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A Guide for the Younger Generations on Proper Funeral Etiquette (or, “How to not embarrass Grandma”)
In recent weeks, I have been honored to serve as the officiant for multiple funerals. As a pastor, I consider the act of standing with people in their most difficult time of grief as a unique privilege, and one that I take very seriously.
But this is not to say that everybody feels the same way. I have had funerals where the family tapped a keg in the parking lot, as well as a myriad of other shenanigans that would make most of our “more seasoned” generations go pale. After quite a bit of thought, however, I’ve come to the conclusion that our younger generations (i.e., the Millennials and Generation Z) – which are also historically the least “churched” generations in American history – oftentimes simply do not know what is expected of them in this situation. They either have not been taught certain concepts or they have never been in contact with such events.
So for this newsletter article, I would like to briefly discuss a few salient tips that will hopefully help our younger people in the event of a funeral. I would encourage our “seasoned” readers to consider what additional information might be appropriate to each of your family situations.
- Please do not wear revealing or risqué clothes to a funeral. We fully understand that people want to look nice for special events, but if you would also wear that outfit to a school dance or out on a date, then it is probably not the best choice for the funeral.Similarly (and especially for the gents), please do not wear the same clothes that you might wear for sporting events, working in the fields, or wrestling pigs. We fully understand that these activities are necessary, but unless these clothes are worn by the family for a special purpose, perhaps a nice shirt and pants would be a better choice.
- Please, for the love of all that’s holy, do not take selfies with the dearly departed – especially if you are doing so as a “Tik-Tok Challenge” or other social media stunt. We understand that our younger generations live in a different time than our “seasoned” folks. And we also get it that people cope with grief differently. But please show respect for the family and let this one slide. Besides, is this really how you want to remember your dearly departed family member?
As a side note, if the deceased wasn’t particularly important to you, then please remember that they were important to others. We would kindly ask everyone to pay respect and consideration not just to the dead, but also to the living.
- Generally speaking, please put down your phones. (FYI, this one goes for everybody, if we’re really honest.) Please turn down the phone volume or turn off the ringer (“seasoned” folks, your grandchildren know how to do this and will be happy to assist if you need). The fact of the matter is that funerals are special times for families to gather in solidarity and support of one another. You may not think that putting your phone away makes that much of a difference, but your family will notice. Your willingness to interact with people who are hurting in their loss means more than we can easily put into words.
Now, there is a caveat to this one, namely that our phones help us keep track of travelling family members, as well as provide an easy way for friends and family to provide support. Please use these services sparingly, however, and it’s still a good idea to put them on vibrate.
- Finally, please understand that we are going to talk about Jesus. We recognize that we live in a world that claims “separation of church and state,” but a legal definition and adherence to secular standards doesn’t provide any real comfort in this most difficult of times. We don’t really care about what celebrities or social media influencers claim about evolution, aliens, trans-dimensional warp theory or any other such material. Encountering death is sobering and difficult. People don’t need to have a political argument or a debate about the metaphysical nature of spirituality. At funerals, we are hurting people gathering together for mutual support based on the promise of Jesus in Matthew 18:20, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I with them.”
By the by, death is one of the exceedingly few guarantees about life. One day each of us will face the grave. The science being taught in schools says that our lives are meaningless and death is just the balancing of an equation. Yet we mourn and grieve because this person has meant a great deal to us. There are variables that science can’t account for, and these are the moments when God speaks directly to our hearts. Don’t discount His voice.
Please listen closely, because He is calling for each of us to embrace His love and receive His grace. At funerals, our tears of love bear witness to the reality of God’s mercy – if only we will listen.
In Christ, Byron