Funeral Etiquette; the Basics

Unless you are personally caught in the moment, most people never think about funeral etiquette.  In the last week I have been to three funerals; the father of a friend, a 17-year old school-mate of my daughter’s, and Audley’s precious grandfather.  Visits to the funeral home always brings up questions of what to say, how to act, how to dress, etc…, but after the events of the last week, I am quite sure not too many people knows the answers to these questions anymore.  Attitudes towards funerals have changed greatly over the last 100 years as they are no longer a completely somber event followed by months of mourning, but more of a celebration of the life of one who has passed.  Just because the event itself has changed, doesn’t mean that our manners and behavior should slack off.  Good manners NEVER go our of style!
I know as we prepared to attend visitation for Pop on Sunday, I pulled my children aside to remind them that a funeral home is not a playground, nor is this time about them.  There may be some laughter and smiles, but there would be tears and sadness as well as family and friends have come to remember and honor Pop.
What to do with the children
As parents we find ourselves asking at what age should we introduce our children to death or take them to a funeral home.  I can tell you now; you can take them at three years old or fourteen years old and you will be faced with a ton of questions.  Children are very curious about the subject of death and funerals.  They are also easily shaken when that death is a young person with whom they were acquainted.  Our children were introduced to death differently than most children as Audley’s parents are morticians.  With my father a minister, they have seen and experienced many sides to what happens after we pass away.
You really don’t find a lot of current information on taking children to the funeral home and services as our society has adopted a very laid back attitude in raising children that quite honestly doesn’t involve any raising!  Believe it or not, there are still situations where children should be left with a sitter or be expected to behave.  Unless the child is an immediate relative or a friend, I wouldn’t take them to the funeral home or a memorial service until they are at least school age.  That is actually the age I begin to let mine visit their grandparents during business hours at the funeral home and attending visitations with me.
I suggest school age for several reasons: first, hopefully children have learned to sit still and be quiet in a classroom at school, which will help them behave at the funeral home, and second, they are at an age that they have (hopefully) learned reverence and respect while attending church services which comes in very handy while visiting a funeral home.  If you take a younger child, please find a seat in the back of the chapel on the end so that you can discreetly leave the service should your child begin to act out.


Visiting the Funeral home
Unless the death notice specifically mentions that the memorial service is private or family only, anyone is welcome to pay their respects to the family.  But, please for goodness sake, don’t just visit the funeral home because your curiosity is peaked over the circumstances of someone’s passing and you might vaguely know their 5th cousin twice removed!  When one visits a family in mourning it should be a true expression of sympathy and to share comfort, not a means of gaining attention for yourself.  Believe me, the family does know the difference.
When you stop by to visit, please remember to sign the guest book.  Generally located near the door, this is a record for the family to keep of those who shared in their time of sadness.  Speaking from experience visitation can be overwhelming and it is wonderful to have a record of visitors.  Don’t worry that you won’t have the right words for the family.  A simple “I’m sorry for your loss” or “_____ was a wonderful friend and will be greatly missed” is actually quite comforting.  If you are there on behalf of a friend, be sure to also speak to the widow or widower, introducing yourself and how you are connected; “I work with _____”, etc…


Appropriate funeral attire
As you plan to visit the funeral home, many ask what is appropriate to wear.  Gone are the days of head to toe mourning attire or all black, but shorts, jeans, t-shirts and the like are still taboo.  Opt for semi-formal business attire or “church” clothes.  For a gentleman this may include a tie with or without a jacket, khaki pants or slacks.  For a lady this would include slacks with a button-down blouse, a skirt, dress or suit.  The same would apply for children.  While black is still very much acceptable at a funeral, other muted, dark colors are also common.  I wouldn’t go for for red.  Who wants to draw all the attention to themselves?  Rest assured you will be talked about later!  Your goal is to be respectful and blend in, not draw all of the attention to yourself.
And ladies, this is unacceptable …..


I would beat my daughters, no matter what their age if they showed up dressed like this!


Keep you boobs and your bum covered, always.  I was floored at the way I saw some of the teenage girls dressed last week (some were dressed just like the above examples!).  It was more like an advertisement of themselves, and definitely NO respect for others around.  Many young men were just as tacky with their pants sagging and holes showing skin.  Oversized t-shirts untucked with jeans were seen on both guys and girls.  Teaching children to dress appropriately begins at home.  Parents really need to teach young people respect for themselves, situations and for others, especially in the attire that is chosen to wear out in public.  Believe me, it will be noticed, and most appreciated!


