This week we’re going to discuss funeral etiquette. Because I’m apparently feeling morbid this month.
Over the centuries, we have changed the outward appearance of how we grieve. Queen Victoria set the fashionable standard for morning 150 years ago, and those standards echo through to today’s rules of mourning. For example, mourning clothes became paramount, but the rules for who wore what and for how long were complicated, and outlined in various housewife manuals. Women were allowed to wear only certain kinds of jewelry: namely, jet (a form of coal) and the hair of the deceased. Of course, all clothes were black, and there were even specific rules for veiling. And in true, full mourning, you wore crepe. You know, that weird crinkly material that disintegrates in the rain. At half mourning, lavender and grey could be introduced. (Dear romance novels: thanks for teaching me everything I need to know about old timey funerals.)
Victorian funerals were lavish, to say the least. They were led by multiple foot attendants. Then the hearse followed. It was black with glass sides and everything was shiny. Inside was the coffin, and it was as beautiful and shiny as the deceased’s family could afford. The rest of the mourners followed the hearse in their own coaches, with the blinds drawn so that no one could see them. The procession usually went from the house of the deceased to the cemetery. The wealthy would make detours to achieve maximum view potential. While women would be present for the service, only men would remain for the interment. (Because ladies are so delicate, dontcha know?) There was also a meal, either after the service, or sometimes even at the home before the service with the body present. (The ever-prudish Victorians were very comfortable with death. They even took pictures with the dead body.)
Mourning cards were also a fad started in the Victorian era. The idea was to give them to mourners as reminders of the dead. That way the mourners would remember to offer prayers for the deceased. Today we give prayer cards, but it’s the same idea.
And, as always, the level with which you could mourn depended on the amount of money you had.
Thank God the rules today are more relaxed. I’ve even heard of funerals where relatives of the decedent wear Hawaiian shirts and flip flops at the decedent’s request, in order to make the remembrance of their passing a celebration of life. Those are the odd ones out though. For your everyday funeral goings though, some quick etiquette rules:
1) Wear appropriate clothing. Nobody is asking you to wear black crepe for four years, but a nice black or dark grey dress or suit is always appropriate. For the most part, rules have relaxed enough that you should feel fine wearing a color, so long as it’s somber and sober. For instance, a dark blue blouse with a pair of black pants is completely appropriate. Cheetah print is never appropriate. (In any occasion, really.) Unless you are notified by the decedent’s family that the dress code is otherwise, just wear dark clothes and black shoes.
2) Greet the family. Just go say and say hello and “I’m sorry for your loss.” And if you have a few words to say about the decedent or a short story, go ahead and tell it. But don’t monopolize the time of the receiving line. Trust me, they’re probably just about numb, from hours of greetings and days of preparation, and all they really want is a little bit of food and a glass of wine. (I know that’s what I want in those moments.) A hug and a smile can really go a long way in this situation.
3) You don’t have to view the body. You don’t. If you prefer to pay your respects from the back because you can’t deal with viewing the body, YOU DO NOT HAVE TO DO IT. Do not let anyone tell you otherwise. Just don’t make a scene, and say a quiet prayer, or send up thoughts of support for the family to the universe. But you don’t have to go kneel by the body if you’re not ready for that.
4) Do not interrupt a funeral procession. It used to be, that if you saw a funeral procession, you pulled over to the side of the road and got out of your car in respect for the deceased. While you don’t have to do that anymore, it is still appropriate to pull over to the side of the road if you wish. You can also keep driving if you want. That’s okay too. However, under no circumstances, do you attempt to pass the funeral procession or turn in front of a car in the procession. I don’t care if you’ve been waiting ten minutes at the light and have watched it go green three times. You sit. And you wait. The end.
Next week, I swear I’ll be more upbeat. No, for real.