a man in my life who didn’t attend my mother’s funeral with me last week. (He didn’t visit with me in the hospital in the days before she passed on, either.) He said he’d go, even a few hours before the service, but when it came down to it, he had a list of excuses why he missed it. I am angry and disappointed and was searching for advice/stories how others have felt about this dilemma. I don’t know if this is a forgiveable act or not. We’ve been together for 9 years, live together, and I’m basically supporting him while he’s been out of work for a year (not the first time). He expressed sympathy for me and hugged me and said he’s sorry. But somehow this doesn’t seem like a thing someone would do if he cared about me. I was hoping to find out it was somewhat common/normal and I was out in the woods with my grieving feelings, but your words here spoke volumes. I’m still torn on what to do, but I wanted to give appreciation for a wonderful blog/article entry. The emphasis on respect and compassion and duty are evident in your primer and I believe it rings so true.

p.s. the email address is legitimate. :)

77 Janice Underwood June 2, 2010 at 8:15 am

Who is expected to attend when the obituary states that there will be a private internment ?

78 steve December 2, 2012 at 10:49 am

Interesting article. What about a former (25 years former) fathers funeral? Are flowers 1. called for 2. appropriate 3. sufficient?

79 Chris Haakenson July 2, 2013 at 5:18 pm

Going to a funeral tomorrow for a dear female friend of mine’s mother.

My question, what type of flower’s would be appropriate for both of them?

80 Gilbert P. December 3, 2013 at 7:42 am

I remember back in 5th or 6th grade (I’m 21 now), we were on our way back from recess at a park and a procession passed by. Our teacher instructed us to put our hands on our hearts and bow our heads. Since I had been my mothers Pallbearer years ago, I understood why and did so with respect. Last month, I was my fathers Pallbearer after nursing him for 6 years.

81 Thomas December 4, 2013 at 8:42 pm

I am 19 and I have been to two funerals and I’m going to my third tomorrow and this article is very accurate . A longtime friend of my parents and me lost his battle with pancreatic and lung cancer on November 30th 2013 , his name was Ross Wagner . I knew Ross my entire life and man this funeral is gonna suck . Good thing is I have a lot of great memories of him .

82 DT February 11, 2014 at 9:42 am

Having lost my brother at 25 a year and a half ago, I can attest to the accuracy of these points. I would place most emphasis, however, on the final point. If you were close with, in any way, those who lost, check up on them. The grieving process never ends, and it is nice to take a load off and talk from time to time (even for men).

83 Eric February 11, 2014 at 5:31 pm

Great Article, As A Pastor i see that most people (young and old) have no idea how to conduct oneself during or after a funeral. I would suggest one more thing – be careful what you say. Many times it better not to say anything, your presence is often far more important then any words. Usually we are compelled to say something because we are uneasy with death and morning. Well Written Brett.

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