Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Funeral Decorum

When I was a little girl, I lived in a small town filled with elderly relatives.  My relatives would periodically pass away and so at a young age, I had quite a vast knowledge of funeral traditions and funeral etiquette.  The first time I became aware that there were “Varying Rules of Etiquette and Tradition” for such an occasion, was at the funeral of my maternal grandfather. 

Upon notification that my grandfather had passed away, my paternal grandmother quickly gathered my siblings and me, and off we went to the grand clothing stores in downtown Baton Rouge, LA.  I was surprised that I needed special clothing for the event.  When I was young, girls were required to wear dresses to school, so I had plenty from which to choose.  For some reason, however, although my dresses had always been adequate for funerals in the past, my grandmother felt that they would not do for this particular funeral.  She purchased each of us, me and my siblings, beautiful semi-formal clothing.  My brother, a beautiful navy suit with a crisp white dress shirt and a dark tie, my sisters and I, each beautiful navy dresses with white patent leather shoes, white anklet socks with lace on them and white patent leather handbags.  She also purchased us dainty white gloves and lovely white hats to complete our ensembles.  It was rather like Easter, but the clothes were not pastel and the fabrics were heavier and more tailored than usual. 

After she was satisfied with our clothes, off we went to Opelousas LA, the location of the funeral home where my mother and her immense family were gathered.  Upon arrival, I realized that this funeral was unlike any other funeral I had attended thus far in life.  The funeral home was large and filled with my very sad relatives.  Of course, sadness is not, in and of itself, unusual at a funeral, but my relatives were overly sad and I attributed their sadness and all of the extra attention toward our clothes and behavior on my grandfather’s unusually violent death.  I was a child, and although funerals did not bother or confuse me, this funeral was somehow very different, and I just could not quite figure out why.  As I grew older, I realized my parents had cultural differences within their marriage, and I was witnessing the variances of culture in its fullest extent, the expression of grief upon the death of a significant loved one.

The funerals I had previously attended were always from my dad’s side of the family.  His family practiced a gentle Arklatex Christian religion and the funerals were in accordance with their beliefs.  This funeral was on my mom’s side of the family.  Unlike my dad, my mother had been raised a Southern Louisiana Cajun Catholic, and their funerals, as I was about to learn, were very different from the ones to which I was accustomed.

The reason I have shared this with you, is that I am constantly asked by people, “What is appropriate to wear to a funeral?”  There is not a simple answer to this question.  Clothing and even behavior are predicated on religion, culture and tradition.  One should accommodate each funeral to the traditional systems practiced by the grieving family.  After all, we go to a funeral to pay our respects.  Should we not then practice respect towards the family’s religion, culture and traditions?  Paying one's respects does not mean that we merely show up and sign the register book.  Paying one’s respects encompasses a myriad of components.
Of course, most of us know that we wear subdued colors, we speak with our quiet voices and one hopes we clean ourselves up before going to the funeral.  Many people believe that black is the only color one should wear when in attendance.  Although in some groups this is true, in others it is not.  For a Buddhist, white is the appropriate color for bereavement. 
My basic rule for funeral decorum is the same as it is for attire and language;
“Be clean, be respectful and be modest.”
If you will observe this rule, you should be able to attend almost any funeral and not be offensive to anyone.

My name is Tracy Renee Lee.  I am a funeral director, author and freelance writer.  I write books, weekly articles and brief tips on understanding and coping with grief.  It is my life's work to comfort the bereaved and help them live on. 

Please follow my blog at http://pushin-up-daisies.blogspot.com/, follow me on Twitter @PushnUpDaisies and visit my website for additional encouragement and information at www.QueenCityFuneralHome.com.