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A Question of Funeral Etiquette

Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Today I went to a memorial service for my supervisor's wife. I never met her, and I don't know my supervisor that well, but my boss is a nice man and has been struggling with his wife's bout with cancer with unquestioned bravery. He is one of those people who hates to make public displays of negative emotion - for months he's been pretending that everything was fine, when we all knew it wasn't. I couldn't help but think about the most recent memorial service I went to, and about my own (and Brazen Hussy's) mortality. I and a large number of my coworkers were present, and it was a nice service.

Now for my question, gentle readers: What does one do about demonstrations of religiosity at these events? I'm not a particularly religious person, but I do take religion very seriously. I try not to fake belief when I don't feel it. Overtly religious ceremonies make me pretty uncomfortable. During the event, I stood silently while others sang or prayed aloud, and a nodded my head when appropriate. No one who wasn't paying attention to me would have noticed that I wasn't really participating. It just didn't feel right. On the other hand, the service wasn't about my religious opinions - it was to honor the person who had passed, as well as their family and loved ones. Perhaps I should have mouthed the words and sang along with everyone else. I feel somewhat guilty about not doing so, although to my knowledge no one other than myself and my neighbor (who wasn't singing either) was aware of my forbearance.

Did I do the right thing, staying silent? Or should I have just gone along out of respect? I'm just not sure.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 3:05 PM
  • No, you are absolutely not obligated to go that far. You showed up, which is an enormous sign of respect.

    Everyone should be aware that there are people at weddings and funerals who are not necessarily of the same religion as the service being performed and be willing to make allowances.

    At a Catholic service, for instance, I could understand people standing and sitting along with everyone else, yet choosing to sit instead of kneel. You certainly are not required to speak or sing.

    Your presence should be appreciated. Full participation is not required.

    By Blogger Rebecca, at 3:25 PM  
  • It is best to do what you are comfortable with doing. I will second Rebecca's comments - your presence was most important, not your participation in the various religious aspects of the service.

    Heck there are many times that I don't sing at my own church because I don't want to. I stand with the congregation, and I don't even pretend to mouth the words (if I know the hymn).

    By Blogger RageyOne, at 4:06 PM  
  • Your actions were absolutely appropriate.

    By Blogger Seeking Solace, at 4:06 PM  
  • That's a really interesting question. First of all, the fact that you care enough to wonder says that you were not doing anything inappropriate. Secondly, as long as you weren't overtly disrupting someone else's worship, I say that you were being completely appropriate.

    By Blogger BrightStar (B*), at 8:56 PM  
  • It's interesting that many of us have these same vague feelings of 'what am i supposed to do?'. The same thing afflicts me at various functions: simplistic expressions of patriotism (jingoism), religious services, weddings...

    FWIW, I agree with those opinions expressed above: you did it right.

    By Blogger Belle, at 10:37 AM  
  • Thanks guys! I appreciate the support.

    By Blogger Arbitrista, at 3:19 PM  
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