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Funeral Etiquette

Last week I attended a funeral for my wife’s uncle, a WWII veteran, a marine who fought on Iwo Jima. It was held at the Riverside National Cemetery. Now normally I am aghast at the total lack of respect that we have for our dead and it is especially demonstrated at funeral processions. Being a pastor, I have presided over and attended hundreds of funerals. When the funeral coach is in procession, it is usually treated as just another vehicle on the highway. This has often irritated me (if you see a pastor in a car in a funeral procession grinding his teeth and gesticulating, it is probably me fuming at yet another disrespectful display). What shocked me, was that it happened at the national cemetary, a place where the dead are usually treated with a great deal of respect.

As our procession pulled away from the staging area, the cemetery traffic failed to yield and several cars pulled through the procession as if in a mall at Christmas looking for the last parking place available.

What further caused me dismay was the phone call from my brother in Texas. Coincidentally, he too had attended a military funeral that very day. Texas, unlike California, is apparently much more civilized. As we were talking about the peculiar glory of a military funeral, he told me that when the procession was headed down the highway, cars traveling in the opposite direction pulled over to the side of the road until the procession was complete!!! I was embarrassed for Californians and any one else who couldn’t express a simple gesture of condolence by honoring a funeral procession.

Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Google “funeral etiquette” and you will get some helpful info.
  2. Never take a cell phone to a funeral; leave it in the car, don’t take it into the church or to the graveside, even on vibrate.
  3. Dress appropriately. Black may not be required anymore, but wear your best, conservative clothing. Women, don’t wear sexually provocative clothing.
  4. Pay attention to the funeral director, pastor, the deceased. It is not a social event, it is an event to honor a loved one. It is a solemn occasion, it should be taken seriously.
  5. Offer condolences (“I am sorry for your loss” or some equivalent) to the family. Introduce yourself if necessary, connect yourself to the deceased (I am a friend of “John’s” son etc.).
  6. Don’t cross through a funeral procession. What until the procession passes, then proceed.

Someone once said that the mark of a civilizations progress is the way that they treat their dead. If that is the case, we may be taking a step backward.

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