Sending Flowers


Flowers are a traditional way of expressing condolences, but respect the wishes of the family or religious beliefs in regards to sending them.  Also do not feel obligated to send them.  In tough economic times they are often an expense that doesn’t fit the budget.  If donations to the cancer society, a scholarship fund, a religious organization, or the heart association are requested, please honor those wishes and if the organization doesn’t send a card, send a note to the family letting them know you have donated.  As for sending flowers or a potted plant to the funeral home, place your order as early as possible to assure it arrives before the actual service.  You may also order flowers to go directly to the church building where the service might be or to the home of the family.  If you send flowers directly to a church building, please check with the funeral home or florist for proper etiquette on these.  Some faith traditions call for different considerations.  If you want the flowers to go to a specific family member, please have the florist note this on the card.
What about feeding the family?


Feeding a grieving family can be done in many acceptable ways.  In the past it was most common to gather in the home of the deceased after a service and mingle with the family.  Now it is common for a church family to fix a meal to serve a family after  the service, or even bring food to the funeral home for light snacking during a particularly long visitation.  Preparing a buffet for the family or having a meal ready for them in their home allows someone to have the option of how much to eat and when to eat.  It gives the family time to sit down and actually visit with one another out of the grieving setting.  Children can have a little more freedom to run and often the atmosphere is generally less formal.  While a meal certainly doesn’t change the hurt of a family, it does change the focus.  And just because you helped prepare a meal for the family, doesn’t mean you are invited for dinner.  Unless the family invites you to stay, drop off your prepared meal and quickly leave.
And one last thought for friends of the grieving, follow-up with them in weeks to come.  Sometimes all of the stress of the moment keeps us from properly grieving.  When things have settled down and everyone has gone home, the days and nights can become quite lonely.  Even a card or phone call speaks volumes on those lonely days.
For the Family
Proper behavior at a funeral goes beyond the guests; it also extends to the family.  Be sure to genuinely accept guests’ condolences.  Most visitors you have are their because of their love for the deceased or are close to a member of the family.  Be sure to record (or ask a good friend to handle it for you) meals, flowers, and phone calls for the family so that a proper “thank you” can be sent.  You will also want to send a thank you note to baby sitters, pallbearers and any ministers or musicians who helped with the service.  These do not have to be sent the day after, but do not delay too long. Appreciate the love that others offer during your time of sorrow.

The Importance of a RSVP

“What kind of post makes a good starting point on a new blog?”  I have asked myself this question for weeks as I have decided to take my love for food and entertaining and share it.  After much thought, I decided to start with the RSVP.  After all, this where my real party planning begins; with the list of guests attending. 

  We have sent and received several invites for Christmas parties and dinners, all of them asking the recipients  to RSVP.  Seems simple I know, but a request often ignored and forgotten.
 As you received your invitations this season, did you remember to RSVP?  



As a hostess, I invite guests to my home because I want them there, not because I feel an obligation.  I want  both friends and family to feel as if they are home when they come through my door, which is one reason for the invitation.  I am finding it more and more difficult to make plans for having people over as the art of replying to an invitation has disappeared.  There is nothing more frustrating than to invite thirty ladies over for a girl’s night out or several couples over for dinner only to never hear back from them.
 How can you properly plan for an event if you don’t know who to plan for?
Recently I came across this great article on the Importance of the RSVP, and thought with all of the upcoming holiday celebrations it would be a good time to share.

Richmond Proper: On the Importance of the RSVP

“There are those who feel so socially desirable that they consider themselves excused from any obligations to their entertainers, including answering invitations, dressing and arriving according to instructions, expressing gratitude, or reciprocating.” ~Judith Martin

Répondez, s’il vous plaît means “respond, please.” Back in some hazy, blissful days of paradise which have long since passed, there was no question on whether or not to respond to an invitation. My 1945 copy of Emily Post’s Etiquette does not even address the matter, and yet she gives time to every subject from how to properly eat an artichoke to greeting the Prince of Wales. From this we can deduce that any possible situation left out of this volume simply didn’t exist at the time. Since then, due to a cataclysmic devolution of our species, invitees have adopted a tendency to ignore the response part and just show up if they feel like it. The 1995 edition of The Amy Vanderbilt Complete Book of Etiquette acknowledges that the phrase “RSVP” was invented “because so many people, lacking in good manners, were not responding to cocktail invitations,” but remains silent on the issue of ignoring an invitation. Luckily, we have the always-frank Miss Manners to explain the history of this enigmatic subject:

