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Funeral Etiquette 101

Blythe S Worthy explains the social niceties of ritualised grieving

Bones and Stones 3 not sepia-1
Photo: Stella Ktenas



Don’t take this the wrong way.

At least once in your life you will attend the funeral of someone you are familiarly obliged to recognise is dead and you won’t really want to go. There’s this unspoken rule that everyone has to be nice to each other at family funerals. You all have to get along like your mum wishes you would at Christmas. You might be sad, and if they were super old you might be grateful their suffering is at an end. If you didn’t know them that well then you’ll be thinking of those you do who are grieving. Either way, you will have to go.

It’s a big deal for everyone involved and if your parents need you then you should be there. I’ve attended six family funerals in the last five years and after the last one my mum congratulated me on the great job I’d done.

I’d represented the family well. I’d rustled no feathers and stirred no pots – all the while constructing an intricate web of half-truths in order to lead my relatives off the scent-trail of honesty we’re all tempted to take when interacting with your kinsmen.

Here’s what you need to understand: No one needs to know you’re staving off a hangover. No one is interested in whether or not those marks on your neck are bruises or hickeys. They don’t care about how shit your tips at work have been this week or the self-discovery you made when you were volunteering in Liberia last Summer. All they want is for you to stay in your category as assigned to you by the family. And here’s how you do it.

The Funeral

There’s a weird hush in the morning of a funeral. Everyone is bustling around trying to gather the under-fives together, hastily applying makeup and shining shoes. Australian males tend to go for the ‘collared shirt and short sleeves not tucked into loose-fitting business pants and horrid semi-pointed shoes’ for their funeral attire, with the girls in my extended family opting for the ‘I bought this cute mini at Dangerfield and it’ll double as a funeral dress if I wear a shirt underneath’ look.

Fat Holdens crowd into the funeral ground’s car park.

Though you probably knew and loved the deceased, milling with the few of your extended family who have shown up will still feel stiff, uncomfortable and formal. Then the doors open and you’re all herded in.

The ceremony drags on. You’ll hear people wheezing and gasping around you and wonder why you’re not getting emotional.

Try to look really sad. Stonyface won’t fly here.

You begin by noticing a clump of relatives or family friends staggering out of the church clutching each other and weeping.

They rush to your parents and console them, and they cry and hold each other.

You must then head over and rub their shoulders reassuringly, pulling a painful facial expression I like to call the ‘fromile’ (a noxious combination of the frown/smile, paired with your head being slightly tilted to the right) when they come at you for an embrace.

Your brother’s ex-girlfriend will be there and you have to be nice to her, even though he told you she used to secretly question your choice of hairstyle when they were together.

I hate to be honest but this will probably go on for about 30-45 minutes, right outside the church or funeral home, as people peel off with various bunches of flowers and potted plants they nabbed from the funeral. At long last your parent will turn around and accept your hand, allowing you to pull them to the car, where you drive them (still weeping) to the wake.

The Wake

Wakes are tricky. It’s tacky to eat too much at a wake, but okay to take Tupperware full of leftovers home after because, let’s face it, the fridge is crammed full of I-made-this-so-you-don’t-have-to-cook ‘grief casseroles’ already.

This is also a plus because if you’re like me and you live out of home, free food is awesome.

Also wake food is usually a combination of 90’s school lunch and 70’s kitsch dinner party style food. Which is delicious and amazing and usually involves either a creamed salad or little things on sticks.

As soon as you arrive find a cousin or distant relative who either a) disgraced the family b) is out of the closet c) has a successful career that no one else approves of and sit and talk to them for the entire wake.

This is really important. You absolutely should not move. Stay the hell away from the aunts and uncles who like to talk about their kids and do not talk to your parents.

You are a sassy, independent young person and you are doing what grown- ups call mingling.

This way you can observe others with your chosen ‘black sheep’ of the family, which is the only way to do it.

When you’ve chosen your teen-mum cousin, your gay uncle or your app-developing brother-in-law then you should only talk to them about their thing that defines them for the rest of the afternoon because if you don’t you’ll end up accidentally telling your judgmental aunt about the time you snorted coke off a drag queen’s dick or when you woke up in a bathroom covered in blood and no one wants that to be family knowledge.

No one.

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