Who should go to a funeral?

Church windowHere’s something I’ve been pondering in light of recent events; not just my Dad’s funeral, but another that I heard about.

I’ll put my view, how I feel about it, then you discuss. Agree or disagree. Like always.

There’s no manual for this, and every situation is different, of course, so inevitably this will be a generalisation:

I think there are two reasons to go to a funeral.

1. You knew the deceased. Family or friend or acquaintance or colleague. You want to go and grieve for them/celebrate their life.


2. You know one or more of the bereaved very well, you are a good friend, and you want to support them.

Edit: Just to be clear, the rest of the text is about point 2.

How well should you know them? I think if you’re a good friend, or a close colleague, or you’ve known them a long time, then it’s appropriate, you should consider going.

But something I’ve noticed in a couple of cases recently, is people who work with a bereaved person, but don’t socialise with them (so they’re not a “friend”), have no strong personal link with the family, and didn’t know the deceased… being keen to attend.

I think this is inappropriate.

It’s absolutely important to show empathy, it’s important to listen, it’s important to act sensitively, it’s important to help where you can.

But to go to the funeral where you don’t know the person who has passed away, and you don’t know any of the bereaved very well?

I think no, you shouldn’t go. Give them some space to grieve.

And this is my main point: A funeral is an extremely personal and emotional event, and the bereaved people are at their most vulnerable.

They should be in a place where they can feel free to let their emotions out, as much as they want, without embarrassment or constraint, without any self-consciousness because of people they know, but don’t know very well, being there.

So I think, if you’re not close to the deceased or the bereaved, don’t go. Send some flowers instead. Or a donation to the designated charity. Or a card. Or a message of condolence.

Like I said, this is a generalisation, perhaps a bit black and white, but it’s how I’m feeling right now.

Agree? Disagree? Are there exceptions? Arguments for or against? What do you think?

PS. I should note that at my Dad’s funeral, I was not personally bugged by the presence of any other attendees, nor was I self-conscious at all, and did not feel constrained, which I think made the whole event very therapeutic for me.

By Daniel Bowen

Transport blogger / campaigner and spokesperson for the Public Transport Users Association / professional geek.
Bunurong land, Melbourne, Australia.
Opinions on this blog are all mine.

15 replies on “Who should go to a funeral?”

It’s certainly food for thought and I have little to share with you as yet, I’m going to take your thoughts with me as I find myself attending a lot of funerals. You make me wonder if maybe I shouldn’t be going to as many. Thank you.

I think it partly depends on the religion of the deceased and the family. In Judaism we need a certain number of people (in Orthodox Judaism they must be men) at any Service in order to read certain prayers. It would be very awkward if there were not enough at a funeral and so I suspect more people attend than would in other religions.

@Suzie, good point on Judaism! I knew when I wrote this it would probably be specific to particular types of funerals, and there would be exceptions.

When my brother died some years back, I didn’t really notice who was at the funeral apart from immediate family. When I saw the pages of attendees, afterwards, I was very impressed at the number of people who had come along. So, my opinion would be to go along anyway, if you feel that way.

Also, I did really appreciate all the cards and letters, so if you don’t go, at least send a card.

Essentially I agree with you. I have a friend who is a ‘professional’ funeral goer. I suppose he falls into the category of supporting us when he came to my step father’s funeral. But really, I had no expectation of him to attend. Trouble is, his parents are in their nineties and he will expect us to attend their funerals. I have no intention of doing so and given I have never met them, flowers would not be appropriate either. Personal flowers to the bereaved person’s home and a card would be good in this situation.

My sister in law’s mother is not long for this world. We barely know her but we will attend and sister in law will appreciate our support.

How can you not mention with immediacy on your blog when your father dies? But it seems it might be best to hold it over and ditto mentioning it in your workplace. PS noted.

Firstly, sorry for you loss, Daniel. It’s only taken me until now to realise what happened.

Secondly, It depends on the nature of the working relationship. I know that if one of my colleagues passed away, I’d want to pay my respects. These are people I spend a third of my life with, after all.

@Paul, I suspect (and have seen for myself) in a situation where someone passes on before their time (and that’s my assumption in your brother’s case), you’re bound to see a lot more mourners (category 1) — only natural.

Yes, cards and messages etc from anybody are really appreciated.

@Andrew, it’s probably not practical to keep quiet a relative’s passing from your workmates, since you have to tell them why you’re off on leave after it happens.

