Etiquette Hell

General Etiquette => Life...in general => Topic started by: postalslave on February 05, 2013, 09:03:45 AM

Title: Funeral advice for the socially confused
Post by: postalslave on February 05, 2013, 09:03:45 AM
I am attending a wake/ funeral for a close work colleague. After reading these boards for quite some time I've learned that bringing the bereaved family food is typically appreciated and an appropriate way of conveying sympathy and support.

A few questions as North American funeral etiquette is not something I know a lot about:

- when does one bring such food? Do I just drop it off at their home?
- there is "reception to follow" the lunch time funeral, would I bring food then?
- should I bring something to the wake? More food?
- why type and how much food is appropriate?

I'm close to the family but horribly socially awkward. I just want to help them during this time in the least awkward way.

Title: Re: Funeral advice for the socially confused
Post by: Shoo on February 05, 2013, 09:09:58 AM
I'm sorry for your loss.

I wouldn't take food to the reception.  If you want to give them something to make things easier in the next few weeks when they're likely drained emotionally and probably physically, make something that can be frozen and cooked or reheated later.  Get yourself a disposable baking pan and make a casserole or lasagna that can be popped into the oven at a later time.

Title: Re: Funeral advice for the socially confused
Post by: Hmmmmm on February 05, 2013, 09:14:04 AM
My experience is that the wake is held at the funeral home or church and you do not take anything to that location.

Taking food over to the family can be really anytime in my experience.
Some people have probably been dropping off food at the family's home since the time of the death. Other people will take things to the luncheon to follow. And other people will drop off food to the family for a few days after the funeral.

If taking something for the luncheon, a standard size casserole (think 8 servings), a pie or cake, a dozen rolls, or a few bottles or a case of soda or water is also very helpfull.

If taking something after the funeral, I'd take enough to feed the residence of that house one meal.   

But most important to me is to not take anything in a container that needs to be returned to the owner unless you will be taking the responsibility of making sure it is well marked and are willing to come back and pick it up.
Title: Re: Funeral advice for the socially confused
Post by: DottyG on February 05, 2013, 12:25:51 PM
All the above advice is good.

Something else you could do that would really be helpful is to wait and take something a week or so afterwards.

I "housesat" for a family friend while she and her family went to the first part of the visitation  and then someone came and relieved me while I went to the last part (small town - you don't want to leave a house knowingly empty as a temptation for thieves who know everyone's at a visitation or funeral).  During that time, I took in so much food from well-wishers that I finally didn't have room in the fridge, freezer or even countertop to put it.  It was all so sweet, but there's really only so much food that a family can have at once before it goes bad.  And the freezer idea is great, but freezers only hold so much - if everyone decides to do a frozen, "to be eaten later" meal, the family still has a problem.

What would be even more appreciated is to go by after all the initial stuff has passed - when the family is starting that "everyone's gone on with their lives, but we're still grieving" period.  Take something for them then.  And, if they're up to it, maybe stay and visit a bit.  At that point, they may need someone to be there to comfort and listen now that all the hooplah is over and the masses have gone away.  That may be when their shock is over and the real pain is setting in.

Edited, because WillyNilly is correct in that a visitation is different than a funeral.  Although her numbers are different than what I've always experienced.  Just as many people attend funerals (burial is immediately after that) as the visitation with the family (and possibly body) the night before.
 
 
Title: Re: Funeral advice for the socially confused
Post by: WillyNilly on February 05, 2013, 12:37:41 PM
Ok first off, I have to say in my experience and area wakes and funerals are not even remotely similar.  Its not something you can say "I'm going to the wake/funeral" about.  They are very very very different things, in different places, on different days. (Similar to a "wake" would be a viewing or shiva.) You might go to both the wake and the funeral, or just one, but they are not interchangeable words. In my area, the wake, and perhaps the funeral church/temple service is for extended friends & such and the actual funeral (burial) is only for those very close to the departed.  The difference in attendance can be 100's of people with way more at the first and very few at the latter.

Either way, food wouldn't be brought to either unless its in the family home (like a shiva).  The food is something geographically close friends & family bring around the family home in the days after the death (ranging from 1 day to a month later).  Sometime people will send food (like a fruit basket) to the home, but be careful to not send it on days the family will be out all day at the funeral home or the cemetery attending to the formalities of the death.  The point of the food is an either or thing - sometimes its because the grieving family will be having lots of people over the house - out of town relatives in for the services, friends & neighbors dropping by to pay respects/check in, etc and this way the family has food in the house to offer them, and sometimes its to ease the burden of having to shop and cook from themselves during their mourning period.  As such the food an be a fruit basket, a box of chocolates, a frozen casserole, a cold cut platter, an assortment of various ready to eat grocery type foods, etc depending on when its being given and its intent.
Title: Re: Funeral advice for the socially confused
Post by: Outdoor Girl on February 05, 2013, 12:45:00 PM
In my neck of the woods, there would be a visitation the afternoon and/or night before the funeral.  Then you attend the funeral and there is a 'tea' put on by the church ladies or another service group.  The family makes a donation to the group as a thank you for them putting on the tea.

