First time at a funeral? Relax

January 29, 2008|By EVA NIESSNER / Pulse Correspondent

It's an unavoidable fact that people die. But often, teenagers who have never been to a funeral are a little uncomfortable about sitting a few pews away from somebody beloved who's, well, dead.

Here's how to deal with the awkwardness and grief that traditional funerals can create.

First of all, come prepared. Crying at a funeral is a given for many people, so if the deceased is someone close to you or if you cry easily, bring tissues or a handkerchief.

Also, dress appropriately. Never, ever wear jeans or casual clothes. Think about how you might dress for church or worship and then double the formality quotient. For men, dress pants and a dark jacket and a tie are standard; women should wear a dark-colored dress or dark blouse and skirt.

Often, cards and flowers are given to the close family of the departed to console them. So if the family is close to you, have something to comfort them, even if you simply share the words, "I'm sorry."


Usually a viewing (called a wake by some people) precedes the funeral. This is where you see the deceased lying in a coffin and, often, pictures from his or her life around the room. This encourages people to process the fact that the person isn't coming back. It's also the best time and place to seek support of friends and family. Seeing and believing is always hardest when somebody dies.

Next, often the next day or within the week, comes the funeral. This usually includes a eulogy or some religious service commemorating the life of the person who has died. People may come up and give a short speech about how the life of the deceased has affected them. Funerals tend to be boring if you weren't particularly close to the deceased, such as the funeral of your great-great-aunt. But remember the person who died was important to somebody, and you shouldn't minimize other people's grief.

There usually is a burial afterwards, where people gather at the burial site for some final words. It is customary to place flowers on the coffin to show respect.

When the burial is over, the attendees of the funeral might gather at someone's home, often the dead person's spouse or a family member, for the purpose of spending time together quietly in memory. This is where food will most likely be served, so be patient until then.

It's easy to feel isolated at a funeral, both emotionally and in terms of etiquette. The key thing is to remain quiet and respectful. And don't worry if you're seriously grieving, yourself. Life will go on.

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