Oftentimes, a funeral announcement leaves us with a handful of unanswered questions just based on etiquette alone. Do I attend? How long do I stay? What do I say? Does it really matter if I show up? It can be overwhelming, especially when we don't have a very close relationship with the deceased or the family.
Throughout the course of my career and having attended funerals for my own loved ones, I've learned that no experience is the same. And it goes without saying that the answers to the questions are never one-size-fits-all.
However, there are some general guidelines or etiquette you can follow when planning to attend a funeral.
Do make the effort
My best advice is to trust your instinct on whether or not to attend the funeral, depending on your closeness with the deceased and the family. Know that there is the option to go to just the visitation or the ceremony -- it's generally not mandatory to do both.
I'm a strong believer in face-to-face communication. Making the effort to be there in person is a sincere gesture. If the funeral is located near where you live, there's more reason to make an effort to go.
Don't dress for a party
Friends and family have asked me many times over the years, what should I wear to a funeral? It's not news that wearing black or dark colours is the safe, appropriate and expected choice. My advice is to always keep patterns less busy and bright than you would normally, and if you do want to steer away from black, still try to keep colour tones neutral.
With all that being said, requested attire may also be a reflection of the deceased's sense of style. I've seen people wear colourful scarves with outfits, or wear sweaters that hold special significance. Or upon direction from a family, wear a favourite sports team's jersey. But you should always follow the family's lead.
Do be mindful of your words
It is important to be inclusive and considerate of others' feelings surrounding death and loss. There can be many supportive and loving people within what is known as the family circle. It is important to consider others feelings and how their presence might be of comfort during times of grief.
When expressing your sympathy to the bereaved, keep it simple and feel free to talk about a favourite memory you've shared with the deceased. A nice treasure for a family is to hear all sorts of these happy memories and stories.
Don't be a burden, offer to help
If you're close to the grieving family, make sure to extend a helping hand either before, during or after the service. Generally in times of grief all tasks, no matter the size, carry some form of burden. Offering to help maybe more appreciated than you know!
Beyond offering to help with tasks, you can also make sure that family and loved ones who have travelled from out of town have everything they need - even as simple as directions to a hotel or a family home.
Do follow the rules of the road
If you know there's a funeral procession taking place, have no fear or worry. There will likely be an attendant to help guide you from start to finish.
There are a few things to keep in mind, like driving will be slower than usual and you will need to keep close to the vehicle in front of you to prevent other vehicles from cutting in. But you still are required to follow the rules of the road - this isn't an opportunity to run red lights or ignore stop signs. Once you arrive at the cemetery, someone will be there to direct you on where to park and proceed to the funeral service.
Don't text, tweet or take a selfie
Furthermore, if you can, turn your phone off. As we all know by now, phones are easy distractions to keep us away from what's going on around us, especially while at a funeral. Use the short time you have at a visitation or ceremony to reconnect with people you haven't seen in a while, and save the phone use for later as a way to make plans to catch up again - under different circumstances.
Most Canadians aren't comfortable with selfies or social media during a service. A recent survey found that only five per cent of Canadians find taking selfies acceptable and only seven per cent would feel comfortable accessing social media on their phone during a funeral.
Do take the high road
Believe it or not, I encounter times when people cannot set their differences aside and unabashedly argue with each other during a funeral - whether for planning and arranging or day-of. Not only is a disagreement stressful for the people partaking in it, it's likely more uncomfortable for the other guests. Generally most people see funerals as a sign of respect for the person who has passed and they participate and get through the day together.
Although attending a funeral is a way of saying goodbye to someone you care about it's also a way of making a reconnection or starting a new friendship - both examples of how the circle of life is present in our world.
For me, funerals are about the people that surround us in life coming together. If and when you find yourself thinking about attending a funeral, don't underestimate yourself or undervalue the relationship you have with the deceased. Even little connection has big impact and your presence is important.
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