So as someone going to the funeral, you wouldn't take any food to the funeral home or church, unless you are specifically asked to do so.

The best plan is to take something in a disposable container straight to the family's home.  If it can be frozen and eaten later, so much the better.  I like PP's ideas of taking something over a week or so after the funeral.  They'll have eaten or frozen (or pitched) everything they got at the time of the funeral and would probably appreciate it.  Or, if you want to take something right away, you could take a gift card for a restaurant that offers take out.  That way, they could order something in when they didn't feel like cooking.  And it isn't perishable.   :D
Title: Re: Funeral advice for the socially confused
Post by: DaDancingPsych on February 05, 2013, 12:49:49 PM
I am so sorry for your loss.

I really can’t add to the wonderful “food advice”, but I wanted to say that we recently lost my grandma and one of the things that my mom appreciated the most was a book of postage stamps. She had a lot of people to thank afterwards and certainly did not have enough stamps. This made her life a bit easier.
Title: Re: Funeral advice for the socially confused
Post by: DottyG on February 05, 2013, 01:02:47 PM
DDP's idea of stamps is excellent.

Title: Re: Funeral advice for the socially confused
Post by: Hmmmmm on February 05, 2013, 01:08:00 PM
I am so sorry for your loss.

I really can’t add to the wonderful “food advice”, but I wanted to say that we recently lost my grandma and one of the things that my mom appreciated the most was a book of postage stamps. She had a lot of people to thank afterwards and certainly did not have enough stamps. This made her life a bit easier.

DPP, I remember a friend dropping off a book of stamps after my Dad's funeral. At first I thought it odd, but after writing the 50th thank you note, I was really happy I didn't need to go to the post office to buy more stamps. 
Title: Re: Funeral advice for the socially confused
Post by: Starr on February 05, 2013, 01:08:31 PM
I think this must vary by region.  I live in Kentucky and the "wake" is usually called the "visitation" and happens the day before the funeral.  Here, the visitation is usually at a funeral home, and it's not unusual for close friends of the family to bring some food for the family to eat (since they will be at the funeral home all day with no way to go get something).  Usually close friends or the family's church will bring sandwiches, chips, and maybe some sodas or dessert.  This is usually kept in a designated lounge or kitchenette in the funeral home for the family to pop into.

That being said, this doesn't seem to be the case every where, so I think the previous suggestions to deliver something to the house would be your best bet here.

I'm sorry to hear about your friend.  ((hugs))
Title: Re: Funeral advice for the socially confused
Post by: peaches on February 05, 2013, 01:10:57 PM

I have always thought that a note is the best and most appreciated way to show support. You could express your condolences and tell the family how much you enjoyed working with that person, and how much he/she will be missed. It doesn't have to be long, just sincere.
Title: Re: Funeral advice for the socially confused
Post by: WillyNilly on February 05, 2013, 01:19:42 PM
I think this must vary by region.  I live in Kentucky and the "wake" is usually called the "visitation" and happens the day before the funeral.  Here, the visitation is usually at a funeral home, and it's not unusual for close friends of the family to bring some food for the family to eat (since they will be at the funeral home all day with no way to go get something).  Usually close friends or the family's church will bring sandwiches, chips, and maybe some sodas or dessert.  This is usually kept in a designated lounge or kitchenette in the funeral home for the family to pop into.

That being said, this doesn't seem to be the case every where, so I think the previous suggestions to deliver something to the house would be your best bet here.

I'm sorry to hear about your friend.  ((hugs))

In NY state every funeral home I've been in has a sign near the entrance saying its illegal to bring food inside.  Its to the point where I often wonder if employees are allowed to bring lunch.
Title: Re: Funeral advice for the socially confused
Post by: DottyG on February 05, 2013, 01:22:01 PM
Quote
I think this must vary by region.  I live in Kentucky and the "wake" is usually called the "visitation" and happens the day before the funeral.  Here, the visitation is usually at a funeral home,

Starr, this is how it is where I am as well.

