Funerals are for the living. It is the pivotal moment when we get to say our final goodbyes to the recently departed. Funerals also help us accept the reality that a person who was once “living and breathing” on this earth is no more. I used to be able to say that I haven’t been to a lot of funerals in my life. Unfortunately this past year changed all of that for me.
In a relatively short period of time I have attended as many funerals as I once could say was the number for my entire lifetime. Perhaps it is because funerals have been so rare for me that I am more sensitive to the pageantry involved in the process. Especially, when it comes to the rule of dress; not so much for the attendees, but for those who are on the funeral’s Order of Service.
The more funerals I attend, the more I have become acutely aware that funeral etiquette has been lost by a lot of young and old black folks. Yes, there is a proper etiquette to funeral; an etiquette of class and good taste. An etiquette that says if you are asked to stand before the mourners, you should dress the part. One should not look like they are on their way to the club.
I am having a hard time understanding why young people who are asked to take part in a funeral service show up dressed in jeans with huge slits in them, or jogging pants and T-shirts. That look might be OK for a basement house party, but it is totally disrespectful to the deceased at a funeral. Because the funeral is a celebration of the deceased’s life and not a time for conversations about what one person is wearing to the event.
And speaking of conversations, I do understand why there is a two-minute limit on remarks. Some funeral services would never end if all who wanted to speak about the deceased were free to do so. But for me, when people stand and talk about the deceased, that is when I get to know the deceased even better. But if there is only 20 minutes left in the service and I have to choose between a long drawn out eulogy by the pastor or hear the deceased friend’s remarks – I choose the latter.
Another tradition for funerals has been to always open the casket at the end so that people who missed the wake can get a final chance to view the body and say goodbye. I was extremely heartbroken at a good friend’s funeral when this wasn’t done. The minister claimed that time didn’t allow it. He had just spent 20 minutes preaching a long, drawn-out sermon to us and then says when he finally finished that there wasn’t enough time to reopen the casket. I angrily thought to myself that if the man had shut up five minutes earlier, then there would have been time.
I needed and wanted to have that final look and say that final goodbye.
My only consolation was that another friend had taken photos during the wake and emailed me the pictures. Seeing my friend lying there let me know that he was gone.
So, as I wrote earlier, funerals are for the living.
It is the final experience that each of us will undertake at some point in time. I am going to write out my funeral wishes so that when my time comes, I can at least let my family know that anyone showing up in jeans and T-shirt cannot be a part of my service. If that person cannot find a decent dress or suit, then don’t ask them to stand and participate.
I wouldn’t do it at their funeral and I don’t want it done at mine.