June 19, 2015

Proper Funeral Etiquette For The Ethically Challenged

Two days ago I watch the news to learn that nine church-going Christians are gunned down in cold-blood at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Carolina by a unrepentant lunatic. 

Subsequently, today while leaving work I come upon a funeral procession in Pennsylvania, so I pulled over and said a silent prayer for the surviving family. As I pray I see what appears to be a 20-ish year old kid pull out of the green light that I am sitting at and literally cut the procession in half by driving into it and then proceeds to tailgate one of the mourners. If there was ever a quadruple face-palm moment for all of humanity, that was it. I could only shake my head in utter disbelief.

I'm not sure when or where...but something went seriously wrong over the last twenty or thirty years. In a generation of people that practically demand respect…they are hard-pressed to give any in return. People, mostly parents totally dropped the ball when it comes to proper funeral and funeral procession etiquette. We have raised a generation or two of disrespectful dimwits. The fact that I need to write this is frankly, quite sad. It is a sign of the times I suppose-and the times are evil.

The young are the guiltiest in my first-hand observations. This does not excuse the older generation's airheadedness and failure to educate the youth which I have also bore witness to. I have to assume that these people simply don't know any better because no one taught them. Hence my finger-point to the parents because part of learning respect for others is a responsibility of the parents to teach their children. My parents taught me to respect the dead and have a little commonsense. Apparently there is not a surplus of either of these to go around in society, there is a shortage of them.

So without further ado I present proper funeral etiquette for those too callous or ignorant to know any better.

When you go to a funeral don’t dress like you’re going clubbing or down to the beach. No, jeans and sneakers are not proper attire (I don’t care if they’re new). Someone just lost a love one. Sloppy attire shows a complete indifference about people’s loss. The person in the casket won’t care but the one’s left behind will see you for the lunkhead that you are. They'll see you as being so obnoxious that you couldn’t even put on a black dress shirt, dark blouse or black dress.

Oh, that’s the next thing. Wear dark clothes unless the family requests otherwise. I don't care what the current cultural trend for being casual is. People are in mourning. Don’t wear clothes that will make people believe the circus just rolled into town. Save the cheery colors for a wedding or baptism (hint). Don’t dress like you just came from work either. Pantsuits scream, “I gotta to get back to work!” Conversely, uniforms are only appropriate for the military or civil service like police, firepeople and even EMTs. It is expected that one would wear those uniforms in a display of dignity at a funeral. Keep the McDonald’s or Jack’s Plumbing shirt at home. Also, no sandals, low cut shirts or miniskirts. Save the cleavage and your 15 inch guns for the bar. When in doubt think: "Respectful" not "pick-up joint".

Be on time and sign the guestbook. The family will know whom to thank for the respectful gesture. Unless you’re part of the immediate family (sons, daughters, parents) do not sit in the first two rows even if it seems like you are alienating the bereaved. Front rows are for immediate family.

Don’t start awkward conversations. If you do start a conversation, keep it short. Funerals are not the time or the place of a verbal dissertation. Hug people. Tell them you love them. Tell them you’ll be there for them. Don’t talk about how your kids are driving you batty or unrelated things in the news. Remember, there is a line behind you of other people there for the same reason you are. It is actually better to remain silent after giving your condolences rather than getting "chatty". Be there to listen but don’t do a lot of talking. 

Depending on the type of person and family you are paying your respects to you can of course quote Scripture. Frankly, I would just let the pastor do it from a lectern. Please realize these people don’t really want verbal platitudes at this time. They just lost someone they cared deeply for and they have probably heard Romans 8:28-30, Jeremiah 29:11 and 1 Thessalonians 4 nearly a hundred times since the passing of their loved one. These people don’t necessarily need a sermon. They need love and mercy in the form of a hug and a shoulder to cry on. Save the sermon for the pastor/minister, he's better at it and less inclined to stick his foot in his mouth.