Title: Re: Funeral advice for the socially confused
Post by: Yvaine on February 05, 2013, 01:27:00 PM
I think this must vary by region.  I live in Kentucky and the "wake" is usually called the "visitation" and happens the day before the funeral.  Here, the visitation is usually at a funeral home, and it's not unusual for close friends of the family to bring some food for the family to eat (since they will be at the funeral home all day with no way to go get something).  Usually close friends or the family's church will bring sandwiches, chips, and maybe some sodas or dessert.  This is usually kept in a designated lounge or kitchenette in the funeral home for the family to pop into.

That being said, this doesn't seem to be the case every where, so I think the previous suggestions to deliver something to the house would be your best bet here.

I'm sorry to hear about your friend.  ((hugs))

In NY state every funeral home I've been in has a sign near the entrance saying its illegal to bring food inside.  Its to the point where I often wonder if employees are allowed to bring lunch.

In the one I was in most recently, there was a lounge area. There wasn't food in the viewing rooms, but the lounge had coffee and some light nibbles and the immediate family was invited to go in and partake.
Title: Re: Funeral advice for the socially confused
Post by: Betelnut on February 05, 2013, 01:27:36 PM
Honestly, you don't need to bring/take food at all.  A really nice sympathy card that has a heartfelt message with a story or two (funny or otherwise) about the deceased would also be very appreciated. 

Sometimes people get too much food and that can be a burden too.
Title: Re: Funeral advice for the socially confused
Post by: audrey1962 on February 05, 2013, 01:33:51 PM
After reading these boards for quite some time I've learned that bringing the bereaved family food is typically appreciated and an appropriate way of conveying sympathy and support.

- when does one bring such food? Do I just drop it off at their home?
- there is "reception to follow" the lunch time funeral, would I bring food then?
- should I bring something to the wake? More food?
- why type and how much food is appropriate?

I have lived in the midwest my entire life and have unfortunately gone to my share of funerals, yet I only brought food once and that was to a potluck reception after the burial. I have heard that very close family members may provide meals to the bereaved, but I've never seen it done. What I have seen is a bereaved person moving in with other family members because she is too grief-stricken to take care of herself.

If a reception is to follow, I would not bring food, unless it is a potluck reception. If you have any doubts or conerns, I recommend checking with your co-workers as they should be familiar with the norms in your region.
Title: Re: Funeral advice for the socially confused
Post by: Deetee on February 05, 2013, 01:38:30 PM
My rule of thumb would be that if I wasn't invited to the home of the bereaved, I would not bring food.

A sympathy card is always appreciated and acceptable. Keep it simple with "I am sorry" type sentiment and, if applicable, a nice memory/story about the deceased.

A donation to a charity (if applicable -generally it would be mentioned in the obiturary or if you knew the deseased preferences) is also appropriate.

Food is traditional, but as others have said, can be a bit overwhelming. Only bring food if you are close to the family or know it is wanted or if there is a food rota set-up.

Flowers are nice and can be sent direct to the funeral home.

In some traditions, cash is the expected gift, but that can be quite cultural.

You could also combine Food and Cash and get a restaurant or grocery giftcard.

Personally, I would go with a card and attending the funeral and then follow up a week or two later with one of flowers, charity donation, or food.

(The last three deaths, I have been unable to attend the funeral and have sent flowers directly to the family home)
Title: Re: Funeral advice for the socially confused
Post by: Luci on February 05, 2013, 01:57:08 PM

A few questions as North American funeral etiquette is not something I know a lot about:

- when does one bring such food? Do I just drop it off at their home?   You really don't need to. We usually drop it off at the home. If you are really close and want the container returned, label it. I suggest disposable containers, and the casserole can be frozen with directions, or food that won't go bad, soon, like cookies.
- there is "reception to follow" the lunch time funeral, would I bring food then? No. Usually, Protestants supply the food with their women's group, and the family pays the group for it.
- should I bring something to the wake? More food? No food. We usually write a check to the organization for donations that the deceased's family has requested. Right now, for us it is $50 for casual acquaintances, $100 for those close, or whose organizations we really feel strongly about.  We are thinking about raising that as we are more affluent now, but started out with $5 when we were really young.That is so flexable - even $10 is appreciated. If you can't do that, the family will probably not really notice and your being there is enough. Believe me. Been there, loved the personal condolences, and sometimes only remembered when I read the reception book. I don't remember who contributed what.
- why type and how much food is appropriate? See  # 1 above. Usually, just the 9 X 13 casserole or the same size batch of brownies is what we received.

I'm close to the family but horribly socially awkward. I just want to help them during this time in the least awkward way.Please, relax. Even if you say or do something awkward, few will remember. Your presence if you can manage it and your caring are all that are important.

North American funeral etiquette has a huge area, diverse cultures, and the religions actually make a difference!

