Every culture has rituals, customs, rites of passage, etc. etc. And it would seem to me that since they are our rituals, customs, rites of passage, etc. etc., that we should know how to make it through most of them without making a complete fool of ourselves – simple things like how to make it through: mass, retirement parties, birthdays, weddings and funerals (I bet you can see where this is going). Instead, we usually meet up with some director in a suit after having read a few books, a pamphlet or two and maybe some magazine tips. With notepad in hand we carefully jot down the instructions offered to us. “Take a woman’s arm like so…” “…all the family stands up and …” “… that water is blessed; it’s not a fountain…” “… and the recessional music plays as everyone exits…” “No, the bride comes in last.”
I love these types of events because with all the unfamiliar formality something invariably explodes. I live for these moments; it’s like a little reward for having to dress up and wear uncomfortable shoes. Like the time I laughed during my vows. (We like to call that foreshadowing.) The time Groovy Kind of Love came thundering out from a majestic pipe organ or at the one wedding where the Reverend said in his thick East Texas drawl, “Dana ‘n David, when you come together at your honeymoon bed…” (I don’t remember the rest; I fell over and was getting hit by the person who brought me. Trust me, you had to be there.) Well, these aren’t exactly great examples, but most of you know what I mean – problems with caterers, the cakes, the rings, or your grandmother flinging herself into the coffin. And all the drama usually comes from the people who have been presumably coached on how to respectfully make it through the event.
While the director’s direct the person or family through these cumbersome rituals, I think it wouldn’t hurt to have another guy whose sole purpose is to coach the guests.
With that in mind and because I honestly only have one thing on my mind, here are some tips Lynn and I have put together on how to be a better funeral guest:
Don’t ask for details unless you really want to know.
If there isn’t a body, don’t ask the immediate family if they found things like “teeth” or “bones”. Sure, you may want to know, but it’s safe to say the family doesn’t want to discuss it.
Don’t monopolize the family member. If you’re nearing the 45 minute mark, it’s time to move on with your “deepest condolences”.
Get the name of the deceased right. This is especially important if you’re officiating in any way or sending sympathy cards. (Toree, I wish I’d met Yvette.)
Avoid awkward questions that make it seem like you’re trying to size up the tragedy.
In fact, here’s how I think I rated in that regard:
Only child – TRAGIC
Adult – Not so bad
Sudden death – TRAGIC
Closeness to mother – BAD
Scorecard: Pity Beth
It’s probably better to simply offer condolences rather than grilling the next of kin with questions that seemed designed to size up the loss. “No, I’m an only child.” “Yes, I was close to my mother.” I really needed a sandwich board detailing everything so I wouldn’t have to repeat myself – much like my cousin’s son Trevor who we teased about having to answer “Yes, I am 14. Yes, I have grown. Yes, I am very handsome.” Well, on that last bit he just blushed and giggled.
Sorry Anna… I’m working on funny.