Unless you have a hellion for a child, I do recommend children being brought to a funeral after the age of about 5 or 6. Children need to realize that death is an inevitable and natural part of life (I personally believe they removed death as a part of people's lives when they moved the graveyards away from the churches). If your child is a beast you might be well advised to get a babysitter for a few hours. If you are bringing a young child please understand that some might be less than tolerant of a 6 year old getting restless and crawling under chairs and hanging on inappropriate people.

Be aware that there might be a processional/recessional which is the casket being rolled in and then rolled out as part of the service. Adapt accordingly. Again, think "respectful" not, "How do I get out of here without banging into the casket?". Don’t try to get into the funeral or get out of it during those formalities....that would be just plain ignorant.

By all means, if it is an open casket, view the body even if it makes you uncomfortable. Someone in the family felt it was important enough for a funeral director to cosmetically prepare the body in this manner. Reciprocate with respect by walking up to the deceased and saying a prayer or meditating on their life. The immediate family might even join you.

We must remember that a funeral is a ceremony of value for those who mourn. It provides an opportunity for the survivors and others who share in the loss to express their love, respect, grief and appreciation for a life that has been lived. It provides a form of closure. It allows families to openly and realistically face the crisis a death presents. Through the funeral the bereaved take that first step toward adjustment to their loss. You who attend are part of that process and the bereaved will remember you for it. I know I did at my father’s funeral. I remember nearly everyone who showed up and I am appreciative of that fact.

As for the automotive procession (sometimes a horse and caisson) the following commonsense etiquette applies. Again, I am appalled that I even need to type this but based on today’s events, apparently I do.

A line (procession) of cars behind a Hearse, that have flags on their hood, high beams on and flashing 4-way indicators, means there is a family only minutes away from saying final goodbyes and putting a person they love six feet into the clay. Out of respect, pull over to the shoulder and stop even in the oncoming lane. Yes, you heard me correctly. Pull over even in the oncoming lane. No I don’t care if it's a two-lane highway. Do the right thing. If you cannot safely come to a stop at least slow down and give them a wide berth until the procession has passed. 

When a procession of cars behind a hearse enters an intersection whether it is controlled by police or not, the cars in the procession have the right of way until they are all through regardless of a changing color of the light. A decent respectful person is not to cut in or through the procession. Only a disrespectful mindless dolt does that. Wherever you’re going and whatever you have to do can wait a few more minutes. How would you feel if someone did this to a person you loved?

If on foot or walking, look in the general direction of the procession but don’t gawk or ogle the grievers. I've stared at the ground in the direction of the deceased. It’s appropriate for pedestrians to stop walking and face the hearse as the family goes by. If you are wearing a hat remove it until the procession has gone by. 

If you are at the grave site. Keep your mouth shut unless you are asked to speak. Silence is golden here. Final prays and/or benedictions are usually made at this time. Occasionally a personal remembrance. Families are saying goodbye at this point. Unless you are family, you shouldn’t really be saying anything. Just be there and ready to catch people when or if they fall.

Hope this helped. I’m sure I forgot stuff but I was so perturbed by the ignorance of the kid in Boyertown today I need to get these words to paper before I lost my mind in a fit of frustration due to people's idiocy. Truth is, if you are reading this, you are probably not the person that needed to read it anyway. It’s the knucklehead that cut-off the procession today in Boyertown that needs to read this. 

If you haven't talked to your kids or grand-kids about this stuff...perhaps you should?

May God have mercy on the family left behind. Come to mention it, may God have mercy on the families of those murdered in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Carolina also.


Anonymous said...

I must agree wit your article. Ive worked in the funeral business for the past
12 years and have witness total lack of disrespect from people. I hope your article us shared throughout our nation.
Myra R

Andy Pierson said...

Thanks for your compliment and comment Myra. This is just a small personal blog. If you feel it warrants reading I would share it with people. :)

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