If you are due to attend a funeral, you may be anxious about the procedure, formalities and etiquette that seem to go hand-in-hand with formal occasions. You may not have been to a funeral before, or you might have only been to one or two during your lifetime, and the unfamiliar can seem daunting.
But funerals are a vital part of the grieving process for everyone concerned – try to keep that in mind in the days leading up to the event. The emotions that a funeral can produce vary dramatically from person to person, though most people would agree that once the funeral is over, the healing can begin.
With this in mind, you may want to know some more about the ‘rules’ of a funeral so that you can feel prepared for the day ahead. The main thing to know is that although funerals tend to follow certain steps that are common to all funerals of that particular faith, each individual funeral is different. The words are different, the songs or hymns are different, the congregation is different and, of course, the loved one is different.
Most people assume that the congregation should wear smart, black clothes for a funeral. This is traditional, and in many cases the bereaved family are so busy dealing with their loss and the practicalities of organising a funeral in their grief that they don’t spare a thought for what the guests will wear. Others might ask the funeral directors to make it be known that they would like the guests to wear a particular colour, or bright colours, to make the occasion seem less sombre and more of a celebration of their loved one’s life.
If you are in any doubt about what to wear, you could contact the Exeter funeral director to ask if there is a particular dress code.
There are no words, really, that will adequately express your sorrow for the loss of life and no way you can properly express to a bereaved family just how sad you are that they are grieving.
Many people say, ‘I know how you feel’, especially if they have lost someone too. But, in fact, grief affects everybody so differently that actually, you probably don’t know how they feel. Instead, maybe ask ‘How are you feeling?’ to give that bit of an opening to them to let them know that you are there to listen if they want to talk.
You could tell them what the loved one meant to you, or relate an anecdote about something you did together, or something the loved one was known for. People tend to shy away from this, because they fear that they will upset the bereaved – but it actually gives them the chance to talk about someone who was special to them and who they haven’t yet grieved for fully. Many bereaved want to talk about the person they lost – to talk about the person they were before they died. If you feel able, ask them to tell you about the one they’ve lost; they might want the chance to say what they loved and what they’ve lost.
If you feel unable to do this, perhaps express those things in a card to leave with the family to read after the funeral, and leave your telephone number for them to ring you if they would like to talk.
A funeral director will usually arrange for the announcement of the death and details of the funeral in the local paper and will often add a note about flowers. Many people now prefer to ask for ‘family flowers only’ and may ask that donations be made to charity by guests. Some will specify a charity. If nothing is said about flowers then it is usual to bring some flowers to the funeral and there will normally be an area near the door where flowers can be laid out by guests coming to pay their respects.
The funeral isn’t really held for your loved one – it is held to help the living to accept the death and celebrate or mourn the life that has been lost. Sometimes the choice of songs at the funeral might seem surprising or even irreverent, but they may have a special meaning for the family or perhaps were favourites of your loved one.
If the family has arranged for the funeral to be held in a place of worship then the order of service will usually be set out in a leaflet and placed on each chair, so you will know what is due to happen, when. You will be given the words of any hymns that are to be sung together. There may also be a booklet about the loved one, with words of remembrance and a photograph for you to take home afterwards.
Often the family chooses to have funeral poetry read out instead of having prayers spoken, and sometimes the funeral director will say a few words about the loved one having had the opportunity to get to know about what kind of person he/she was by spending considerable time with the family before the funeral.
In a funeral venue, the front rows are usually reserved for immediate family. The funeral directors and/or staff at the venue or place of worship will have discreetly reserved sufficient space for them and will guide other guests to available seats. The coffin might be carried in after everyone is seated, or it might already be in situ at the front of the room. After the service, the coffin will be taken through some curtains to be moved onto the crematorium, or it might be carried back out and then transported to the cemetery.
Usually, only close family members will go to the internment (where the coffin is lowered into the ground for burial). In the case of a cremation, the close family will wait to receive the ashes.
The family will usually have made arrangements for guests to be given refreshments and have the opportunity to be together after the funeral – you will probably not receive a personal invitation as it is more like an open offer for all who want to attend. Details of the gathering will again usually be passed along by the funeral directors.
Whatever the tone of a funeral – formal, informal, joyous or sorrowful – the purpose is to help those left behind to accept the enormity of the death and start to move on with life. Each funeral is different and each person there will be affected differently by it.
Don’t worry about doing the ‘wrong’ thing, like standing up when you should be sitting down; it will be obvious when you are there what you are supposed to do, and it is easy to follow the crowd (who will be led by the person delivering the service). Instead, focus on your memories of the person you have lost and on the people you still have.