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20-40-60 Etiquette: Waiting at a funeral

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Reader has a question about funeral etiquette.

Reader has a question about funeral etiquette.

QUESTION: I would like your comment on a situation that I think needs attention. When at a funeral and people are lined up to view the body of the deceased, often the ones in front of you stop and speak to family members, sometimes at length. This really holds up the line.

Is it rude to go around them or should we wait until they finish visiting with the family? If we go around them, will the family think we are uncaring because we do not also stop and speak to them?

My opinion: These people could have visited with the family when their loved one died. Or, they could have gone to the family room before the funeral. Or, they could visit with them after the funeral since the family usually spends time visiting friends following the funeral.

CALLIE'S ANSWER: It is best to visit with the family after the funeral. If you do not feel comfortable waiting in line, simply go around.

LILLIE-BETH'S ANSWER: Be aware of your actions and be forgiving of and offer grace to others. Some people, in their grief, might offer condolences for too long in a receiving line. Some families might welcome it or be too overwhelmed to try to move things along. You're all gathered to celebrate the life of a loved one, and all you can do is be aware of customs and etiquette to make your actions easier on the closest family members, such as visiting the funeral home before the funeral, not getting caught up in a major conversation in a receiving line, etc. But we all have different ways to grieve and other people might not be thinking clearly as they show it. If you need to, pass the receiving line and simply sign the guest register and indicate in other ways that you care (a card, a call, a visit in the days or weeks afterwards, etc.) It's good to go to the funeral, and it's good that the family knows you care about them and the person they lost.

HELEN'S ANSWER: At a funeral we all want to talk to the family members whether we have talked to them earlier or not. We just want to convey how very sorry we are and how much we will miss the deceased. If we talk too long and hold up the line, we are sorry.

If time is a problem and you need to move on, then write the family a note of condolence and explanation.

GUEST'S ANSWER: Patti Leeman, community volunteer: Because my experiences with viewing the body of a friend or relative have been guided by the customs of a church or community, I will qualify my answer. Open casket funerals at churches ordinarily have staff, military or family members to honor the deceased by standing guard which also keeps the mourners moving.

More frequently today, viewing of the body is limited to announced visitation hours at the funeral home. Members of the family should be present at these times to meet and visit at length with mourners. If requested, the funeral home will provide the privacy for these last farewells.

When there has been a cremation or a memorial celebration, there is of course no body present, and the problem remains of a long queue at receptions. There may or may not be ushers present to help, so if time is of the essence, one is probably better served just to sign the guest register then head for the parking lot immediately.

A home visit to the family, a card or note about your relationship with the deceased, or some personal touch is always appreciated. A wise widow told me, “You can't always remember who came to the funeral, but you can never forget who did not.”

So, is it rude to go around the family or should you wait to visit with them? Maybe. Maybe not. It is my feeling that funerals are attended by those who respected or loved the deceased.

Hopefully the family spreads out among the guests, but if one finds himself at the tail end of a line, he might focus on how consoling it must be for the survivors to know their loved one has touched so many lives. Real friends do that.

Callie Athey is 20-something, Lillie-Beth Brinkman is in her 40s, and social columnist Helen Ford Wallace is 60-plus. To ask an etiquette question, email helen.wallace@cox.net.

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