We have been back from the funeral for a few days and we are only just now returning to normal routine. This week was disrupted by some very sad news. My husband’s grandmother departed this world in her sleep. She was slightly short of her 90th birthday.
My impressions of the short time that I knew her: She was an incredible woman. She was wise beyond her years and ever pleasant. She never complained about a single ache or pain in her body – not sure I can say that about the rest of my family, whom I dearly adore including my own grandmother in Iran! She was funny and always made me laugh. She did not meddle in other people’s lives. She looked beautiful at our wedding. She loved her grandson and the rest of her family to pieces and she even respected my choice on not having offspring. She was happy and fulfilled. The world felt right to her and she was also ready to embrace death. She had strong beliefs around heaven and rejoining her early-departed granddaughter. She will always remain in my heart.
American funerals are very different from Iranian funerals. Oddly enough, I have never been to an Iranian funeral and yes, here I am making claims about them but listen, stories in an Iranian family get repeated no less than three thousand times so I might as well have been at my own grandfather’s funeral in Iran.
The encounter with grief is overwhelming and the grieving period is long stretching into weeks and months. The customs vary a great deal from a Christian funeral; there is no viewing of the dead in the Muslim tradition. The body body is washed with soap and water and then wrapped in a very long white cloth called ka-fan (thanks for details, Daddy) before burial, sans coffin. Everyone wears strictly black. The family of the diseased must provide tons of food to the visitors because this act of giving so much will be a bonus where angels are concerned in the spirit of the deceased. Or so I remember.
Oh and I don’t think Iranians handle death well at all. I surely don’t.
During the funeral services, I noticed behaviors in others that simply did not sit well with me. Whatever has happened to basic etiquette in this world? It is one thing to lack it in the yoga class, hence this post, but to come to a funeral and leave your manners at home? I must speak up.
What to do and not to do at [any] funeral:
1. Go. Attend the funeral in person. Miss weddings and baby showers if you must but attend the funerals. People never forget that you attended a funeral and you will bring them comfort and care even if you stay a little while.
2. Wear strictly black and please wear a suit and tie if you are male. It is the universal color of grieving and it shows that you have respect and partake in the grief. Please refrain from wearing flowers and colorful “designs” on your clothing, thank you! My friend Tia suggests otherwise but I say grieving before celebration.
3. Express your sincere condolences directly to the immediate family. Do this even if it pains you. Muster up the courage to tell them that you share in their sorrow. It goes a very long way, this simple act of kindness and compassion.
4. Share a story or a memory with the close family. You will be adding to their treasure “box” of memories.
5. Be on your best behavior. Take along your best manners of greeting and conversing.
6. Contribute to the charity or foundation of their wishes or else take flowers. The amount does not matter. It matters that you do not show up empty-handed.
7. Follow the wishes and traditions of the family. I am not religious but for weddings and funerals of those that I care about, I would gladly spend any necessary time in their house of worship.
8. Perform any favors that is asked of you, be it to sing, to read a poem, to fulfill any other action to fulfill their wishes.
1. Wear flip-flops. Even if you are 7-months pregnant. I do not know what that woman was thinking but it is no excuse whatsoever. Put on real shoes.
2. Stand there like a statue. Have courage to express your condolences, make eye contact with the close family, and show them that you care with so little as a few words and a gentle touch.
3. Laugh unnecessarily loud or God forbid, tell jokes.
4. Gossip. If you must, save it for after the service.
5. Draw attention to yourself. Change the conversation if you must, especially when you don’t want the attention.
6. Say much if you have nothing useful to say. Words, once outside the mouth, cannot be taken back.
7. Discuss your body aches and pains and malfunctions in any gory detail whatsoever. What is this anyway, some sort of sick display of sympathy? I do not want to know about your kidneys, your daughter’s problems with labor, the details of your last operation or how much your back hurts and neither does anyone else. Not here at the funeral. Not now (preferably not later either!). Keep the conversation strictly out of you and your family’s body parts and focus it instead on the dearly departed.
8. Bring up sensitive issues that are none of your business and would rather not be thought about and especially around the immediate family of the diseased. Boy did I hold my tongue for the surprisingly closed-minded and nosy woman who further upset my mother-in-law by asking her why she did not yet have any grandchildren. Her sheer ignorance aside, her manners were unforgivably rude in my view and if I shall have the displeasure of seeing her again, I will express my uncensored thoughts as to how grandchildren do not signify any sort of achievement, shocking as it may sound. So please exercise some discretion and intelligence.
Grief is a deeply personal feeling. There is no right or wrong way to express it, I suppose. In fact, if you want an incredibly sad yet beautifully written post on grief, look no further than the fabulous Redhead Writing’s post on losing someone. However, our manners and our show of respect should not take leave when we most need it and the funeral is one such place. May you never need to attend one but if you do, you won’t regret following these guidelines.
What do you think about these points on funeral etiquette? What would you add? What would you change? Share your stories and thoughts in the comments.
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