@Ren, thanks. As above, I agree if a colleague passes away, of course you’d go to the funeral (and I have done in the past) — you’re grieving for them yourself in that case.

Very thought provoking piece, Daniel.
You certainly don’t want to “judge” someone by how many people turn up at their funeral (the Melbourne underworld thugs seem to be very “popular”).
You probably don’t want people you don’t really know seeing you blubber and say personal things.
That said, I was grateful when two work colleagues came to my mother’s funeral – I didn’t socialise with these guys outside work but had worked with them for 10 to 20 years.
Yes, a very touchy subject, with no hard and fast rules.

I had a situation similar to Roger. I didn’t socialise with my co-workers outside work. But had worked closely with some of them for over a decade. I was touched when they came to my fathers funeral to support me, even though they didn’t know my father.

I err on the ‘go’ rather than ‘don’t go’ side. One thing that still will always surprise me is how it’s the person who never crosses your mind who can be the most help at times like funerals or, indeed other low times in your life. Showing support is never a bad thing in my view.

The religion aspect is always interesting.

I’ve always erred on the go rather than don’t go, but that’s because I used to be the office person at my synagogue and I knew everyone personally. I missed the funeral today and I’m sure that’s because I just forgot and not as a reaction to my thinking about your thoughts. I’ll go to the Service tonight and make amends.

One other thought that popped up when I read Kath’s comment is that it always helps when there is someone who is not that close who might be able to pick up the pieces. I’ve been to all sorts of funerals including that of a stillborn, a 15 month old and a 103 year old. Children’s funerals are the hardest and I can see it would be good to have a few people who aren’t that invested scattered around the actual mourners giving support if necessary. The stillborn was very quiet and I was the only non-family member there, maybe I shouldn’t have been there but the family seemed to appreciate the support. The 15 month old was dreadful, the mother was distraught and there were three older siblings to support. The 103 year old? It was more of a celebration than a funeral, she’d had a good life and had only started losing her mind when she got to 100.

Sorry for the scroller, when I start I do have trouble stopping.

The only funeral I have attended – where I didn’t personally know the deceased – was when I attended on behalf of my father, who was in hospital.

It was a bit strange I must admit, but I had met the deceased (and his widow) and knew a lot of the people in attendance. It also helped that my old man had rung the widow and some key friends to say he was in hospital but had asked me to go to honour his mate on Dad’s behalf.

I must admit that the only personal funeral I was at (my mother’s) I was surprised to see how many people were there (same as Paul) – and it gave me great strength to know she had affected so many people that they chose to attend. I have no idea to this day whether they all “knew” her – a lot of my work colleagues attended to support me and I am sure there were others there to support my family who may never have met my mum.

Regardless, it is never a good look to be a professional funeral attender – nor to express an expectation (as Andrew is saying) that one should attend a funeral.

You should only ever attend a funeral if you feel moved to be there to show your respect for the deceased, or to show your love and support for the grieving.

So I guess I agree Daniel – but I also agree that being in the thick of it, you don’t know nor acknowledge who attends in most cases.

Coming from an Italian family, we’re used to going to funerals for distant cousins in Myrtleford, and for grandparents’ friends and so on! I don’t really have any qualifications for going to a funeral- whether you know the person or not, if you feel you should go, then go! As long as you respect the deceased, I don’t see a problem with it! Is it wrong for people to attend the funeral of someone who has deeply affected the community if they don’t know them, or are they paying tribute to their contributions? It’s a personal choice.

I think there might be a third reason for attending – paying respects. I suspect that the view of a funeral may have changed over time (as have weddings for that matter). I think people attended a funeral because that is the done thing – it is part of being in the community and farewelling a member – whether you really knew them well or not.

When my father died 3 years ago, a bloke he went to school with (and had mentioned but not seen for 60 years) attended. It was a comfort even though we had never met him, that he had taken the time to do so. It was particularly pertinent as Dad didn’t have many friends at all and so to see a reasonable number of people at the funeral was comforting through gaining a sense of the number of people who gave their time in respect (including some from the church he went to).

i think it’s appropriate someone goes to represent the workplace though you are more than likely to have one friend at your workplace who you do socialize with.

I completely agree with you. it’s one thing to go to ‘pay your respects’ to someone you have heard enough about to actually respect, it’s another to go just because its someone you kindof know from working with you who’s going like it was a social event.

some people do just like being at emotional events for their own catharsis, im nt sure it’s right.

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