How to Attend a Funeral

CasketOne type of social function I have not attended in recent years has been a funeral. It’s not that I’ve been too busy selling real estate in Sacramento to notice when a friend has died, like I’m certain some agents who close fewer transactions than I might use as an explanation. Oh, she’s just too busy to come cry over you, I can hear them whispering to the person inside the coffin. “There’s always something about about your success,” Mark Twain once noted, “that displeases even your best friends.” It’s more that the people who are the survivors don’t seem to be holding as many funerals as they once did.

It could be that the grieving population in general are moving toward a preference for private affairs to pay respect to the deceased. They don’t want to share their grief with everybody and the guy and his dog down the street, not when we have Facebook. Although, when my neighbor’s husband died, practically the entire membership of the West Sacramento Sikh temple showed up at her home, dressed in white, to sob with the widow. All the men went into the back yard to shoot the breeze, and the women pushed back the furniture in the living room, and sat on the floor to openly cry, sob very loudly and grieve. It was beautiful. Why can’t we be as expressive and supportive in times of death like that? Instead, we are supposed to be strong and, for the record, that’s about the dumbest thing I ever heard.

You see, years ago, I decided that I should prepare myself for funerals. This was way before I had written a parody about the affidavit of death. I knew nothing about funeral etiquette, primarily because I had never been to a funeral. I was in my 40s, and I had never gone to a funeral, the reasons for which escape me. I called my best friend at the time, Tammy, and I asked her if she would teach me how to attend a funeral. It was a social skill I figured I better learn, for if nothing else, I would be soon reaching an age at which I better know what to do because, let’s face it, my friends were no spring chickens anymore.

Contrary to what I thought, one does not receive an invitation to a funeral. There is no engraved invitation that reads: Mr. and Mrs. So and So requests your presence at the bereavement service for their son, Mr. So What. Nope, you either read about the death in the newspaper or a friend or relative calls you. Since none of my friends were dying any time soon, I picked up the newspaper and circled a few obscure funerals to attend. See, this is one important thing that still needs to be published in a newspaper. The death notice and obituary section.

My husband, having been a newspaper journalist for all of his life and except for the occasional freelance piece now and then after he was let go, is still a darned good, although unemployed, newspaper journalist, says a death notice and an obituary are not the same thing, and people tend to mix them up all the time. A death notice is a paid advertisement. An obituary is a news story. The Minneapolis Star Tribune ran an obituary on my mother when she died. I cannot imagine having to call sons and daughters whose parents have just kicked the bucket to talk with them about their parents. That job must go to the low woman or man on the totem pole.

I didn’t have any script drawn up. I’m amazed my mother didn’t write one herself. She was that kind of person. In fact, I should probably write my own death notice and get cranking on it. Newspapers have obituaries on file, already written, about many celebrities, just waiting for the celebrities to up and croak.

But enough about obituaries and death notices and on to the event you’ve been waiting for: the funeral. I can share some things with you that I learned about attending funerals of people I do not know. You might think this is a given and everybody knows this, but make sure you bring plenty of Kleenex. Yes, Kleenex is a registered name, unlike, say, toilet paper. Under no circumstances should you bring toilet paper, unless you bring enough for everybody and the funeral is held at a Tractor Pull event.

You should sign the guest register before entering the church. Most funerals will be held at a church. Even if you are not the least bit religious, perhaps you’re an atheist or maybe a Presbyterian, you should still do everything that everybody else does. If they stand, you stand; if they kneel, you kneel. If they sing, you sing, but not very loudly. And it’s absolutely OK to cry, even if you don’t know the person. Just don’t make a spectacle out of yourself. Go easy on the eye makeup, even if you’re Gene Simmons. And you don’t have to wear black, but it’s uncool to show up in a neon mini-skirt and six-inch heels.

This information could come in handy some day, and I am very happy to provide it to you. You never know when it might crop up. People die all the time, even during real estate transactions. I’ve been fairly fortunate in that no sellers have ever died on me during escrow. But just the other day, a client for whom I had negotiated and sold her short sale a few years ago contacted me. She said I probably would not remember her, but she remembered me, and her 2 years were up, and she wanted to buy another home. She asked if I would represent her as a buyer, which I am more than happy to do. To help me remember who she was, she said her escrow was the one in which the buyer had died because the short sale took so long to close.

Well, that could cover a lot of short sales in Sacramento.

Subscribe to Elizabeth Weintraub\'s Blog via email

Sorry we are experiencing system issues. Please try again.