Funeral Etiquette: What to Do

Jan 11, 12 Funeral Etiquette: What to Do

Whether your loved one has just passed away or you will be attending the funeral of a family friend, sometimes it is difficult to know just what exactly is supposed to happen at a funeral. Like many ritualistic traditions, funerals have evolved over the years. In addition, there are differences among funerals of various religions, as well as within denominations of the same religion. Some funeral practices are standard with some funeral homes but not with others. There are, however, some basic guidelines of what to expect when planning for or attending a funeral.

In former days, it was customary within the Christian tradition for wakes to be held in homes prior to the funeral of the deceased. Though home wakes are no longer the norm, many funeral homes have set times for visitation and viewing the body of the deceased. Often a particular period of visitation is set aside for the family to receive visitors. Sometimes, visitors are unsure of what to say to bereaved family members during the visitation. There is no set script for this encounter, but it is appropriate to express feelings of sympathy, sorrow, or concern for the family of the deceased. If you do not know any of the family members personally, there is no need for extended conversation. Simply offering sorrow for their loss is acceptable.

Among certain denominations and ethnic groups in the St. Louis area, it is also common for a gathering to be held after the funeral. Homes or churches are the most frequent location for this event and either friends or fellow church members will usually provide refreshments so that the family does not have to be troubled. Those in attendance will share memories of the deceased and these gatherings are a wonderful time to share in both the happy memories and the grief of the family. If attending such a gathering, it is customary to bring a dish to share or to contribute financially to help offset costs.

Though Christian wakes are no longer held in homes, the Jewish custom of sitting Shiva is held in the homes of mourners. Shiva is a seven-day period of mourning following the funeral in which family members of the deceased receive friends and community members who bring prayers, condolences, food, and support. Non-Jewish friends are welcome during this time of mourning. However, the process of grieving is a serious part of sitting Shiva, so this is not a time for jocular stories or jovial sharing. Also, flowers are not a part of Jewish custom at a funeral or mourning. It is more appropriate to make a donation to a charity in memory of the deceased.

Questions about what to expect or how to behave at a funeral gathering are common. Any of the funeral homes in St. Louis or the surrounding areas would be happy to acquaint you with funeral traditions and practices associated with your denomination or cultural heritage.

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