I am speaking as an Illinois and northern Indiana Methodist who has been the bereaved and been to enough funerals to, well, fill a cemetery.
Title: Re: Funeral advice for the socially confused
Post by: amylouky on February 05, 2013, 01:57:48 PM
If this is a close work colleague, are you also on close terms with the family? If you don't know them I don't think I'd bring food. That's generally provided by close friends of the family, or sometimes a church committee.
If you are close with your colleague's family as well, maybe something not too perishable.. cookies always seem to get eaten at the wakes/visitations I've been to?
Flowers are always nice too.
Sorry for your loss..
Title: Re: Funeral advice for the socially confused
Post by: MrsJWine on February 05, 2013, 02:43:57 PM
I think a card with a gift card to a restaurant tucked inside would be a really nice gesture. That way you don't have to worry about where/if to bring food, but you're contributing something that will be of great help to them. And the nice thing about the gift card is that they can use it anytime. A lot of people hit a second wave of grief after the visits and calls stop; not having to cook could be a really nice pick-me-up at that time, especially if they're cheered by getting out of the house.
Title: Re: Funeral advice for the socially confused
Post by: gramma dishes on February 05, 2013, 03:01:23 PM
Honestly, you don't need to bring/take food at all.  A really nice sympathy card that has a heartfelt message with a story or two (funny or otherwise) about the deceased would also be very appreciated. 

Sometimes people get too much food and that can be a burden too.

I agree with this.  Unless you are a very close friend of the deceased or a family member of the deceased, I don't think you would be expected to bring food.  Betelnut is right.  Sometimes there really can be too much of a good thing.

It might also make the family uncomfortable to accept food from someone they don't really know. 

I think Betelnut is right on target.  Yes, you should definitely express your condolences, but a nice card with a handwritten note as she describes can be at least as much appreciated and better yet, can be saved to share in the future with other family members who couldn't be there on that particular day or aren't even born yet. 

Notes have a way of sticking around for a long, long time and can be reread over and over, even years into the future.  Food doesn't last long and can only be eaten once.  And once it's gone, it's forgotten and can't be shared.

Edited to add:  Deetee also shares this sentiment, but I didn't see hers when I was typing this.
Title: Re: Funeral advice for the socially confused
Post by: gellchom on February 05, 2013, 03:38:01 PM
If there were ever a question without a one-size-fits-all answer, this is it.

You really, really need to know what you're doing and what the mourners' community's customs are.  It's not that a well-intentioned error will cause offense.  But it might make them feel worse in some way at such an emotional time, and I know you don't want to do that.  So take the time to do your homework if your bereaved friend is in a different religious, cultural, or geographical community.

For example, Jewish funeral and mourning customs are so different from Christian ones that they are in some ways completely opposite.  For example, the funeral is held as soon as possible -- in Israel, often the same day as the death -- and the formal mourning doesn't begin until after.  There is no viewing or visitation prior to the funeral.  Unless you are very close family or perhaps the mourner's very best friend, you don't visit before the funeral.  After the funeral and burial, people gather at the home of one of the mourners for the meal of consolation.  Guests serve the mourners (first degree relatives -- parent, child, spouse, sibling) at the table, then everyone else eats.  Then for the remainder of shiva (usually  -- don't ask!) 7 days, people gather every evening for a short service.  There is always food out, sometimes enough for a meal, other times just sweets, fruit, etc.

It is definitely the custom for people to bring food, both for these "public" events (either you cook it or you buy it or you chip in for a caterer -- it's usually easy to figure out who the best friend or cousin who will be organizing it all will be) and for meals for the family for a week or so.  I usually bring soup and some bread; it comes in so handy for a meal one exhausted day.  Our good friends recently lost an infant grandchild; the community in which the family lives has already signed up for meals for MONTHS -- I imagine that there will be some request back the other way to make charitable contributions instead after a few weeks.  Charitable contributions are also a very strong custom.  If the family doesn't specify something in the obituary or otherwise, then you choose something you think they would like -- a favorite charity of the deceased or the mourner you know best, if you know it; if not, their synagogue or their children's school or camp or something is usually a safe choice.  I was very moved by the thought that went into some of the charity choices our friends made when our fathers died.  It made me feel like their good works were continuing on.

Flowers, so appropriate in most cultures, are not customary for Jewish funerals or as gifts for mourners.  (Not to put to fine a point on it, that is because Jews do not embalm and hold the funerals fast, so flowers were not needed for the obvious reason before the age of refrigeration).  Food and especially charitable contributions are.