“Traditionally, social invitations contained no instructions whatsoever about replying. Common sense and common decency so obviously required allowing party givers to know who would attend that it would have been insulting to point this out. How much humanity does it require to recognize the callousness of friends’ ignoring your hospitable overtures? However, it has gotten harder and harder to insult people by assuming that they have no manners or consideration, and so the “R.s.v.p.” was born — the discreet reminder in the corner of the invitation that yes, we really do care this time.” — Judith Martin
She goes on to explain how after the discreet RSVP line didn’t work, hosts and hostesses began including response cards with formal invitations to make it even more simple to respond, “so that the guest wouldn’t be taxed with the job of writing.” Informal invitations even began to include telephone numbers in the RSVP line, and later, the phrase “Regrets only” came about so that only those who couldn’t make it would be expected to let the host or hostess know. We all know that even in the age of Evite and Facebook guests are as reluctant as ever to respond, though all that’s required is a single click of the mouse. After these repeated attempts by longsuffering party givers to make it easy for their guests to respond, the question of how to deal with this social faux-pas remains.
The rules are simple:
  1. Always respond to formal invitations in the manner which is indicated.
  2. Respond to informal invitations if the card asks for an RSVP, or if there is a space for it on the Evite / Facebook / etc. invitation. (If the option “Maybe” is given, you may select it. The host or hostess wouldn’t have included it as an option if they needed a firm “Yes” or “No” from everyone.)
  3. Respond promptly. According to the Emily Post Institute, that means “within a day or two of receiving an invitation.”
  4. Perform according to your response. “RSVP etiquette dictates that you should be sure of your answer when you give it and only change your attendance status if there is an emergency or unavoidable conflict,” says Boston event planner Danielle E. Brown. This means to show up if you RSVPed “yes,” and to not show up if you RSVPed “no.”
If you are the reluctant responder, let me assume your actions are not malicious and help you through your great difficulty:

“I don’t want to attend but don’t want to offend the host or hostess.”

Once and for all, you must learn this mantra: It’s okay to say “no.” Whether you have a previous engagement or you just feel like lounging around the house that night, you must still respond to the invitation. Just say “Unfortunately I won’t be able to make it, but thanks for the invitation,” and you’re done! Again, Miss Manners sums it up for us:”An invitation is not a summons. People who don’t want to attend events to which they are invited have the very simple option of declining these invitations. Provided that they do so promptly and politely, they have no further obligations….Please note that in none of these cases does the invited person flounder about, trying to explain that he would have attended but for overwhelming circumstances. When no excuse is offered, it is assumed that the person would love to attend the event if only it were humanly possible. It is when he or she babbles uncontrollably that doubts arise.”

“But I might end up wanting to do something else that night.”

That’s absolutely fine, but you need to grow up and make a decision about it. And then respond to the invitation as soon as possible. Miss Manners says she “has heard of the modern malady called fear of commitment, but she hadn’t known it was so far gone as to prevent people from committing themselves to dinner a week from Friday, or to terrorize them into immobility when they realize that they are actually expected at brunch.” Making plans in advance is not some huge chore, it is simply what human beings have to do in order to make time to see each other. If you have any suspicions that a hipper or more exciting engagement may come up later, please RSVP “no” to the first event and then have a great time waiting for the cool kids to call you.Please note that for very informal events, you may bend the rules a little as long as you let the host or hostess know in advance. RSVP “yes,” but ask if you can bring your friend from Spain who will be in town, or let them know that you will be a little late because of work.

“I forgot.”

Okay, you forgot. It’s not a good excuse, and you acknowledge that, and maybe you’ve even asked for forgiveness (which your host or hostess was happy to grant). But take care lest your “forgetting” should become a habit, because it will send a clear message of just how unimportant the host or hostess is to you since you seem perfectly able to remember many other things. Repeatedly neglecting to RSVP to events is an obvious social snub.
If you are the exasperated host or hostess:

Be prepared to accept good excuses.

Sometimes your friend really did have an emergency. If she went into labor, it’s perfectly excusable that she didn’t RSVP or that she RSVPed “yes,” and then didn’t attend. When you receive a good excuse, always act graciously. Let guests who had to deal with emergencies know that the party was great but that they were missed, and ask what you can do to help with their situations.

Take a proactive approach to obtaining responses.

Remember that you have not asked guests to respond just for the heck of it, but in order to adequately prepare for your party. You should not be left with a shortage of hors d’ouevres just because half the party didn’t RSVP. Though all of your guests should respond promptly to an invitation, the accepted way to get a response from stragglers is to call them. The short sentence “Hello, I was wondering if you were planning to attend my party next Saturday?” should get you the answer you need. If you are hosting a very large event, however, you can’t be expected to spend three afternoons personally calling the 75 people who never RSVPed. Our next bullet point discusses what to do about those.

Maintain your standards.

Though our spirit of goodwill and politeness demands that we forgive someone who forgot to RSVP just this once, we would be unkindly throwing self-respect out the window if we kept inviting those who routinely ignore invitations. It doesn’t matter how close you may once have been with these people; they have let you know how unimportant your events are to them and you must not feel the need to continue inviting them around. Yet again Miss Manners says it best: “Those who elect to disregard the standards of others or of society itself should, at the very least, find that people refuse to invite them, eat with them, or attend their weddings or funerals.”