I would think that in any community, a (very short!) note saying something nice about the deceased would be appreciated.  I don't care for printed sympathy cards; I just use a note card or letter paper, or write a short note in a donation card.  Be careful, though -- many people don't do a good job with those notes.  Usually they get in trouble when they go on for more than a line or two.  This is one time where you DON'T add something about another topic in a note, as you would in a good thank you note.  Stay 100% away from anything telling the mourners that you know how they feel or even worse telling them how they should feel (e.g. "She's better off now that she isn't suffering" or "He's in a better place now").  I know people who do this are just trying to be comforting, but the effect is the reverse.  The trick, I think, is to focus on the life, not the death.  Much better to say something like, "Whenever I think of your dad, I remember the time he laughed so hard when the dog skidded across the room.  I will never forget how his smile always lit up a room."  If you don't know a thing about the deceased, you can still say something nice -- a  note I got from a friend who happened to be a communications coach said, "Although I never knew your father, I am sure he was very proud of you and your brother and all your accomplishments."  I thought that was quite good.  And when in doubt, there is really nothing wrong with simply writing, "Dear Camellia, we are so sorry to learn of the loss of your mother.  May she rest in peace.  Our condolences to the whole family.  Fondly, Gell and Chom."

The only time I've ever contributed money for funeral expenses was for a non-Jewish funeral (my hairdresser).  She had died suddenly and someone was taking up a collection for the funeral expenses.  I was happy to do it, but it would never have occurred to me if I hadn't been advised.
Title: Re: Funeral advice for the socially confused
Post by: Thipu1 on February 06, 2013, 08:52:19 AM
The signs about food in the funeral home refer to the public areas only.

  Back in the days when wakes were normally held in the family home, it was customary to serve cake and coffee at the end of the evening viewings.  When people started moving wakes to funeral homes, this practice carried over.  Some funeral homes would even provide the family with a silver cake server engraved with the name of the deceased and the date of death.

Eventually, there were public health concerns about this and the signs went up. The funeral homes liked the idea because the cake and coffee involved a lot of extra work late in the evening.  This was especially true when delegations from the Police, the Fire Department and fraternal organizations all showed up at the same viewing.   

It's perfectly fine for employees to have lunch in their offices or a staff room. 

I learned this because my uncle was a Funeral director.
Title: Re: Funeral advice for the socially confused
Post by: bopper on February 06, 2013, 09:26:16 AM
Honestly, you don't need to bring/take food at all.  A really nice sympathy card that has a heartfelt message with a story or two (funny or otherwise) about the deceased would also be very appreciated. 

Sometimes people get too much food and that can be a burden too.

I agree...it would not be an issue at all coworker didn't bring food for a deceased colleague's family.
The typical thing done is that the coworkers chip in for flowers or a donation to the deceased's favorite charity and if you were close enough some coworkers would go to the wake/viewing and/or funeral.     It would be very nice to give a card to the family that has a nice story about the colleague. 
Title: Re: Funeral advice for the socially confused
Post by: Thipu1 on February 06, 2013, 09:39:40 AM
If the deceased was Catholic, a mass card might be a nice gesture. 

Otherwise, a note expressing condolences and happy memories of your CW would be appreciated but not obligatory.

  I do like the idea of the stamps.  Anyone who has had to write TYs after a funeral would understand a simple and thoughtful gesture like that. 

Title: Re: Funeral advice for the socially confused
Post by: Jloreli on February 06, 2013, 10:12:05 AM
POD the folks that suggest waiting a week (or 2-3) before bringing food if that's what you'd like to do for the family. A co-worker of mine lost her mother and was just over run with food the first week....she found it overwhelming.....and this was someone with a teen son who was a walking stomach at that point. I recalled my DH (then good friend) had the same situation when his first wife passed away and that they thing he *still* remembers and talks about year later was a coffee cake that make breakfast easy. So I made her a 2 quiches a couple of weeks after the funeral and when I was sure things had calmed down a bit. They freeze nicely and can be used for just about any meal time.

We also took her out to lunch when she returned to work or brought her coffee in the morning. She really appreciated those because as others have said other people got on with their lives (as they should) while she was still very much grieving for her loss.
Title: Re: Funeral advice for the socially confused
Post by: postalslave on February 06, 2013, 11:08:52 AM
Thanks for the advice everyone!

More info - I am close with this family, everyone in the company is (close nit industry) so I don't think it would make his family uncomfortable if I brought them a dish.

A memo just went out requesting donations to a charity in lieu of flowers etc so I am going to make a donation. I'm also going to take PP's advice and wait a bit before I take them a casserole (in a dish I wouldn't mind if not returned  ;D )

Thank you all again for the helpful recommendations!